Barcelona vs. Real Madrid: 6 Things We Learned
Real went into the match knowing that a win would draw them level with their eternal rivals, whilst Barca hoped to extend the points gap to six above Los Blancos and still a couple ahead of Atletico Madrid, who are also enjoying a remarkable start to this campaign.
The 2-1 scoreline in Barca's favor was a reasonable reflection of the game as a whole, Madrid perhaps feeling hard done by given their second-half dominance
Let's take a look at six things we learned from El Clasico.
How Did the New Boys Fare?
What contrasting fortunes in the first half for Neymar and Gareth Bale.
The Brazilian was a constant threat throughout, with most of Barca’s attacking coming down Madrid’s right-hand side.
You could sense the panic in the away defence each time the ball was pinged over on the diagonal, Sergio Ramos providing the extra cover.
There was nothing he or the rest of the Madrid defence could do as Neymar squeezed the ball into the bottom corner via the aid of a deflection.
Bale’s first threatening run deep into Barca territory didn’t arrive until the 25th minute, the finish high and wide.
A booking for a high foot against Gerard Pique in the last minute of the first half really summed up his first 45.
It didn't get much better for the Welshman, subbed off for Karim Benzema on the hour mark.
Neymar continued with his forays in the second period, but his performance tailed off towards the end of the second half. A standing ovation when he was subbed on 84 minutes was a just reward for his effort.
Neymar 1, Bale 0.
Not a Classic 'Clasico'
There were some good moments and some great moments, but you wouldn't call this game a classic.
In what must have been a surprise to many, neither Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo was instrumental in his side's performance tonight.
We saw some delightful tiki-taka as expected and the occasional flashes of brilliance from both sides—Karim Benzema's screamer deserved a goal, for example. But overall this wasn't a game for the purist.
An unusually quiet Camp Nou no doubt added to the flat atmosphere.
Barca's Central Defensive Pairing
Tata Martino decided to pair Gerard Pique with Javier Mascherano, allowing Carles Puyol to continue with his recovery.
In a tale of two halves, Barca's central two bossed the first 45. Pique in particular was immaculate in winning the high balls and could often be found stepping forward into the midfield to avert the danger.
Mascherano dealt well with any raids along the floor, keeping Angel Di Maria particularly quiet. Each of the Madrid winger's three first-half free kicks were rebuffed with ease.
Did the Barca man take his foot off the pedal in the second half?
It certainly seemed that way with at least three wayward passes going straight to the opposition, one in particular allowing Ronaldo to burst through at pace and test Victor Valdes.
Was this not the game for Marc Bartra to continue his development?
Carlo Ancelotti's Tactics
Carlo Ancelotti played it safe. Given the result, you would have to say his tactics backfired.
Luka Modric was preferred to new signing Isco, yet the former offered little in the game. It was certainly a stage set for one of Spain's brightest youngsters to deliver a crowd-pleasing performance, as he has done for much of his early Madrid career.
Playing Sergio Ramos slightly further forward in midfield was an interesting tactic, and it was noticeable how exposed Raphael Varane became without Ramos by his side. A substitution on the hour was an acknowledgment from the Italian that his decisions hadn't worked.
Whilst he hasn't enjoyed great form of late, Karim Benzema showed enough in his cameo appearance to have perhaps justified his inclusion from the start.
His physical presence up against Gerard Pique may have provided the link-up play that the Madrid front line appeared to be missing tonight.
The Continued Importance of Victor Valdes
Victor Valdes might be on his way to pastures new, but Barca should do everything in their power to get him to change his mind at stay at Camp Nou.
Aside from his usual immaculate distribution, his collection from the high ball was excellent.
Yet there were two points in the match where Valdes showed that he is truly world-class.
A point-blank save at the very end of the first half was worthy of high praise on its own, but his save down low on 57 minutes from a rampaging Cristiano Ronaldo was truly out of the top drawer.
Perhaps his only mistake was right on 90 minutes when he allowed Jese Rodriguez's shot to squirm under his body.
Experienced and respected referee Undiano Mallenco took charge of his eighth El Clasico tonight. His performance couldn’t be described as unsatisfactory, but neither was it outstanding.
In general terms, the man in the middle allowed the game to flow well, yet almost every strong challenge was met with a card.
The tone was set as soon as he brandished a yellow card for a Sergio Busquets challenge on Angel Di Maria as early as the seventh minute.
More yellows followed (correctly) for Sergio Ramos and Adriano. However, the official inexplicably missed a blatant foul on Neymar as he moved into space on 37.
Perhaps more importantly, a handball in the Barca area by Adriano was waved away by Mallenco—much to the chagrin of Sami Khedira—after a world-class save from Victor Valdes.
It was much the same in the second period, with Mallenco's yellows peppering the half, and after red cards aplenty in previous fixtures, the only surprise was that there wasn't another here.