Barcelona are back on the losing track thanks to a painful 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid in El Clásico on Sunday. Almost 87,000 fans came to Camp Nou and saw Barça put up a good fight, but the Blaugrana didn’t take their chances and saw Madrid be ruthless in front of goal to escape with all three points.
Barça started the game well, pressing high up the pitch and playing with intensity and good concentration, not allowing Madrid any space in possession and showing good initiative as the home team.
They had the best chance of the half in the 25th minute when Marc-André Ter Stegen sent a long ball forward, Memphis Depay spun away from Éder Militão and found Sergiño Dest all alone with Thibaut Courtois, but the American missed the target completely and sent the shot over the bar.
That felt like a turning point in the match, the type of chance an inferior team misses right before the better team takes control. And that’s exactly what happened: Los Blancos amped up their intensity and started to trouble the Barça defense with the pace of Vinicius Jr. and the movement of Karim Benzema, and the Blaugrana became more and more vulnerable at the back with each Madrid attack.
But it was a counter-attack that opened them up for good: after David Alaba stole the ball from Memphis just outside the Madrid box, the Austrian sprinted the other way and found himself wide open on the left wing after a great pass from Rodrygo. Alaba fired a rocket into the corner, and the visitors took the lead.
Barça reacted well to going behind and had two excellent chances: first Gerard Piqué headed just wide from a Memphis corner, and a brilliant team move ended with a pass from Jordi Alba and a shot from Ansu Fati inside the six-yard box that was blocked by Militão.
At halftime, Barça had played a very good first half but were undone by a Madrid counter-attack, and they would need a second half for the ages to pull off the comeback.
Ronald Koeman brought Philippe Coutinho on for Óscar Mingueza and Barça changed formations to a 4-2-3-1, making them more attacking and aggressive in their pressing. The Blaugrana did dominate possession in the opening minutes of the second half and Madrid were forced to defend deep inside their half, but Barça couldn’t create any real chances.
Madrid had a clear plan for the second half: concede possession and look to hit Barça on the counter to finish the game off. Vinicius and Benzema each had a big chance with the ball inside the box one-on-one with Ter Stegen, but the Barça defense managed to clear the danger both times.
The final 25 minutes were a tough watch as Barça struggled to show any creativity in the final third while Madrid looked to slow the pace down as much as possible to try and run out the clock. They successfully managed that and even added a second goal on the counter, with Marco Asensio having a shot saved and Lucas Vázquez scoring on the rebound.
There was still time for another goal as Sergio Agüero scored his first for Barça in the last play of the game, but the final whistle came before Barça could have any hopes to equalize. This was a bad El Clásico, neither team looked good and Barça maybe deserved a point, but Madrid took their chances and Barça didn’t. Simple as that.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Mingueza (Coutinho 46’), García, Piqué, Alba; Gavi (L. De Jong 85’), Busquets, De Jong (Roberto 77’); Dest, Fati (Agüero 73’), Memphis
Goal: Agüero (90+7’)
Real Madrid: Courtois; Vázquez, Militão, Alaba, Mendy; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Rodrygo (Valverde 72’ (Carvajal 90+2’)), Benzema, Vinicius (Asensio 87’)
Goals: Alaba (32’), Vázquez (90+3’)