Barcelona’s unbeaten start to the season has come to an end thanks to a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Real Madrid in the first El Clásico of the season at the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium. Despite missing several of their best players due to injury Barça thoroughly outplayed Madrid for 60 minutes and deserved a lot more from the game, but Jude Bellingham’s special second half gave Los Blancos all three points in a match they definitely did not deserve to win.
Barça made a fantastic start to the game, mostly due to Xavi Hernández’s initial tactical setup that clearly confused Madrid with and without the ball early on and led to loads of spaces in between the lines for the home team to exploit as the Blaugrana used quick, incisive passes to progress the ball from back to front and create good offense.
They needed just six minutes to earn a reward for their strong early work and score the opener, as Ilkay Gündogan tried a one-two with Ferran Torres at the edge of the box and never gave up on the play before winning the ball off David Alaba in the box and calmly passing it under Kepa Arrizabalaga’s legs to give the home team the edge.
Madrid needed some time to figure out Barça’s formation but eventually settled into the game and began enjoying some possession, but were never able to truly threaten Marc-André ter Stegen in the opening 30 minutes. The Blaugrana continued to play with excellent poise and composure on the ball throughout the half with young Fermín López at the heart of every good offensive move, and completely neutralized Madrid’s biggest threats thanks in large part to Ronald Araujo and Gavi’s sensational individual defending.
The halftime whistle came to end a first period dominated by Barça thanks to a very good tactical plan and several sublime individual performances, and the Catalans were in excellent shape ahead of the final period. Madrid looked out of ideas and visibly frustrated, but had enough talent on the pitch and on the bench to turn things around. Would Barça maintain the momentum or would Los Blancos react in the second half?
Barça almost doubled their lead just five minutes into the period before Madrid could even come up with a reaction, with Iñigo Martínez hitting the post and Araujo forcing Kepa into a brilliant stop on the rebound, and the Blaugrana were determined to not let the visitors grow into the game in the opening moments of the second half.
Madrid did have a little more of the ball and were more aggressive in and out of possession, and Jude Bellingham almost found himself one-on-one with Ter Stegen before Gavi came out of nowhere with a spectacular sliding tackle to stop the Englishman from taking a shot on goal. That was the only moment of true danger by Madrid, however, and Barça did a good job of maintaining control of the game as we hit the hour mark.
Xavi made his first substitution with 30 minutes to go as Robert Lewandowski returned from injury to replace Ferran Torres and try to score the all-important second goal for the home team, while Carlo Ancelotti brought Luka Modric and Joselu off the bench to try and help a Madrid side still lacking creativity and attacking punch.
Ter Stegen was made to work for the first time all game in the 67th minute when Aurélien Tchouameni fired a rocket from outside the box that required a strong save by the Barça keeper, but the German couldn’t stop the next long distance rocket: Bellingham tried his luck from 30 yards and found the top corner before Ter Stegen could reach the ball, and the game was suddenly all square with 20 minutes plus stoppage time to go.
The goal energized the visitors who all of a sudden began dominating the game, and Xavi’s response to Madrid’s momentum surge was to send Oriol Romeu to add some defensive steel to the Blaugrana midfield. The coach also made two attacking substitutions shortly after, as the returning Raphinha and young Lamine Yamal came on to try and punish Madrid as the visitors began sending more bodies forward.
The home team started attacking again, Lewandowski and Gavi both came relatively close with shots from distance, and after enduring a tough stretch Barça finally showed signs of attacking life as we entered the final 10 minutes.
The game looked wide open and all three points were up for grabs going into the deciding seconds, and Madrid were the ones to grab it: a cross from Dani Carvajal was deflected by Luka Modric at the near post and the ball went over the head of Iñigo Martínez, falling perfectly onto the path of Bellingham who scored his and Madrid’s second deep in stoppage time.
There was no time for Barça to mount a late comeback, and the final whistle came to end Barça’s unbeaten run this season in heartbreaking fashion. We didn’t deserve to lose and were the better team for 60 minutes, but Jude Bellingham really is that good and continues to find ways to rescue Madrid out of games they don’t deserve to win.
I’m hurt by the result but proud of the way Barça played considering the circumstances. Araujo, Fermín and Gavi were immense, and once they’re back at full strength this Barça team can absolutely compete for everything this season.
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Araujo, Christensen, Iñigo, Balde; Fermín (Romeu 72’), Gavi, Gündogan; Cancelo (Yamal 76’), Ferran (Lewandowski 61’), Félix (Raphinha 76’)
Goal: Gündogan (6’)
Real Madrid: Kepa; Carvajal, Rüdiger, Alaba, Mendy (Camavinga 52’); Valverde, Tchouameni, Kroos (Modric 63’), Bellingham; Rodrygo (Joselu 63’), Vinicius (Vázquez 90+5’)
Goals: Bellingham (68’, 90+2’)