While some might think of it as a joke, Barcelona’s victory over Real Madrid in the Clásico is truly not as impressive as some are making it out to be. Yes, Barcelona was up against one of its biggest foes, but the reality is that Madrid is in one of its worst footballing periods. Things haven’t been this bad since Rafa Benitez was in charge, whose defeat in that year’s El Clásico led to his eventual sacking. Lopetegui’s era is ending in similar fashion as news of Antonio Conte potentially replacing him continues to flash across social media.
It’s a disappointing end to what was a huge gamble and it is sad to see the former Spanish coach possibly leave Madrid in such disgrace. While the fans may choose to feel sorry for Real Madrid’s current position on the league table, there is a harsher reality that this team is not the same any more and beating them is not anything special--at least not at this moment.
There were some massive positives to take away from this game, but also a handful of negatives. For starters, Rafinha is probably better used as a central midfielder alongside Arthur at this point. While he did try to get involved, often having a free role and roaming to the left-flank or dropping deep, his contribution in these positions was not very impressive. The Brazilian has grown up in the same school of thought as Sergi Roberto. The duo were trained under Luis Enrique and are capable of playing multiple positions but aren’t world-class in any of them.
Unlike Roberto, however, Rafinha has room to grow into one of the best central midfielders in the world. Using him in a multitude of positions will make him another Sergi Roberto and that’s the last thing we need at this point.
Another massive takeaway from this game is that Luis Suarez can still bang in the goals when he wants. Everyone has stepped up in the absence of Messi and if the team can continue to perform at this level, then there’s a good chance that Barcelona could go all the way in Europe.
Ernesto Valverde has been on the receiving end of a lot of praise for his timely substitutions in the Clásico. My only issue with this is that while Ousmane Dembele’s substitution worked, it was a gamble. At that point in the game, Madrid was bullying the midfield and controlling the tempo, almost bypassing our defense at will. The sensible decision at the time was to bring on Arturo Vidal, who could have added that extra bit of steel to control the tempo of the game. Valverde took a risk and it paid off, as he made two attacking substitutions, replacing Rafinha and Philippe Coutinho for Nelson Semedo and Dembele.
On paper, these substitutions may look like they’re like-for-like but Semedo and Dembele add an attacking flair to the team like no one else wearing the Blaugrana right now. Those two players ran at the opposition, and made their tired legs look like arthritis had struck the men in white.
Madrid was exhausted, mentally broken, and suddenly you had these two speed merchants, who were playing to prove a point. Barcelona had already wounded the beast but Valverde’s decision to bring those two on was the kill-shot.
While that decision paid dividends, things could have gone either way, had Barcelona conceded a goal in that period.
Jordi Alba deserves a special mention too, as the Catalan has been playing like a man possessed. It’s unreal how he’s transformed his game and become so complete. Two years ago, many felt like Gareth Bale was getting the better of Alba more often than not. This time, however, Alba made the Welshman look pathetic and there wasn’t really much Bale could have done about it. Alba had him in his pocket all game, while being one of Barcelona’s most dangerous players on the counter. There is nobody in this business who can make an overlap better than Jordi Alba and the man was in the mood to put on a show for the fans—what a show it was!
Barcelona may use this game as a platform to build upon their good performance but beating a struggling Real Madrid at home is not a big deal, especially when we had the support of 90,000 odd fans, screaming at the top of their lungs. The next game is always more important than the last one, and the Blaugrana need to keep their head down and focus on how they’re going to plan their tactics for the upcoming games, now that so many players have hit form at the same time.