If you are a Real Madrid fan, I would probably stop reading here and carry on after the jump where I lambast some of the players. Despite all the talk about Real Madrid dominating the game, creating all the chances and whatever else you might suggest, the scoreline indicates that Barcelona got a draw. Turns out that a draw was all they needed to progress, making this match a whole lot more inconsequential that we first thought.
I will be the first to admit, Real Madrid deserved to win for their attacking play, but they did not, and there are a few simple reasons. Firstly, Jose Mourinho got his tactics wrong. No, I’m not talking about the 4-2-3-1, that worked perfectly, but why on earth did he start with Gonzalo Higuain rather than Karim Benzema? This comes down to the Barcelona factor; Jose has displayed erratic tendencies with his tactical selections against the Blaugrana, and simply put most of them have ended in failure. Yesterday was no exception for a club driven by results.
Mourinho was brought in to beat Barcelona, so far he has not, except from that extra-time win in last season’s Copa del Rey final. While that was a victory, it ultimately was a failure as Barcelona went on to win both the Champions League and league title.
The same can be said about yesterday, he had a great chance to beat Barcelona, at the Camp Nou no less, and he failed yet again. His team threw the kitchen sink at a wobbly Blaugrana defense, but could only score two goals. The players benefitted from some lax refereeing to escape red cards at pivotal points in the game, but could not take advantage. This is as strong as Real Madrid are going to get, up against a complacent and tiring Barcelona side they should have won.
But they did not.
Not only that, but any victory would have been pretty hollow. After all, I am sure Victor Valdes would have saved two of the three goals, perhaps even all three. It is hard to underestimate his importance, but perhaps if I put it in another way. What if Antonio Adan had been in goal for Real Madrid? Would the score-line from the first leg be so slender?
Carrying on with that theme, what about Andres Iniesta? He was forced off through injury after just half an hour. Would Barcelona have been so lax in possession with the fourth best player in the world on the field? Then we come to Xavi. He was so quiet yesterday, I barely remember him in possession. The birthday boy was not his usual self that is for sure, and given suitable rest, would he have been so anonymous?
The same could even be said about Lionel Messi. The defending on the Argentine was not a factor last night, but Messi could not capitalise. I count about six shots from memory, but maybe he was a little tired after his exploits at La Rosaleda. What I am getting at here is that Barcelona played badly last night.
Wait until April; wait until the team hits its peak, in fact, just wait until Barcelona play their strongest XI before making any conclusions about how good this Real Madrid side are. The ratings are after the jump...
Jose Pinto 6.5
Credit to the Spanirad, he made a number of saves to deny Real Madrid more than their two goals, but at the end of the day, he was culpable for either finish. When Cristiano Ronaldo bore down on goal he dived far too early, leaving him with a simple tap-in. The second goal was also avoidable, if he would have reacted quicker to close Benzema down, maybe if he was more agile as well. It seemed as though he accepted defeat when the Frenchman swung his boot. Regardless, he played well enough to keep most of the shots out, but he is no Victor Valdes.
Dani Alves 7.5
I contemplated giving him a 10 for him golazo alone. What technique.
Carles Puyol 6.5
A thoroughly disappointing game by Puyol’s high standards. He too was liable for Benzema’s goal, caught out by a complete lack of pace to defend the ball over the top. However, he did make some crucial tackles as well, most notably on Karim Benzema shortly after his goal. Once Real equalised he seemed a little panicked in his defending, although the same can be said of everyone else.
Gerard Pique 6.0
Where has the actual Gerard Pique gone? Yeah, I’m on about the one that played in the 2008/09 season, or even the one who scored against Inter Milan in 2010. Anything is an improvement on his current form. Just as we thought he was turning a corner he took a sharp u-turn in this game, displaying below average distribution, limited pace and shoddy defending. It may be a little harsh, but Pique knows he can do a lot better, and I’m sure Guardiola will be demanding it if he is to retain his first-team place.
Eric Abidal 6.5
Abidal was another disappointment. He was given a torrid time by Mesut Ozil, and the worst part is that the German isn’t even a winger. I could tell every time Ozil touched the ball he was looking to cut inside onto his preferred left foot, but Abidal still let him cut inside. Offensively there were moments when he went on a decent run or two, but he didn’t receive the ball either time.
Sergio Busquets 7.5
In one of the few positive performances, Busquets played well in the middle of the park, especially when you consider how little help he received from either Xavi or Cesc. He drew fouls as only Busquets can, and while Madridistas will no doubt give him flak for merely being fouled by Sergio Ramos, there was clearly contact.
Xavi Hernandez 5.0
Wait a minute...Xavi played? I don’t like to be so harsh, but I literally remember nothing of note from our influential midfielder. Hopefully it is just a blip.
Cesc Fabregas 5.5
Much like Xavi, Cesc was very quiet. However, I do remember some incidents involving him throughout the game. He was fouled by Ramos during the second half, in what could have led to a second yellow card, before he was handed off by Pepe around the 70 minute mark. That particular event was a little frustrating as Pepe clearly struck Cesc in the face with his hand after he realised that he was going to lose the ball. It wasn’t a red card, but a foul would have suited me fine. Cesc has to improve though; he hasn’t played very well in any Clasico thus far.
Andres Iniesta 6.5
In his short time on the pitch, Iniesta played fairly well, but it was clear that he could not influence play from the left wing. Barcelona missed his presence in midfield, not only when he was off the pitch, but even while he was on it. That’s perhaps the most pressing concern for Guardiola.
Alexis Sanchez 7.5
The Chilean may have a tendency to go to ground little easy, but he remains one of most favourite Barcelona players. His speed causes all sorts of problems for any defense, although it does lead to a bum decision or two from linesman. Sanchez was unlucky not to win a penalty from the heavy challenges he faced inside the area, mostly from Pepe, but I guess this is where a better reputation would come in handy.
Lionel Messi 6.5
I guess this hints at the Messi-dependency, at least from a fans perspective anyway, but as we all looked to Messi to put the game beyond doubt, he displayed a human side. Who would have thought that Ronaldo would outscore Lionel Messi in this tie? Surely that will be motivation enough for Leo to bounce back in April.
Pedro Rodriguez: 7.0
With Sanchez facing a week or two out with injury and Andres Iniesta tearing his hamstring, the scene has been set for Pedro to return to his old self, goals and all. This was an excellent start. As always, Pedro worked hard for the team, and his goal was well-taken. If he can get into a scoring run, putting that drought firmly behind him, Barcelona will find matches much easier and that five-point gap could be recovered. That’s simply how important Pedro can be.
Thiago Alcantara 7.0
Same as above, with Iniesta out through injury, Thiago has the perfect opportunity to showcase his undoubted ability. Remember how he scored against Villarreal on the first day of the season? Well, guess who’s up next...
Mascherano may not have been on the pitch long enough to give a rating, but he will be vital in the coming weeks. He needs to put pressure on Gerard Pique, if not to play well himself, but to get Pique playing better.