El Clasico III was by no means a classic but there was always a high possibility that the game would not live up to its pre-match billing. Jose Mourinho as in the two previous Clasicos (the home league match and the Copa del Rey Final) main focus was always to stop Barcelona from playing their natural game, by any means necessary, and nick the odd goal. A few enforced adjustments were made coming into this game with Arbeloa coming in at right-back for Sergio Ramos who replaced the suspended Carvalho at centre back and Lassana Diarra deputised for the injured Sami Khadeira. For the Catalans, there was also some reshuffling in their backline with the returning Puyol filling in an left back where they have an injury crisis at the moment and Mascherano started at centreback with Seydou Keita replacing the injured Andres Iniesta in midfield.
Early on Real Madrid pressed Barcelona high up the pitch as they attempted to build from the back. This seemed to disrupt Barca’s passing rhythm and Real were able to win the ball in the opposition’s half and they attempted to create goal scoring opportunities using direct passing. The Catalans eventually settled into the game with Xavi dropping alongside Busquets to help with the ball retention. By this time the intensity of Real’s pressing had dropped somewhat as they seem to only close down their opponents when they cross the halfline.
Bacelona’s shape while in possession looked like a 4-2-2-2-0 with the aforementioned Xavi/Busquets partnership, Messi playing as a false 9 dropping deep almost alongside Keita with Pedro and Villa hugging the respective touchlines. Their backline played deeper than usual, perhaps wary of Ronaldo’s pace running onto balls over the top, Dani Alves didnt get forward as much as usual and Puyol was stayed back as expected. It seemed that Barca’s strategy was to get try and something from this game by not over comitting numbers in attack.
In the first half Real’s pressing game along with their physical tactics to disrupt Barca’s flow worked well. Diarra and Pepe’s jobs were to press the Catalans while Alonso played just in front of the back four. Leo Messi was his marking assignment. Alonso received help from his more physical midfield counterparts in doubling up Messi whenever he received the ball. Real were comfortably dealing with everything Barcelona threw their way with only a Xavi shot inside the area after making a run from deep the only effort to truly trouble Casillas.
Real’s problem in this half and maybe throughout the game is what was done when they had the ball. Though Pepe and Diarra were useful in neutralizing Barcelona’s attack they were counter productive in the attacking phase as they both are not technically gifted players by any stretch of the imagination. As they both were playing higher than Alonso this meant that Real had two player in the attacking 1/3 who are not proficient in this area. On the night Mourinho could have done with someone in the ilk of a Park Ji Sung who would have given that midfield energy in the defensive phase and not be wasteful when in possession. Its not that Mourinho did not necessarily have an attacking strategy it’s just he was hoping that Pepe and Diarra may have done a bit more to supplement the attack.
Adebayor came on for Ozil at the beginning of the half which meant that Real now had a recognized striker on the pitch. This substitution was most likely made due to the fact that Barcelona did not play with a high line as may have been expected so a player who can hold up the ball and win aerial battles was needed by Real. Ronaldo shifted out to the right flank with Adebayor played as a lone striker. This half started off similar to the 1st. Real pressed relentlessly high up the field and won the ball on occasions and attempted to create. Adebayor helped a lot with this pressing and also committed a few cynical fouls while he was at it. Barcelona was having slightly better success passing the high pressing applied by Real exploiting the spaces left behind by them. Villa and Pedro switching flanks was the only noticeable change by Guardiola.
11 v 10
Pepe’s sending off changed this game entirely. Real weren’t able to press as aggressively in the midfield as this would have opened gaps and they went the obvious route of staying compact and narrow. Barcelona now had the freedom to play their free flowing football as they found an open man with more ease now. They worked the ball wide on the right when Di Maria tucked in and through the centre where they now had a numerical advantage. Messi and Xavi who interchanged a lot during the course of the night took advantage of the space which was now available between the lines and Real struggled to get a hold of the ball.
Barcelona goals came in this period where they were in full control. Messi’s first coming after he went on of his runs, attempted a shot and was blocked but still was able to get ball to Xavi who spread the ball wide to Affelay who was one-on-one with Marcelo and got by him with ease then crossing to the near post to an onrushing Messi who finished neatly. With Real being the home team they attempted to push a little higher up the park to somehow get an equalizer but this was never to be as this was just the perfect opportunity for Messi to add a beauty to his record breaking goal scoring tally.
This game played out almost as expected Barcelona dominated possession and Real Madrid attempted to disrupt their passing game by pressing them and tried to attack by playing on the counter. Guardiola won the early tactical battle by not playing the high line and neutralizing the treat of Ronaldo who thrives on space behind the defense. Mourinho’s setup needed a player who could have better help them transition defense into attack and help them in both phases. The red card definitely opened the game up for Barcelona and the result, in my opinion, will have been different had it stayed 11v11. Mourinho would definitely have to go for it at the Nou Camp but it would be interested to see how he tries to bring back this one but then again its if Leo gives him a chance.