El Clásico is the biggest derby in the world, and on Saturday, FC Barcelona defeated their eternal rival, Real Madrid, with a 2-1 win at the Camp Nou in a game I am naming "El Clásico de Neymar" (Neymar's Clásico).
Neymar made it 1-0 in the 19th minute as a sweet pass by Andres Iniesta set up the Brazilian who slotted it low to the far post and went into the back of net for the lead. Lionel Messi nearly had a goal just two minutes later, but Pepe's defending did enough to force the Leo shot wide left of Diego Lopez. In the 43th minute, Real Madrid had their best chance of the first half as a Ronaldo cross was nearly slotted in by Sami Khedira, but Victor Valdes grabbed the ball just before Sami could get to it. On the play, it appeared the ball rolled on Adriano's right hand just before Valdes grabbed the ball. Khedira was furious with referee Alberto Undiano as Sami demanded a penalty, but to no avail.
Neymar nearly got another goal in the 54th minute, but Diego Lopez made a terrific save. Valdes made another tremendous save in the 58th minute as Cristiano's power shot was blocked by V.V. Grande Valdes! In the 71st minute, controversy ensued again as Cristiano Ronaldo was bumped down inside the box by Javier Mascherano. CR7 yelled for a penalty, but no call was made.
Alexis Sanchez sealed the win in the 78th minute as Neymar found a running Alexis who had a one-on-one with Raphael Varane. Alexis noticed Diego Lopez was off his line, and Sanchez chipped the ball over Lopez for the golazo! What a play by the Chilean! In stoppage time, Jesé grabbed a goal to make it 2-1. But it was too little, too late for Carlo Ancelotti's team as Tata Martino's FC Barcelona takes the first Clásico of the season.
Let's get to the Best,
Worst Interesting, and What We Learned from El Clásico.
The Best: Neymar and Alexis
Neymar was brilliant in his Clásico debut. It wasn't the prettiest goal, but it was massive as it relaxed Barcelona while putting pressure on Madrid. Neymar grabbed an assist on Alexis Sanchez's goal as well. I was so happy that Alexis grabbed a goal in this game. To me, it verifies that Sanchez's confidence is fully back to what he had at Udinese. Sanchez has played well all season, and the goal vs. Madrid took skill, vision, and confidence to attempt and convert. Golazo! Grande Alexis!
Worst Interesting: Tata Martino's strategy
One question people had heading into this Clásico was how would Tata Martino work his magic in his first Clásico ever. Tata went with Cesc at the nine spot, and Messi at his old RW spot. Why would Tata do this? Simple. Tata wanted to attack, pressure, and try to expose Real Madrid via the wingers. Tata wanted more pressure on Dani Carvajal and Marcelo instead of Messi at the CF spot, trying to fight off Raphael Varane and Pepe. Interesting strategy.
Messi didn't have his best game overall, but Leo at RW to begin the game was something different thrown at Madrid. Tata bringing in Alexis was an easy choice to make. He also kept it safe in the final minutes of the game as he brought on Alex Song for Andres Iniesta. While Iniesta had a solid game, Tata wanted a bigger body to help defend in the midfield. Tata Martino, the South American with in his first season managing in Europe, out-managed Carlo Ancelotti in this game. I wonder what doubters and the Madrid media will try to come up with to criticize Tata. Martino is a phenomenal manager in South America, Spain and/or anywhere, period.
Tata mixing things up with his tiki-Tata, but still respecting and staying true to the tiki-taka. I love it!
What We Learned?: Neymar will be the reason FC Barcelona will win La Liga
Lionel Messi was good, but not great, against Real Madrid on Saturday. But that didn't matter because now with Neymar on the team, Barcelona doesn't need to depend on Leo to be the sole offensive creator in Clásicos or any other Liga game. And with Alexis playing well, that opens things up for both Neymar and Messi.
Neymar stretches the pitch, causing problems for all opponents while creating space for Barcelona. As we've seen all season, it seems that the goal-scoring opportunities have begun with Neymar getting the ball on the left side. It's not that Messi has lost any magic; it's just that Neymar is great while two or three opponents surrounding him are covering Leo in the middle. Neymar is usually one-on-one with the RB, and can dribble his way toward goal to create plays for him or his teammates.
Neymar has Iniesta to help out on the left side as well. Put Don Andres and Neymar on the same side of the pitch, and you are bound to have magic-just as we saw on Neymar's goal. Neymar's passing skills are massive as we saw in El Clásico, and his pass/assist to Alexis was on the money. Is there anything this kid can't do?!
Fail Bale did nothing, and was subbed off in the second half. That's Madrid spending for you, folks. And I'm sure Ronaldo and all of Real Madrid miss Mesut Özil and Gonzalo Higuain. That's Madrid selling for you, folks.
Neymar's performance against Real Madrid confirms to any doubters that might be left that the European football stage is not too big for this kid. Neymar's performance against Real Madrid further confirms that he will be the reason FC Barcelona will win the La Liga title in 2013-14. Real Madrid did their best to try and contain Neymar, and they failed. If they couldn't stop Neymar, there is no other team in Spain that can stop him.
Even when Messi is out, we've seen Neymar step up and lead the Barça offense, as we saw a few weeks ago. I'm not saying that La Liga is over today; what I'm saying is that Neymar will be the difference-making reason FC Barcelona will win La Liga at the end of the season.
Despite of what some may think, in football, one signing can make all the difference in winning a title. Neymar brings balance to the attack, his passing/assist skills are the best of any young footballer in the world, and his vision on the pitch is phenomenal. Neymar's brilliance doesn't make up the fact that Barça's defense struggles too many times, but Neymar, like Leo Messi, is able to cover the defense's struggles up with goals and ball possession, keeping the ball away from the opponent.
Barcelona was already a great team prior to Neymar's arrival. With the kid, FC Barcelona pulls away from Real Madrid, and all other teams in La Liga. While all Culés knew Neymar was going to be great with the club, perhaps some fans are a bit surprised Neymar has done so well, so fast at Barcelona. Personally, I'm not. This kid was great at Santos, and this kid continues to be great at FC Barcelona. The scariest part for Real Madrid and other opponents of FC Barcelona: Neymar is only 21 years old, and is going to get better. Grande Neymar!
What's Next?: Tuesday at Celta Vigo
Coming off the win against Real Madrid in El Clásico, FC Barcelona look to continue their winning ways on Tuesday at Celta Vigo. Look for Marc Bartra and/or Carles Puyol start, as both players did not play against Madrid. Pedro may start in Vigo as he came on as a substitute in El Clásico. Martin Montoya deserves to start as well, while giving Dani Alves or Adriano a rest. A Sergi Roberto sighting may occur, as Xavi, Andres Iniesta, and Cesc Fabregas all played many minutes in El Clásico.
Xoel's Final Word
It was an emotional win for FC Barcelona as the Liga leaders put further space between themselves and either eternal rival, Real Madrid, with a 2-1 win at the Camp Nou on Saturday night. Neymar was golden, Alexis got us off of our seats to celebrate, and three huge points plus distance from Madrid were earned.
Remember, there is still plenty work to be done in La Liga, as well as Champions League. But for now, go celebrate, Culés!
This FC Barcelona win is dedicated to Tito Vilanova. We love you, Tito, and hope to see you fully recovered soon.
Xoel, The Voice of FC Barcelona