El Clasico always is an exciting time.
Before the game, Lucas Navarrete of Managing Madrid and I talked a little about what we expected from the match. You can read his thoughts here and mine here. Now that the result is in, we can take a look at how some things shaped up.
Both Lucas and I predicted a conservative game, and in that we were right. Carlo Ancelotti named three nominal centerbacks, and his midfield may have lacked playmakers. He was obviously trying to protect Real Madrid's central defensive zone. On the other hand, Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino's introduction of Alex Song for Andres Iniesta in the second half was a classic defensive substitution: a bruiser for an artist.
We also both predicted a draw, and in that, we got it wrong. It could have been a draw, but it wasn't.
Then, we picked a key man for each team aside from the main stars - Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. I picked a player who did not start but had a lot of influence when he came on. Meanwhile, Lucas picked a player who did a good job despite the loss.
For Barcelona, I picked Alexis Sanchez. In a team stacked with Messi, Neymar, Iniesta, and Xavi, picking the oft-criticized Sanchez as a key man may have raised eyebrows. But just as I believed, Sanchez responded with possibly his best performance and certainly his best goal in Barca's 2-1 win.
Meanwhile, Lucas picked Luka Modric as his key player. Again, a bit of a dark horse pick, but it's hard to fault his belief. Modric was Madrid's best player that night according to WhoScored.com's ratings.
A key feature of interest for this fixture was the first matchup between both teams' most hyped signings: Neymar and Gareth Bale. We took a chance predicting who would do better in this game, and we both picked Neymar. The votes are pretty unanimous that Neymar did much, much better.
As for key matchups, I picked Barcelona's right-wing vs. Madrid's left-back as a zone to focus on. Interestingly, Martino picked his best player - Messi - to start in that zone, uncharacteristically. This was his biggest gamble and it paid off.
Lucas picked Asier Illaramendi vs. Messi as a matchup to look out for. Illarra did not start, but obviously Ancelotti was nervous about that zone, fielding three central midfielders, looking to clog the middle. Again Martino's deployment of his countryman on the flank as opposed to the center surprised nearly everyone. For what it's worth, Illarra did well when he did come on.
We both talked about Alvaro Arbeloa vs. Neymar, and how it would be a rematch of the Confederations Cup, in which Neymar clearly won that battle. Ancelotti was perhaps wary of a repeat and opted for Daniel Carvajal in Arbeloa's place. Regardless, Neymar was an influential man cutting in from the left, and he won our community Man of the Match award.
Considering the way Illaramendi and Sanchez played, maybe they should have both been in the starting XI as we would have wanted them to be. Look out Martino and Ancelotti!
Just kidding. In retrospect, we got a few things right and a few things wrong. Happy post-Clasico monday everyone!