La Liga: Real Madrid 2-1 FC Barcelona: Match Review

Jasper Juinen

Not again...

For the second time this week, FC Barcelona were defeated by Real Madrid who – despite a plethora of changes – proved to be too much to handle for a shaky Barcelona defense. Karim Benzema put the hosts into the lead after just seven minutes and while Barça fought back to equalise courtesy of Lionel Messi, Real Madrid had the last laugh; as Sergio Ramos towered above Gerard Piqué to score a winner in the 82nd minute.

Real Madrid

Barcelona

Possession

28%

72%

Total Shots

14

5

Shots on Target

6

2

Pass Accuracy

73%

90%

Fouls

10

12

Offsides

0

0

Yellow Cards

4

6

Red Cards

0

1

As expected, Jose Mourinho made a plethora of changes from the team that defeated Barcelona 3-1 on Tuesday, although few expected to see Cristiano Ronaldo sitting on the bench at the Bernabeu. In his place, young canterano Alvaro Morata was granted his first-ever start in the Clasico while only Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos, Fabio Coentrao and Diego Lopez survived from Tuesday’s match. Barcelona on the other hand started with their "MVP" triumvirate in attack meaning that Andrés Iniesta moved back into midfield. Carles Puyol was demoted to the bench in favour of Javier Mascherano, while Thiago Alcântara replaced Cesc Fàbregas in midfield. Would the Blaugrana be able to capitalise on a weakened Madrid XI and extend their lead at the top of La Liga?

Real Madrid started well and nearly created the game’s first chance after nice wing-play from Kaka. The former World Player of the Year has found starting opportunities hard to come by this season, but he has impressed in recent weeks – even if he isn’t back to his best. Taking on Jordi Alba, Kaka got the by-line but simply couldn’t direct his cutback to find Karim Benzema and Barça cleared the danger. However, when Madrid ventured forward just a few minutes later, Barça wouldn’t be so lucky. This time it was the Clasico debutant, Alvaro Morata who was causing trouble as Dani Alves couldn’t cope with an electric turn of pace, and credit to Morata (who has been known to play as a centre-forward) for providing an inch perfect cross for Karim Benzema who was all too happy to turn the ball home at the far post. Just seven minutes had been played at the Santiago Bernabeu and already, Real Madrid were ahead.

In appeared as though we were in for a long afternoon at the Bernabeu – despite a plethora of changes, Barcelona didn’t look any better than they did on Tuesday. Perhaps the goal would elicit a response? It may have taken a little while for Barcelona to find their rhythm, but it was well worth the wait. Lionel Messi (who else?) took the initiative and never looked back; it was a fantastic assist from Dani Alves who had to thread the ball through the eye of a needle to find the Argentine, but what about the finish? This was the Lionel Messi we all know and love; dropping a shoulder, Messi opened up his body and promptly drilled the ball through the legs of Sergio Ramos and into the back of the net.

Was the comeback on? Would the Blaugrana be able to exact revenge for Tuesday’s defeat? They certainly had a chance to pull ahead before half-time and the chance fell to the very man who scored the equaliser; but Lionel Messi couldn’t direct his shot past the imposing frame of Diego Lopez. While Barcelona were struggling to create chances, they were dominating possession (78% at half-time) and as a result, Real Madrid couldn’t create chances either. At the end of the day, Barcelona entered the match with a sixteen point lead at the top of La Liga, and given the strength of the Real Madrid XI relative to Tuesday, they had more to lose by taking unnecessary risks.

Neither manager made a change at the break, although it wasn’t long before Cristiano Ronaldo (and Sami Khedira) entered the fray. Ironically, Ronaldo was substituted in immediately after a mesmeric run from Lionel Messi, who nearly conjured up an equaliser with his pass to David Villa, but as has been the story of the Clasico in 2013, Raphael Varane made a crucial intervention to deny El Guaje a goal. Anyway, back to Ronaldo – so much for this Clasico not mattering eh? Jose Mourinho may have started with Alvaro Morata in attack, but with the game on the line, he didn’t hesitate to bring Ronaldo on. Karim Benzema made way, and Ronaldo made an immediate impact, earning Gerard Piqué a yellow card with a "dramatic fall".

Ronaldo then registered his first shot on goal on 65 minutes, testing Victor Valdés with a trademark free-kick following Thiago’s foul on Pepe; despite criticism from some Culés, Barcelona had recovered from Benzema’s early goal to virtually nullify the Madridista attack. The introduction of Ronaldo certainly made a difference – but it was Alvaro Morata who came closest to securing a winner. Surprisingly Pepe created the chance with a majestic through-ball, but thankfully Victor Valdés spotted the danger, rushed from goal and stopped Morata’s goal-bound shot.

Unfortunately, Real Madrid were not about to be denied. Michael Essien won a foul with some more theatrics, and Barcelona were forced to concede a corner from the resulting free-kick – a corner that would go on to win the match. Luka Modric got the assist, and Sergio Ramos got the goal, climbing above Gerard Piqué to power home an emphatic header.

The game appeared to be over; Barcelona were headed towards defeat for the third time in their last four matches – even when Adriano was felled in the area by the out-stretched leg of Sergio Ramos, you simply knew that no penalty was going to be given. As much as Barça argued their case, Perez had no intention of pointing to the spot and robbed the Blaugrana of the opportunity to tie the game. But he wasn’t content with simply denying Barça the penalty – oh no – he went on to book Andrés Iniesta for dissent and somehow send Victor Valdés off following the final whistle. In particular, the latter decision just didn’t add up. Valdés maybe have been particularly vocal in his dissent, but he was only shown a single yellow card before the red was produced.

Despite the defeat, Barcelona should still go on to win La Liga; but it’s the manner of defeat that hurts. With the red card at the end, Barcelona are not only losing form, but they’re losing their discipline too – both tactically and literally.

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