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El Clasico: Real Madrid 1-3 FC Barcelona: Player Ratings

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GOOOLLLLLL!!!
GOOOLLLLLL!!!

Real Madrid started the game on a run of 15 successive wins in all competitions. They had beaten all-comers with relative ease, scoring a plethora of goals in the process. Thanks in large part to the odd poor performance by FC Barcelona; Los Blancos were three points clear, with a game in hand. The gap could have been six points by the end of the night, with a view to extending it to nine by the year’s end. Instead Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid find themselves in second place.

Aside from the first minute, it is hard to say that Barcelona were not the better side. Of course, Real displayed some woeful finishing but the Blaugrana dominated possession and – in comparison to the Supercopa – they were a much improved side. There was a hint of fortune about Xavi’s goal/Marcelo’s own goal, but no more than Karim Benzema’s goal, while the decision not to send off Lionel Messi displayed one thing and one thing only: reputation.

Comparing Cristiano Ronaldo to Lionel Messi, it is startlingly obvious which of the two has the better public persona. The Portuguese winger is bemoaned for being a "prima-donna", while the Argentine is this squeaky-clean little boy that can do no wrong. Is it any wonder that the referee was about to reach for the yellow and subsequently the red; before he realised it was Lionel Messi and changed his mind? Something tells me that the same situation at the Camp Nou involving Ronaldo may have ended differently...

Regardless, this was the performance of the best team in Europe, and if they can maintain that form, we may soon be able to truthfully claim that they are the best in the world.

Victor Valdes 6.5

With all the pre-match build-up on the site, we touched upon the importance of the Catalan in our interview with Graham Hunter. Perhaps with a touch of naivety we asked whether Valdes could challenge Iker Casillas for the Spanish number one spot, and we saw a crucial difference yesterday. His error could have proven costly, although looking back, it did not matter at all. Aside from that early error, he played well and was a reliable figure between the posts. The conditions were difficult but it didn’t appear to faze him; even when the game was effectively over, he still produced a world-class save to deny Kaka. Without the error I would have scored him around a 7.5

Carles Puyol 8.5

Puyol was simply majestic last night, despite a lengthy absence. Sure, he has played a few games in recent weeks, but this was above and beyond what you would expect from a player in is situation. Cristiano Ronaldo no doubt had nightmares of Puyol before the game, and I expect that they will continue for some time, such was the Catalan’s dominance. It is also worth noting his versatility to switch from a central defensive spot out to the right-back position to allow Alves to venture forward as a right-winger. Please Pep, wrap him in cotton wool!

Gerard Pique 7.5

I don’t know what I was expecting from Pique, but he did better than I expected. Thinking back to the match itself, it is difficult to think of obvious mistakes, or any trouble whatsoever. Solid in the tackle, and when he did foul it could be argued they were tactically smart challenges to nullify Real’s advantage. Ball retention was good, although it worries me just how calm Pique can be, such as the 47th minute where he decided he would juggle his way out of trouble when faced with the "full-court" press.

Sergio Busquets 7.5

Yesterday, Busquets was the model professional. Slotting back into central defense (again to accommodate Alves at a right-winger) he barely put a foot wrong and completely threw off Madrid’s gameplan. The high-intensity pressure was supposed to rush the defense into mistakes, so Pep moved one of our calmest passers back and Barcelona made fewer mistakes. Hence more possession, more fouls by Madrid and ultimately more chances for the Blaugrana. All in all, this is why he started over Javier Mascherano.

Eric Abidal 7.0

Being truthful, I did not see Abidal play very well. Di Maria clearly had the upper-hand in their personal battle, although he didn’t threaten that much either. With that being said, I struggle to believe Adriano or Maxwell would have fared any better, so the Frenchman is safe for the time being. Offensively he was anonymous, but I fully understand why and wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Xavi Hernandez 8.0

What a way to cap your 600th appearance for Barcelona. Tactically, he was key to victory – as per usual – although he took up a different role to normal. To move Alves forward Pep completely shifted the system, and Xavi played in a holding role very similar to the one Andrea Pirlo become famous for. Offering himself as an option at goal kicks, or whenever the defense were in possession but still linking the midfield to the attack. Staggering match from the Spaniard.

Andres Iniesta 8.5

The best player in the world not called Lionel Messi was in fine form yesterday and can consider himself unlucky not get on the scoresheet. Whenever he linked up with Messi, Barcelona looked likely to score and at the end of the day, those two (and Puyol) will go down as the difference between the two sides. Why isn’t he a finalist for the Ballon D’Or? Well, given Ronaldo’s performance, it truly is a mystery...

Cesc Fabregas 7.5

Virtually anonymous for an hour, Cesc popped up to seal the win with a header that is fast becoming his trademark. Fabregas did more than his share defensively, and perhaps that was down to Messi’s booking, but his hunger and desire was in full view for the goal. Cesc had run the length of the field to meet the cross after defending a Xabi Alonso cross. Not quite what everyone expected, but more than good enough.

Dani Alves 8.0

To be honest, it surprised me when Alves was moved forward, when in actuality I should have spotted it beforehand. Alves provided a true balance as the right winger, and in the absence of Pedro, his defensive workrate was vital. It allowed greater ball retention in midfield and central defense, the two keys areas that Madrid were looking to press and made the defense stronger as a whole. His crossing is often hit and miss, but yesterday was a master-class in how to deliver the ball, perhaps leaving Isaac Cuenca with a thought of what might have been.

Alexis Sanchez 8.0

Didn’t he take his goal well? I actually thought that the Chilean was completely ineffective up until that point, but he is fast developing into a ruthless finisher. We saw flashes of his play at Udinese yesterday, where he started central and drifted out wide and it benefitted Lionel Messi to have a similarly fleet-footed strike partner. Sanchez is now a certain starter for FC Barcelona.

Lionel Messi 8.0

Basically, Messi has three types of performances under his belt. The first is where he drags the team to victory, as demonstrated in the Supercopa. The next is where he drops deeper and becomes the creator, taking great joy in setting up chances for his teammates. The final is a combination of the two, lesser seen in all honesty. Last night he became the creator, running at the Madrid defense to create spaces for his colleagues before feeding them the ball for a chance/goal. However, he should have been sent off...

Substitutes:

Insufficient time to grade

Real Madrid Honourable Mentions:

Lassana Diarra 8.0

I actually think that Diarra’s withdrawal played a huge part in the third goal, as beforehand he had shut down the midfield. He was taken off; Barcelona had increased possession and could counter attack without too much resistance in the middle of the park.

Cristiano Ronaldo 5.0

To think that some honestly believe Ronaldo is the best in the world. I present to you Exhibit 10000 of Ronaldo failing to perform when it matters most. Perhaps I am exaggerating, almost certainly that statement is biased, but Ronaldo is running the risk of becoming a slightly more exaggerated version of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. 107 goals for Real Madrid, just two of those are against FC Barcelona...

Kaka 6.5

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