Since 2011/12, which Barcelona manager would you say had the best Clasico record? No, this isn't another one of my trick questions; while common sense and logic would dictate that the answer is Pep Guardiola, the Blaugrana's best-ever head coach started to falter in this high-pressure fixture in the final year of his reign, heralding the start of a new era: an era in which Real Madrid have more than been our equal in El Clasico.
The days of a Manita, or scoring six at the Santiago Bernabeu are long gone; in fact, since the start of the 2011/12 campaign, the two clubs have squared off eight times in La Liga, with Barcelona claiming four wins to Madrid's three, with one single draw in the period. In short, these matches have become closer than ever and virtually impossible to call.
It's been interesting too to watch the evolution of Barcelona's playing style in these fixtures since 2011; so with a little help from Sportsmatrix, we've crunched the numbers to try and assess how Luis Enrique's Barca compare to Gerardo Martino's, Tito Vilanova's and Pep Guardiola's Barca when it comes to El Clasico:
I asked for this breakdown out of genuine curiosity; I had no idea what to expect the numbers would show, so it really is interesting to see a few trends emerge -- and back-up some general perceptions of each manager. Our retention of possession was phenomenal under Pep Guardiola, and the stats reflect this; but under Tito Vilanova they continued to improve -- although our general creativity against Real took a sharp decline courtesy of the lack of consistent supporting talent to assist Messi in his best-ever season.
Likewise, Tito's side was more aggressive with their pressing in El Clasico than any other; only for this to drop to an all-time low with the arrival of Tata Martino. After watching the Blaugrana generally struggle in El Clasico under Tito, mostly courtesy to tragic off-the-field events, the Barcelona board wanted something completely different -- and they got it under Tata. We played a more open, expansive game against Real; the number of chances began to pick up again, and the goals started flowing, albeit at the expense of possession.
Real continued to create more chances per game than they had in previous seasons, and with Martino's side erring away from the dribble, they committed fewer fouls as well. Remember the 4-3? Well, that match pretty much epitomises the Clasico in the Martino era; lots of entertaining, attacking football -- a far cry from the tactical chess matches we had witnessed in the previous two seasons.
So what of Luis Enrique? While Tata's La Liga Clasico record was actually quite good, his general record was less impressive. His playing style had caused the Blaugrana to regress overall, and Enrique was tasked with bringing them back to the forefront of the world's game. Of course, we know that he achieved that goal, but what of El Clasico?
Well, our possession has declined yet further as Enrique, particularly in the biggest matches, has preferred to take the more direct approach to goal. Our team is less imposing as a result of the collective; rather, without Xavi pulling the strings in midfield, we've become more individualistic, or at least created smaller units that function well together. Neymar, Messi and Suarez are given more license to run at the Madrid defense, we are crossing the ball more often and generally passing it less in the final third of the field.
As a direct consequence, we are creating more chances than before against Real Madrid, perhaps returning to those dizzying 2008/09 or 2010/11 highs; the pressing is back as well, and while Real are having many "half-chances" if you will, they're having far fewer clear opportunities on goal. Will that trend continue tonight? We'll have to wait and see.