El Clasico Postmortem: Was Real Madrid Defence Ready for Barcelona Midfield?
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When the clock read 65 minutes in time at the Camp Nou stadium where the home side Barcelona took on mighty opponents Real Madrid, Sergio Busquets was set to break a dead ball after the play had intermediately been stopped. The Barcelona midfielder with the playful mood he was in, chose to take the direct chance to the goal and Iker Casillas guarding the Madrid net was caught almost asleep. The Madrid and Spain skipper was nowhere in position to deal with the sublime kick and it was only for a whisker wide shot that disallowed Barcelona a one of its kind goal.
The incident portrays the home team goalkeeper’s posture post the one hour mark with which he played for the remainder of the game. An abject Iker Casillas is the last thing Madrid fans wish to see on field but that was seen happen the other night in Barcelona as courtesy a series of sloppy, sluggish and indisciplined pieces of defense, Jose Mourinho’s team were trailing four goal down under the one hour of play only for substitute Jefferen Suarez to add to the goals galore in the dying moments and take the scoreline to a hammering 5-0 at home. The win not only takes FC Barcelona to the pole position of the league table superseding their opponents, it also earns them an amount of respect that will keep any side in Europe at back foot while facing them.
DEFENSIVE DISCIPLINE: THE MADRID WOES
It would be hard to fathom on a day like this where the scorecard reads a story of entirely single sided proportions, but Real Madrid defense did have their moments of brilliance. It was however not going to be enough against a vitalized Catalan outfit that had saved its best for the biggest occasion of the season.
Was the Madrid defence overrated coming into this game?
Mourinho had done his homework in predicting Barcelona’s approach going into the game. Manager Pep Guardiola had made his intentions clear of treating El Clasico as just another match which made things much easier for Mourinho to deploy a suitable plan. He carried on with the defensive combination that has clicked so far in the season and rightly did not choose to introduce any alterations in the hard found bond amongst the unit.
Lots of praises around the football camaraderie were showered on the Madrid backline’s performances during the course of the season but those words of appreciation carried a greater weightage on the defenders’ instincts to draw the ball forward and create assists for the midfielders to proceed further. On defensive lines however, they were never tested enough.
The Barcelona unit was certain to expose a number of pot holes into the Madrid defense but even at the wildest of his imagination, Pep Guardiola would not have dreamt of this scoreline. Denouncing the Madrid defenders and their portrayal as scapegoats for the loss would unfairly discount the brilliance shown by the whole Barcelona unit.
The spirit, energy, knit interplay and above all imaginative vision shown by the deadly duo of Xavi and Iniesta deserves a special mention. Lionel Messi, to the disappointment of many did not find the back of the net but the Argentine wonder kid provided a series of direct assists – each getting better than the previous one, two of which resulted into David Villa’s goals – and improved his game with every single move he made. His was the maximum impact in the game unfolding the way it did.
Having said that, one must observe, notice, identify and document the problems encountered with Real Madrid’s extremely low proactive acumen while defending. In a game where the manager had limited his defensive midfield’s duties to provide a shield to the backline, Madrid were virtually playing with six defenders. Let us try to take a dig into the performance of each of the custodians of the Madrid goal one by one.
The Spanish international easily had a game to forget. Being the more experienced of the two full backs, he was expected to shoulder duties with Ricardo Carvalho in the centre too but as a matter of fact he was caught completely out of position and the left flank for most of the time remained no men’s land which was easily identified and exposed fully by the Catalan midfield.
Andres Iniesta almost played an advanced winger from the left as soon as Ramos started to remain sluggish while closing space for the Barca midfielder to work with. Not only did he allow Iniesta to create endless opportunities from a proximity that was supposed to be his territory, he lost the hold over his nerves in the later minutes and caught marching orders from the referee for the actions that could have easily been avoided at this level.
Given the nature of his indiscipline, the league authorities may well extend his suspension to couple of more fixtures which would let his team’s moral down further and add to his manager’s troubles.
The Portuguese centre half remained focused for most part of the game but unfortunately on his personal account, his limited mistakes directly resulted into worst possible consequences. He was spot on in marking Pedro and did manage to stop the Spanish striker to even come close to taking an aim at Casillas’ goal.
Pepe however fell short of physical competitiveness, a factor that usually is reckoned his forte. The Barca midfield fared at an incredible work rate and the fact that they collectively had a superior day to most of Madrid’s players caught Pepe second to them on multiple occurrences.
His instincts while defending and anticipating a player’s movement are areas for Mourinho’s concern but he has positives by his side and his role in the team as a physically stronger counterpart of Ricardo Carvalho would keep his position at the heart of defense intact.
The Portuguese veteran has so far remained a leader for Madrid’s defense ever since his move from Chelsea. He has been instrumental in providing required thrust to his partners in defense by making up for their errors and also by alleviating his own standards of play with every single fixture.
One thing though, one must not forget is Carvalho during his entire career with Chelsea played under the shadow of an extremely influential figure in John Terry. Carvalho himself is not a natural leader and his lack of experience in taking more responsibilities on his shoulders much showed against the first real opposition that tested them in and out.
That said, Carvalho on personal front did not have a bad game at all. The manager’s most trusted man was left with no choice on a number of instances and had to forcefully leave his position to cover up for the botches made by full backs. Barca’s intuitions were fairly right in luring Carvalho out of his patrolling zone and made the most of the open space provided.
Carvalho however would quickly need to regain his form for the upcoming encounters and he remains to be the most important man for Los Galacticos defense. If Sergio Ramos’ suspension is prolonged for more matches, Carvalho would need to inspire the Madrid defense even more with his sheer class and intelligence.
If not for Sergio Ramos’ foolishness in the dying moments of the game, the Brazilian would have been the easiest target for the fans to pass the monkey on. As rightly predicted by many, Marcelo was never short of adding a dimension to Madrid’s attack but he seriously needs to work on the sustenance of his runs while tracking back. He realizes a move by the opposition a fraction of a second later to the opposition player and by then the collateral damage has had already been done.
The instinctive play and the unparallel understanding and group work among the Barcelona midfielders was just too much for the young Brazilian to handle and it would not be ideal to dismiss him for this performance. He is currently walking on the learning curve and such hiccups can only add value to the process of learning. Mourinho has shown immense faith in him and has almost reserved a place for him in the Left Back position. It is in best interest for him to forget this game at the quickest and work his way to repair his technical faults.
A beautiful piece of link-up play between Messi and Xavi that was certain to result into a fifth Barcelona goal had been denied by one man’s intuitive piece of brilliant exhibition. The man was the German youth Sami Khedira forming the defensive midfield along with Spanish genius Xabi Alonso. Khedira’s denial to Xavi was the only moment in the match Madrid made theirs.
The defensive layer of the Madrid midfield remained the busiest unit throughout the game as most of the linkage was bridged through this part of the pitch by Barcelona players. Mourinho did the right thing by adding another classical midfielder in Lassana Diarra in the second half but the Frenchman looked far from impressive.
This part of the Madrid midfield had so far remained unexposed, for the attacking players had managed a major share of possession in the opponents’ half. This allowed Khedira to limit his actions as a through-ball provider for advanced forwards and enjoy a good amount of time in the final third.
But all of a sudden he was touted against what is termed the best midfield of the current generation of footballers. Restricting his work-area within the team’s own half and thus focus solely on breaking attacks became increasingly difficult for the German as the game progressed. He often came second while reaching to the long balls provided from the backline and thus failed to build a good linkage too between the defensive and advanced midfield layers of the team.
Given the amount of time he has spent with most of the Barcelona players on national duties, he was reckoned to be the most important man for Real Madrid going into this match.
Again, much like his partner Khedira in the midfield Xabi too had to suffice his vision and articulation and focus entirely to cut the likes of Xavi and Iniesta short in their path.
In an inverse proposition, Xavi and Iniesta too happen to be highly inventive players and they too know Xabi upright. Guardiola had his best men for the job and for every chance that Barcelona conquered upon; either Xavi or Iniesta made sure that Xabi is kept side tracked being jostled by one of the midfielders.
A close observation to the pattern of chances Barcelona created would draw one’s attention to the fact that Xabi never managed to feature into a frame where a through ball was passed into the final third that eventually went past the net.
A perfect mechanism to conquer the likes of Sami Khedira and Sergio Ramos worked precisely for most of the time for Barcelona and Xabi was reduced to being a redundant entity. He did try playing some long balls, something he does better than most on the planet but the Madrid front line on such a humiliating night was too disjointed to invent anything out of them.
THE ROAD AHEAD
The most important thing to understand is that this match boasted of an unparallel esteem only for the pride and intensity it carried along. The table is least disturbed by the final outcome and there is a host of opportunities for Real Madrid to maintain a crumbling threat over their Catalan opponents. Also, there is no reason to believe Madrid must trounce Barca back in the second edition of El Clasico to challenge for the title. A league is a 38 game long contest and many unpredictable things unfold in the most unimaginable fashion.
Of course, there is much to learn for Mourinho’s men from this result and it would be interesting to see how soon Mourinho resurges his team back to the winning ways. Murphy’s Law had to come true but the positive thing that Madrid can take into their stride is that it came against the best team in Europe and as rightly said, ‘There is no shame in admission and reverence of an opponent’s superiority.’
The bottom-line fetched at the final outcome from the Clasico is that “Madrid WERE NOT having a bad game at Camp Nou. They ARE NOT yet the material that could trouble this Barca side that plays the best football in the world and has been formed as a chained result of hard enough efforts and continued perseverance to get better with every single day.”
Madrid may find answers and challenge Barcelona in a one-to-one battle for the editions to come in near future, but as of now Barca’s supremacy is a bit too much to unsettle.
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