El Clasico: FC Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid: Match Review

David Ramos

Recap of Barcelona win over eternal rivals, Real Madrid, in the first El Clasico of the 2013-2014 La Liga season

In a very open game Barcelona were able to beat Real Madrid as goals by Neymar and Alexis Sanchez were enough for the Catalans to record their first La Liga El Clasico victory since December 2011. Jese Rodriguez scored the consolidation goal for the visitors in added time.


FC Barcelona

Real Madrid

Possession

55%

45%

Total Shots

12

10

Shots on Target

5

6

Pass Accuracy

83%

79%

Fouls

19

16

Offsides

3

1

Yellow Cards

2

5

Red Cards

0

0

Teams were presented in front of a beautiful mosaic in support of Tito Vilanova. Tata Martino experimented with the lineup a little bit, playing all four Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas, Xavi and Andres Iniesta at the same time, something we have rarely seen. In defense, Gerard Pique recovered in time to start the game alongside Javier Mascherano.

Barça started strong, with Cesc and Neymar causing the most problems to the defense playing in white, but the most dangerous attempt in the early going, a long range effort by Cesc, was blocked by Neymar.

Real Madrid, of course, also spent their fair share of time in Barcelona's third, but they struggled to create any solid chances. In the 7th minute the visitors launched a quick counter that was stopped by Sergio Busquets with a foul that the referee, Alberto Undiano Mallenco, thought it warranted a yellow card.

The game didn't start with a lot of physicality, but 15 minutes in Sergio Ramos made sure that that would not be the case anymore. He elbowed Neymar twice in the head in a span of about 25 seconds, earning a booking for the second one.

Even though both sides spent quite some time around the opponents' penalty box the first shot on goal didn't come until the 17th minute when Neymar forced Diego Lopez to make a save. In the next minute Neymar, with a bit of luck, put Barcelona in the lead. Iniesta found space through the middle and found Neymar on the left side. From there the Brazilian fired on goal and beat the Madrid goalkeeper for the first goal of the game. Neymar's shot was partially blocked by Daniel Carvajal, went through the legs of Raphaël Varane and inside the far post.

In the 20th minute Messi had his first opportunity of the game, and he should've made it 2-0. Once again Iniesta supplied a brilliant through ball and Messi had acres of space down the right side of the penalty box. He aimed for the far post, but with Lopez well positioned Messi fired wide of the goal.

Shell-shocked a bit by the goal Real Madrid struggled to connect passes in their attacking third, making in easier for Barcelona to defend. Because of Barcelona's good positioning Real Madrid, and Gareth Bale especially, were forced to take shots from the perimeter, but they didn't threaten Victor Valdes.

Real Madrid had the most success attacking down Adriano's side where, Angel Di Maria, Cristiano Ronaldo and Bale were successful in making his way past the Brazilian. Adriano even made a clumsy tackle on Ronaldo and earned a yellow card.

But the chance of the half for Real Madrid came in the 45th minute after Ronaldo easily made his way past Dani Alves and sent a dangerous cross to the six-yard box. There Sami Khedira made good contact, but somehow Valdes made a left-footed save. The German international appealed for a penalty for a handball by Adriano, the ball really did strike Adriano's hand after the save, but the referee didn't point to the spot.

That was the last chance either team would create in the first half, though, Bale did have just enough time to receive a yellow card before the halftime whistle. At halftime Barcelona therefore led by the smallest of margins courtesy of Neymar's first El Clasico goal.

Both teams started the second half with the same lineups they ended the first one. After the restart Real Madrid tried to surprise Barcelona with early pressure and quickly won a corner kick, but Valdes confidently claimed the cross. The visitors had another good scoring opportunity six minutes in after an errant pass by Mascherano. Khedira probably should've taken the shot from the edge of the box, but he went too far and was left only with an option to cross the ball. The long sequence in Barcelona's box finally ended when Pique cleared the danger with a good header.

Barcelona then went forward and immediately caused havoc, but a couple good blocks by the Madrid defense, including one on a thunderous Iniesta drive, resulted in no work for Lopez. But the Madrid goalkeeper was called into action a minute later when Neymar was played through brilliantly by Iniesta, but the Brazilian's try was well saved.

Carlo Ancelotti then made sure that Ramos wouldn't again get sent off in an El Clasico, replacing him with Asier Illarramendi. The back and forth action continued with Real getting the next two shots on goal, after Iniesta turned the ball over. Ronaldo got a good shot on Valdes, but the Barcelona goalkeeper made an excellent stop to deny Ronaldo the equalizer. From the ensuing corner kick Di Maria was able to put one on goal from outside of the box, but Valdes was again perfectly positioned to make the stop.

Real then made their second substitution of the match, with Bale taking a seat on the visitors' bench and Karim Benzema taking his place in attack. 20 minutes into the second half a chance suddenly presented itself to Di Maria, but as if he was surprised the ball came through, the Argentine couldn't control the ball on the edge of the penalty area.

With Real Madrid slowly taking over control of the match, Tata Martino responded with a substitution of his own. Alexis, who many thought would start the match replaced Cesc in the Barcelona front three.

About a minute later Ronaldo threw what can nowadays only be described as one of his trademark fits, after he was brought down in the penalty box by Mascherano and denied a penalty. Both players went for the loose ball and Mascherano threw the shoulder into Ronaldo in a play that is very rarely called a foul, let alone a penalty. Ronaldo did have half a step on Mascherano at the time of the "shove", but the referee decided against pointing to the penalty spot.

On the very next play Benzema fired a powerful shot from 20 yards out that beat Valdes, but rattled the crossbar. It was an excellent drive by the Frenchman and Barcelona were lucky that one didn't tie the game.

At the half hour mark of the second half both teams made a substitution. First Real Madrid replaced Di Maria with a natural striker, Jese, while Barcelona shored up their defense as Alex Song replaced the hard working Iniesta.

And two minutes later Alexis doubled the lead with a golazo. Played behind (most of) the defense by Neymar, Alexis only had Varane to beat. The Chilean decided he won't bother with that, and with Varane giving him two feet of space, Alexis "simply" lobbed Lopez from the edge. A truly brilliant goal by the in-form forward.

Alexissanchez_medium_medium

Understandably Barcelona decided pulled back at bit, but easily withstood a three minute barrage of crosses with good headers by both Pique and Song. But with Real bringing everybody forward, Barcelona had a lot of space on the counter. Even Alves got in on the action and went for goal, after he beautifully dribbled past Ronaldo, but Lopez saved his attempt.

In the 84th minute Tata Martino brought in another defensively responsible forward, Pedro, who replaced Neymar.

Five minutes before the final whistle a breakdown on the right side of the Barcelona defense gifted a one-on-one chance to Khedira, but once again Valdes was able to deny him a goal. But the Barcelona goalkeeper wasn't able to end the game with a clean sheet. Ronaldo played through Jese, who outran Adriano, and fired from outside the box to beat Valdes. Valdes made tougher saves in the game than this one would've been, but thankfully that was the only one he would allow as Barcelona were able to hold on to the one goal lead and celebrate the victory.

All in all it was a strong performance by Barcelona, but question marks remain due to the leaky defense that allowed too many golden chances once again even though it seamed impenetrable just seconds before. With the three points Barcelona ensured themselves the league lead after this round of football is completed, regardless of Atletico Madrid's result. But, perhaps even more importantly, it increased Barcelona's lead over Real Madrid to six points.

Barcelona continue their frantic pace of games as the Catalans will again be in action on Tuesday when the league leaders will face Celta Vigo.

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