Barcelona are no longer leaders of La Liga and will finish Week 26 one point behind their biggest rivals thanks to a 2-0 loss to Real Madrid in Sunday’s El Clásico. The Blaugrana played a decent first half but were completely dominated in the second, and Madrid have not only saved their season but gained plenty of confidence in the title race.
From the very beginning the two teams had two very different strategies: Madrid wanted the quickest pace possible, especially with Vinicius Jr. and Federico Valverde running in behind the Barça full-backs at every opportunity. Los Blancos had at least three very dangerous moments on the counter attack, but they were all ruined by terrible decision-making from the home team when it came to the final pass.
While Madrid wanted to run and run some more, Barça wanted to control the tempo as much as they could, working the ball with patience and looking to create chances after long sequences of possession and timely runs in behind a high line from the Madrid defense.
On the balance of play it was Barça’s gameplan that worked better, with the Blaugrana creating three big chances: first Jordi Alba found Antoine Griezmann alone in the box but the Frenchman sent his shot over the bar; then Arthur went on a fabulous solo run and forced Thibaut Courtois into a world-class save; and finally Sergio Busquets played a gorgeous pass to find Lionel Messi in front of goal, but the captain’s shot went straight at the Madrid keeper.
At halftime there were no goals but the game was well played and very competitive, with a promise of even more intensity and chances in the final period.
Madrid had 45 minutes to save their season and it showed in the first 20 minutes of the second half: the home team completely suffocated Barça, who couldn’t get out of their half and constantly lost the ball in dangerous areas. Real had two giant chances: the first came on a beautiful curling effort by Isco that Marc-André ter Stegen stopped with one of the greatest saves of the season, and then Isco had a header cleared off the line by Piqué.
The pressure was just too big and Barça’s defense was bound to break, and it did with 20 minutes left: Toni Kroos found Vinicius Júnior all alone on the left wing, and the Brazilian was allowed to run freely until he was close enough to the goal to beat Ter Stegen at the near post and put Madrid ahead.
Martin Braithwate came on and made an instant impact with his pace and willingness to run in behind the defense, but Barça continued to make dumb mistakes with the ball and Madrid looked really solid with 10 minutes to go.
Quique Setién brought on Ansu Fati for one last attempt at an equalizer, but the youngster, just like the rest of the team, had zero effect because Barça kept losing the ball and Madrid knew how to waste time and run out the clock, and they also added a second goal in the final play of the game through Mariano Díaz.
The final whistle came to end a pathetic second half from Barça, who are no longer leaders and just wasted a chance to end Madrid’s season. Setién did a poor coaching job for the second
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Piqué, Umtiti, Alba; Arthur (Rakitic 80’), Busquets, De Jong; Vidal (Braithwaite 68’), Messi, Griezmann (Ansu Fati 80’)
Real Madrid: Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Casemiro, Kroos; Valverde (Vázquez 85’), Isco (Modric 78’), Vinicius; Benzema (Mariano 90’+2)
Goals: Vinicius (71’), Mariano (90’+2)