Barcelona vs. Real Madrid: 8 Talking Points from El Clasico
Everyone take a breath, relax, maybe even take a nap. El Clasico is over and now we can all reflect on an exceptionally exciting and evenly-matched game.
We saw Ronaldo become the first player in history to score in six straight Clasicos while Lionel Messi came within one of being the rivalry's top scorer.
The two best players in football led their teams to a draw in a match that saw Barcelona line up with three full-backs in defense and Real Madrid look uncharacteristically suspect in attack and at the back.
We saw a few players shine in ways that could inspire their play for the rest of the season, while others have us wondering how much longer we have to wait for consistently great play.
The final score was 2-2 at Camp Nou and that may seem the fairest result, but is it really?
Read on to see the major talking points and key events from the latest Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Tito Vilanova: Genius or Fool?
And we thought Pep Guardiola was bold. Three defenders, you say? Try two instead.
In the first league Clasico of his very young career, Tito Vilanova sent a strong message to the world. That message was that he knows his squad best and is not at all afraid to take risks.
With arguably the world's best counter-attacking team arriving at Camp Nou, Cules were understandably worried about not only losing, but potentially being blown out at home.
Adriano is a solid defender, but using him in central defense with a converted midfielder is asking a lot, especially with two other attacking full-backs in support.
Genius, fool or just lucky?
In the end, the decision was far from a success, but did not cost them all three points.
The defense was nothing short of awful in the first 30 minutes, and Barcelona were lucky not to have been down by three goals before halftime.
Whether or not Vilanova planned a three-man back line, I'm fairly certain his plan was not to have the entire right flank left empty.
Karim Benzema missed a great chance to open the scoring after being left all alone on his left side, but sent his shot to the corner flag. Just before that, Marcelo was in miles of space, but the French striker failed to pick him out with a pass.
The makeshift defensive set did a fine job at limiting Real to two goals, but the relatively low goal count was as much to Madrid's poor finishing as solid defending from Barca.
The high possession and limited chances to defend against really helped the defense look more comfortable than they were.
Adriano Suprisingly Effective
Special praise should be given to Adriano, the man Vilanova secretly trained at center back all week long and was the surprise selection at center back.
Both the Brazilian and his partner Javier Mascherano had solid matches overall, but very few would have expected such a great performance from the left-back.
The defender used his great pace and poise to limit the damage at the back. He was calm on the ball and killed far more attacks than he allowed.
According to WhoScored, Adriano finished with 93 percent of his 81 passes completed,| four interceptions, five clearances, one tackle and six successful long balls.
He definitely deserves blame for letting Ronaldo through on the second goal, but Ozil's pass was so perfect that the goal may have been unstoppable anyway.
Is Ozil Back?
Ozil has had the worst start to a season since joining Los Merengues and has rarely even looked a shadow of the man who led all of Europe in assists last season.
When Jose Mourinho chose to start him over the more in-form Kaka and Luka Modric against a Barcelona side that Ozil has traditionally struggled against, it was a sign that the Portuguese manager still has faith in his No. 10.
Against Barcelona, the midfielder finally started playing near his best. He completed almost 90 percent of his passes and set Ronaldo up on the second goal with an exquisite pass that left Victor Valdes with no chance of saving the shot.
Ozil is now the Real Madrid player with the most assists against Barca at Camp Nou in all competitions since 1998.
But does this mean he is back?
Does this great, but still short of "elite" performance signal a turnaround for Madrid's No.10?
Madridistas hope this performance inspires him to get back to his best and end any controversy about who should start in midfield alongside Ronaldo, but it is too soon to give a definitive answer.
Let's see how well he plays after the break and then decide whether or not the "old" Ozil is back.
Messi vs. Ronaldo
It has to be said that El Clasico has never been about Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo. The eternal rivalry may be the greatest of this generation, but it will always pale in comparison to the larger club rivalry.
Fans of both players like to point out how each performs head-to-head as a way to fuel debate, but in reality, this battle never decides the final outcome.
This latest Clasico was an exception to that rule, however. The world's two best players matched each other blow for blow as if they were the only two players on the pitch.
Messi had the better performance overall with more impact felt throughout and with CR7 not even completing 70 percent of his passes, but Ronaldo still managed to win the same amount of points for his team despite playing with a sprained shoulder for part of the match.
Goal tally a bit flattering
While these two were the only ones to net for their teams, neither had a spectacular match, especially in the first half.
Ronaldo was rather anonymous for the entire first half and failed to get involved for large stretches of the second.
Messi was uncharacteristically sloppy with his passes for much of the first half as well. He was also much less involved than he should be in his role.
No such thing as an easy goal?
In addition, both opening goals were due to poor defense rather than individual brilliance.
The opener by Ronaldo—while he is most definitely a great striker—would not have happened if not for some atrocious defending from Barcelona's right flank.
The Portuguese took advantage of a gaping hole left on Barcelona's right flank, the same space Benzema and Marcelo exploited just minutes earlier.
The game's second, and Messi's first, happened due to some poor defending from Pepe as his attempted clearance with his head landed at Messi's feet right in front of goal.
Of course, there is nothing to take away from either player since every single goal required skill.
To say anyone could slot the ball past Valdes on the near post or be in the right position to slot home an error from Pepe would be foolish.
But to say these two dominated just isn't accurate.
After the break, both players were much more effective and far more involved than they were for the first 30 minutes and the goals were a reflection of that.
Messi all but took over the match and left Madrid fouling as a last resort when they realized they couldn't stop him.
Ronaldo moved in and out of a more central role and put himself in the position to score while also putting the ball in the box.
Who is the free-kick specialist again?
The one goal that cannot at all be credited to poor defense was Messi's world-class free-kick.
The Argentinian bent the ball around the wall and put it past Casillas with pin-point accuracy into the top right corner of the net.
After a second beautiful free-kick in three matches against his rivals with Ronaldo wasting another effort, it is fair to say that Messi has now matched the Portuguese as a world-class free-kick taker.
Many people came into this match with the idea that a special performance from either player could be the deciding factor for the Ballon d'Or race.
To this point, both players have strong stats and arguments in their favor, but neither so great that it makes the debate conclusive.
Now, after matching each other in the last head-to-head match of the calendar year, deciding which player has been the best over the last 10 months is as hard to decide as ever.
No matter who wins the award, they will be thoroughly deserving. They will also send the other player's fan base into a frenzy, claiming robbery or unfair voting.
With the two players so evenly matched, this may be the only time that dual winners actually makes sense. That would never happen, though.
Injury Bug Continues to Bite Barcelona
Eric Abidal, Marc Muniesa, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol and now Dani Alves. And that's only the defense.
There is not a single team in Europe more wrecked by injuries at the moment than FC Barcelona.
While Alves' injury may have saved La Blaugrana from a demolition, since he was arguably the worst defender on the pitch in his short time, the long-term effect could be much worse.
The Brazilian will now miss three weeks after suffering a thigh injury and leaves Tito Vilanova with just four true defenders on the team.
The right-back has been hampered all season and has been far short of his usual, elite best, but fans would be far too fickle and short-sighted to think he us no longer useful to the club or not still the first option.
The one thing that will comfort Cules going forward is the continued great play of their next La Masia star.
Montoya Ready to Displace Alves...and Arbeloa?
Of course, that star is Martin Montoya. No stat will properly show just how much of a difference the youngster made on this game.
Before the 21-year-old replaced Alves, Barca's entire right side was left empty and just begging for Real Madrid to attack.
Los Merengues took advantage of Alves from the start and used his poor and inconsistent positioning to take the lead.
When Montoya came on, the entire complexion of Real's attack changed because the right side was much more quiet.
The right-back was far more effective in shutting down Ronaldo and rendered Marcelo almost useless going forward.
The wide open space awarded to Madrid at the start of the match was much smaller after the young full-back came on.
He even came inches away from winning three points for Barcelona when he hit the crossbar in the dying minutes of the match.
Montoya vs. Ronaldo
Montoya was pretty spectacular and stepped up big time when his team really needed him. He worked well with Mascherano to keep Ronaldo quiet for the majority of the match.
Aside from a few great sprints that amounted to nothing, CR7 did very little down the left side and was most effective when he moved into a more central role.
Ronaldo is one of the greatest players of his generation so he still made a huge impact on the game, but Montoya deserves a lot of credit for limiting the damage.
Should he now be first choice?
So after another great outing from Montoya, many are wondering whether he should be the first-choice defender out wide—for Barcelona and/or Spain.
Like I said in a previous slide, I think it would be extremely unfair to write Alves off after so many years of world-class football, and the Brazilian is still far superior to Montoya, but having such a reliable backup gives Vilanova great depth and tactical diversity.
The same goes for Spain's first-choice right-back. While the young Spanish defender is making a great case to be Arbeloa's successor, he has not been so spectacular to make us think he is ready for full promotion just yet.
Montoya definitely looks to have a great career ahead of him at the club and national level, but Dani Alves and Alvaro Arbeloa are still far more proven at the senior level and deserve respect and patience from fans and analysts alike.
The Referee Was Poor, but at Least Consistently Poor
How was no penalty given for either team? How did Xabi Alonso not get sent off (twice)?
Too often the calls from El Clasico make as many headlines as the game itself and while that will not be the case after the latest derby, the ref does deserve mention.
It is clear that Carlos Delgado Ferreiro wanted to avoid making headlines in his first Clasico.
His strategy was to call only those fouls that were blatant and missed calling countless more for both teams.
The anonymous referee?
Unfortunately, Ferreiro missed a few key plays that could have changed the outcome of this one.
There were lots of missed fouls, but three calls in particular could have been game-changers.
Just after the break, Mesut Ozil was kicked by Mascherano in the box and went to ground. The defender completely missed the ball in fouling the midfielder, but no penalty was given.
Real Madrid fans were not given much time to complain about that one as just minutes later, Pepe tripped Andres Iniesta inside the Madrid box.
Since neither penalty was given, it will be hard for either fan base to cry conspiracy.
Alonso's deserved red card
Later in the match, around the hour mark, Xabi Alonso brought Lionel Messi down from behind and conceded the free-kick that Messi put way to give La Blaugrana the lead.
The foul was given, but Alonso's second yellow was not. There is a strong case to say the midfielder should have been sent off right there.
Alonso had already earned a card after numerous fouls against Messi & Co. and definitely could have been given a second for that foul.
What's more, just before that foul, Sergio Busquets was given a card for bringing down Cristiano Ronaldo in a very similar tackle at his own end.
Alonso later committed a third foul that could easily have earned him a card, but he finished the match without being sent off.
The ref missed a few calls, but he was consistent overall. Both teams got away with fouls and both could have been given a penalty.
Cules can complain that they should have had a man advantage after the hour mark and that would be fair, but in the end, the lack of calls made for a fair result.
Did Real Madrid Just Save Their Season?
When the final whistle blew, both teams and their fans will surely have been left with mixed feelings.
On one hand, both sides will feel they could have earned all three points and even deserved as much.
Real Madrid were on fire in the first half hour and probably should have scored at least one more goal. Messi and Barcelona were relentless in attack for the final 30 and could have added another themselves.
On the other hand, knowing that each could just as easily have lost by two goals to one of the greatest teams in football will make a draw feel much more valuable than a point.
More than a point for Madrid
While taking anything away from this one was great for both teams, it was far more important for Real Madrid.
If the champs had lost, they would have been 11 points behind their rivals.
Now, no gap is too big for a club like Real to overcome over seven months to play, but it would have taken a historic comeback to win the title after such a big gap being created.
Instead of getting stuck in such a difficult situation, Los Merengues are back in the top five and just eight points behind Barca.
Can the champs outlast Barcelona?
While it is debatable which team is stronger overall, the injuries and lack of great defensive options in Catalunya make it likely that Barca will drop at least a handful of points over the coming months.
Obviously, Real Madrid will need to avoid dropping too many of their own, but overcoming an eight-point deficit in October is much easier than bridging an 11-point gap.
The mental aspect so far being a great team like Barcelona alone may have broken this team, but now we know that La Liga is nowhere near being decided.
At this point, I would love to hear from all you readers. You have read my thoughts about El Clasico, but we all get different things out of these matches.
What were the key moments and results of this match that you see having the greatest effect going forward?
Do you think players like Ozil and Montoya are now set for big seasons?
What do you make of the title race?
As always, please feel free to comment below and let us know what you took away from the first Clasico of this La Liga season.