El Clasico: THIS IS BARCA!!!

Miquel Benitez

Yes, I'm still high on the Clasico win. So after a comment that I posted right after the match, I was asked to put it up on the front page (removed most of the profanity and made some edits while adding to certain points after having time to think about them)

Disclaimer: I concede to the few who said that Barcelona were good but not at their very best...yet! That said, every Cule must enjoy the victory to the fullest. We deserved it and it definitely was NOT easy.

Here are my thoughts on our game:

1.           Tata Martino read the game - and it's significance - almost perfectly before the match even started. For those of you who haven't had a chance to read/view his pressers, I strongly suggest that you start. The man has an unbelievable ability to give insights into the game and he explains it in such an articulate manner, to us normal folk. The Argentine clearly stated before the match that we had to take measures to control Real Madrid's counter attacks. This is impressive, simply because Pep and Tito seemed to take a more "but we are Barca, we play and other's react" approach to the game. They weren't wrong but Barca were in desperate need for a change, that is, after all, why we got a coach from outside the system right?

2.           Tata said that we would concede chances if we lost the ball in the middle. Basically, suggesting that he wanted the team to be set up so that when a move started, they did everything to finish it. This could mean a shot (on or off target) or even an attacker losing the ball; but we definitely could NOT afford to lose the ball in midfield or by one of our full backs/defenders. A couple of Madrid's chances were when Barca looked fatigued in the beginning of the second half. Iniesta losing the ball in the middle, under pressure, and Luka Modric releasing Cristiano Ronaldo down the left, only for Victor Valdes to pull out a stunning save. The goal that we conceded was another. Although to be fair, that was too little too late from Madrid. Even then, we're talking individual errors and not a breakdown of tactics.

3.           Our defense: When I say our defense, in this case, I do not mean only the back line but like everything Barca does, the team effort. It has been a while since we were put under quite a bit of pressure and came out the winner (admittedly, this season we have been great defensively and that too, is down to Tata's efforts). The cynic would question the reason behind that pressure and he/she would be right to do that. However, you simply cannot escape the fact that our team, for large parts, looked like one single organism. Especially in defense, everybody seemed to understand each other and moved in relation to everybody else. The forwards (Messi/Cesc and Neymar) worked extremely hard and had a great understanding with the full backs and midfield which was a sight to behold!

Our midfield, including Xavi, pressed and harassed Madrid making sure not to give Modric, Ronaldo and co. any peace of mind, especially in the first half. Tactically, as I have recently learnt, Tata's move to exchange Mascherano and Pique (who now had to cover for Adriano and did very well) was a masterstroke. Mascherano was made to cover Ronaldo and cover for Dani Alves. This is not an easy task at all, so kudos to Masch for pulling it off.

4.           Pique looked reborn and had, without a doubt, his best match this season. I still believe he takes way too much flak from Cules (and I am generally considered a Pique apologist) but everybody has to admit he was totally dominant against Madrid. Aerially, he covered for virtually everything which is awesome because his height just gives the rest of the back line that much more confidence when he is in form. Let's all hope he keeps that up after a well deserved rest (he is not included in the squad to play Celta).

5.           Substitutions: They were perfect! At best we could make an argument for the subs to have been made earlier since Barca were under serious pressure in the first 20 minutes of the second half but I choose to look at it in the positive light: i.e. for a change, we were capable of taking that pressure and didn't concede an early equalizer. Tata brought Alex Song for Andres Iniesta, who was our most attacking midfielder and one of the best players on the pitch. In essence, this allowed for two defensive midfielders (Song and Busquets) which helped cover for our full backs. Song came on and used his physicality, thus helping Barca regain control of the match. Alexis was brought on for Cesc and well, you know how that ended right?

6.           Alexis Sanchez aka Electric Sanchez (I believe all credit for that must go to Ray Hudson): "Cachai" is a totally different player this season. I truly believe that he is now on the verge of showing us Cules exactly what he's made of. The Chilean (as Tata pointed out post game) has been great since the end of last season but Cules can be lazy in their attitude towards players. We sometimes choose to continue with criticism until we reach a point, when the player simply cannot fight anymore. Well, how about a golazo against our biggest rivals, which turned out to be the winner, to show us exactly what Alexis thought of our complaints?

The goal was a thing of beauty. Neymar received the ball centrally, saw the pass really well and released Alexis who has always been extremely fast. The Chilean ran at Raphael Varane, hits the brakes, looks to lay it off (nobody was there to receive it even if he had made a pass), notices Diego Lopez (who only stepped way out of his line cause (a) he panicked when he realised this could turn into a 1 v 1 so he did well to step up and close the angles (b) by that point Varane had already been burned a couple of times before, so Lopez didn't want to take any more risk) off his line and chips him from 20 yards out!!! Seriously, it takes confidence to even attempt a shot like that. Anyone who has played football knows how difficult it is to chip a ball perfectly and it only gets more difficult at that range!

7.           Our MOTM, Neymar Jr.: Take a bow, son, you couldn't have had a better debut Clasico! The Brazilian was a constant danger on the left, running Dani Carvajal and Varane ragged. At this point, we really must appreciate Neymar taking some of the pressure off Messi. Pepe, who had a very good game (minus his Pepe moment with regards to Fabregas) could have easily been given the task of handling Neymar but unfortunately for him and Carlo, they also had to worry about a certain Lionel Messi, who although quiet compared to his own very high standards, had given Marcelo a moment to think about when he was put through on goal by Iniesta in the first half. But I'm digressing; Neymar totally owned Carvajal and Varane for large parts of that game and was our biggest threat on goal. The kid managed to score one, assist Alexis all while sticking to his tactical instructions and running his heart out to aid in defense.

8.           Victor Valdes: Nobody could have asked for a better start to his final season with the club. Personally, I think he is the best keeper in Europe right now, which should leave us with bittersweet memories once he's gone. Valdes made 5 saves, one of them being a game changer. The kind of save that tells the opponent - "today! YOU SHALL NOT PASS!" - when he stopped a bullet from Ronaldo, who at the time, seemed on the verge of dragging Madrid - kicking and screaming - to an equalizer.

So Victor, you deserve all the praise and so much more. On behalf of BarcaBlaugranes, consider this an apology for the times we were too harsh. Then again, to some of us, Valdes has always been great and has also, unfortunately, always been on the receiving end of way too much criticism. Keep this form up and success in Europe might just be possible even taking the other great teams out there into consideration. That would make for one hell of a final season wouldn't you say? The first half, saw Victor making some courageous (normal for him) passes to play the ball out of the back. The second half, saw Victor reading the team's fatigue levels well and sending the ball long to relieve the pressure. Like I've said before, the perfect keeper for Barca.

9.           Iniesta is back: What a show. Smooth as ever on the ball, hard working off it and just so great at penetrating a defense with a combination of short bursts of pace and magical dribbling. The assist to Neymar was about quick feet but that long diagonal ball from the back? Brilliant!

10.         Shout out to all the other players that I haven't mentioned in this article. Each and every one made us proud! This was about a team effort more than any individual.

11.         Conclusion: Madrid are a team in transition that didn't do too bad. Barca, were simply better though. Strong in the tackle, organised under pressure, efficient in attack and the perfect game plan (and substitutions) by an extremely impressive coach. Tata Martino, stay humble and keep doing what you're doing. Today, you have every Cule in awe of your reading of the game. Kudos to you and here's looking to the future!

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