Breaking Down the Barcelona vs. Real Madrid Tactical Battles
Barcelona won this season's first Clasico clash against Real Madrid at the weekend to extend their lead over Los Blancos to six points in La Liga.
Neymar opened the scoring in the first half, before Alexis Sanchez added a sublime second after the break.
Jese Rodriguez scored a very late consolation goal for Madrid.
However, it was Carlo Ancelotti's tactics—along with a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty claim—which dominated in the Spanish press over the weekend.
Neymar vs. Carvajal
Talk in the buildup to the match centered on whether Madrid's coach would go with Alvaro Arbeloa at right-back, considering the Spanish full-back's mauling at the hands of Neymar in the Confederations Cup final.
The Italian coach decided not to risk Arbeloa in the end, opting for Dani Carvajal.
And while the young right-back enjoyed a much better match than Arbeloa did against Brazil, one lapse in concentration allowed Barca's summer signing to open the scoring.
Andres Iniesta's marauding run caught the attention of Carvajal, who was sucked into the middle, creating space for Neymar to move into.
Barca's No. 8 fed the Brazilian to give the home side the lead.
Other than that, Carvajal did demonstrate enough to backup his inclusion ahead of Arbeloa.
He was tidy in possession, completing 37 of his 38 passes according to Squawka, but was unable to get tight enough to Neymar, who completed two take-ons against him during the match, while Carvajal made zero tackles.
Ramos in midfield
A lot of the criticism leveled at Ancelotti after the match has focused on the inclusion of Sergio Ramos as a central midfielder.
Madrid rapidly improved after their captain was replaced by Asier Illarramendi—who was not deemed fit enough to start.
The motive was presumably to clamp down on the space in which Barcelona's forward players, such as Lionel Messi and Cesc Fabregas, like to drop to such devastating effect.
However, once Ramos earned himself an early booking for a typically robust challenge on Neymar, his role was limited.
Skirting around on a yellow card, he wasn't quite able to perform the role that his coach would have had in mind before the match.
Bale from the start
Karim Benzema's goal drought had left Ancelotti under increasing pressure to drop the Frenchman.
Yet when he eventually decided to leave the forward out on Saturday, the inclusion of Gareth Bale, who remains lacking in match fitness, raised eyebrows.
Talking in the press conference after the defeat, Ancelotti defended his decision, via Football Espana:
I think these are Bale's first matches and he needs to get used to playing with his teammates, which is normal. He played well and he needs to look for his teammates' runs.
He didn't play badly during that hour. It doesn't make much difference for him to play on the right or in the middle. We started like that to put more pressure on Busquets, but alter 20 minutes I changed his position to on the wing to give him more room.
Bale wasn't as bad as the hyperbole in some media outlets may suggest, but it was obvious he was lacking minutes and possibly that little bit of confidence that playing matches breeds.
He started centrally but eventually moved out to the right, where he picked up a yellow card for a tenuous high boot on Gerard Pique (pictured above)—welcome to Spain, Gareth.
The gamble of playing the Welshman didn't quite work out for Ancelotti, but it was certainly worth taking.
Barcelona's passing variety
"Evolution, not revolution" was the suggestion when Gerardo Martino took charge at Barcelona, but following that match against Rayo Vallecano, where they conceded more possession, they continue to show a tamer attitude towards keeping the ball.
According to Squawka's stats, they edged possession with 54 percent in Saturday's Clasico victory.
They attempted over 20 long passes, too; one from Iniesta exquisitely found Neymar, who drew a good save from Diego Lopez early in the second half.
Alexis's match-clincher also came from a quicker transitional move forward from Barcelona.
It's not the first sign that Barca are looking to add more strings to their bow, a point Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas and Lionel Messi have already made this season.
And while the football still seems short of that of the Pep Guardiola era, in which Barca looked unbeatable at times, the results continue to roll in.
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