MADRID, SPAIN - DECEMBER 10: Xavi Hernandez of Barcelona celebrate after Barcelona scoring Barcelona's 2nd goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Barcelona at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on December 10, 2011 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Jose Mourinho surprised everyone by playing the most obvious "call my bluff" game ever, Pep Guardiola left out David Villa in the most shockingly-obvious change for Barcelona. It only meant one thing: El Clasico of course! No doubt the last words to each set of players were "Don’t concede early"...
If only it were that simple. Real Madrid started as expected; pressing high up the field, asphyxiating the Barcelona players and most importantly, limiting the time Victor Valdes had on the ball. Rushing his clearances was the goal, and they succeeded as early as 20 seconds in. Valdes received a backpass, and scuffed his pass/clearance straight to Angel Di Maria. The Argentine tried to pick out a pass, which was blocked, but the rebound fell to Mesut Ozil on the half-volley. However, that was blocked only to fall at Karim Benzema’s feet, and the Frenchman stretched to volley home the opener.
22 seconds in.
It couldn’t have been a worse start for the Blaugrana, and the conditions were making life difficult for each side. Heavy rain had its impact on the pitch and Sergio Ramos slipped, with Lionel Messi taking advantage. Running at the Madrid defense, he evaded a couple of tackles before testing Iker Casillas with a low drive towards the far corner.
Real Madrid were pressing well, and on the counter attack, they were ferocious as ever. Di Maria was a particular menace with his floated cross being met by Benzema, but the attacker couldn’t repeat his early heroics. Valdes was still looking shaky after his monumental error, with Cristiano Ronaldo testing the Catalan with a powerful effort, and Valdes reacted by punching it clear. It appeared to be an odd save, but Casillas followed suit.
Xavi fired in a free-kick, directly at the Spanish captain, but he opted for the safe approach of punching it clear. Real were still threatening on the counter, and Ronaldo showed his selfish side by firing wide on a nice move, when Di Maria was open to his right. How would the world’s best player react in a similar situation?
Again he picked up the ball deep and ran at the Madrid defense. Everyone was drawn to the ball, something Leo recognised, and he threaded the ball through to Alexis Sanchez, and the Chilean drilled a finish into the far corner to level the scores. Nerves were settled, and Barcelona could start again.
Lionel Messi looked fired up to say the least, but he was lucky to remain on the field at the end of the first half. Having received a (needless) booking for dissent, Messi over-stretched in a half-ass attempt to tackle Pepe and the central defender was sent sprawling. Borbalon looked to reach for a card...until he saw it was the little Argentine. The Madridista crowd voiced their displeasure, but I guess one manoeuvres a little extra leeway as the best player in the world. The half was over, and the scores were level.
The half-time break did not bring any changes in terms of personnel, but each team was slightly different tactically. Barcelona were playing out of a 4-3-3 with Puyol at right-back and Busquets in defense, and it was working a treat. Cristiano Ronaldo wasted two free-kicks before the Blaugrana got a hint of luck.
It appeared the Barcelona attack had been broken down as the ball spiralled towards the edge of the area, following an attempted cross, until it landed at Xavi’s feet. He struck the ball cleanly on the half-volley, and his attempt was set to cause Casillas some problems. Then it hit Marcelo.
The ball spun off the Brazilian’s foot and towards the far corner, opposite to Iker Casillas’ dive. Cue a mad rush from the Spanish number one, but to no avail and Barcelona were ahead! The luckiest goal you may ever see, and surely accredited as a Marcelo own goal.
This gave Barcelona all the confidence they needed, and really took the wind out of Real’s sails. There was no more pressure, or at least not to the extent of before and it really showed. The Blaugrana midfield took control and began to carve out more and more chances. Lionel Messi acted as the fulcrum, spraying passes this way and that after mazy dribbling; Sanchez the main beneficiary.
Madrid were still creating the odd chance, and they should have levelled the scores just after the hour mark. Xabi Alonso swung in a beautiful cross and Ronaldo met it with a free header, but he couldn’t get it on target, in an uncharacteristic miss. Barcelona then took the chance to counter, and Alves delivered a cross of his own to the back post and Cesc Fabregas – who had been quiet all game – met it with a fine header to end the game, and Madrid’s hopes of a Clasico win.
As if by magic, Madrid reverted to type, kicking the Barcelona players in frustration, but it did not matter. This very team had gone down by a goal early, but responded like Champions. In fact, it was only thanks to Casillas that they did not rack up too many more.
Now excuse me, I’m off to celebrate :)
Man of the Match?
Alexis Sanchez (72 votes)
Lionel Messi (200 votes)
Carles Puyol (138 votes)
Xavi (48 votes)
Andres Iniesta (218 votes)
Cesc Fabregas (20 votes)
Other (explain in comments) (18 votes)
714 total votes