Advantage Real Madrid in title race
Real Madrid hit the top of the table in Spain after victory in El Clasico as the race for the title took another twist at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium on Saturday.
Los Blancos lead the way by a point from Barcelona, although Atletico Madrid can regain top spot when they take on Real Betis later today.
It’s certainly not over yet but the title is no longer in Barca’s hands and they surely can’t afford to drop any more points in their final eight games if they are to pip the two Madrid rivals to an unlikely title.
Barca will surely need a favor or two now and will hope Getafe might help them out next weekend in La Liga. Nacho and Casemiro will now miss that match through suspension and will join Sergio Ramos on the sidelines (and potentially Dani Carvajal and Raphael Varane too).
Barca can only blame themselves
Barca complained long and hard after the final whistle with Ronald Koeman and Gerard Pique leading the way. The Dutchman felt his team were denied a “crystal clear” penalty, while Pique moaned that only four minutes of stoppage time had been added.
The penalty decision was debatable, so too (in my opinion) was the decision to award Vinicius a free-kick from which Toni Kroos scored, but Barca can still only blame themselves for Saturday’s defeat.
Koeman’s side were poor in the first half, slightly better in the second but beaten by a better and far more savvy team.
Yet don’t forget this was a very young team Barca put out, with six players aged 23 or under in the starting XI, and what is certain is that they will learn from this.
Ilaix shows up again
There were a few positives to take from Saturday’s loss, not least the performance off the bench once again of 18-year-old midfielder Ilaix Moriba. The youngster certainly wasn’t intimidated by the occasion as shown when he confronted Casemiro in the second half.
Este manotazo de Casemiro a Gil Manzano no lo verás repetido en ningún lado porque la caverna protege bien a sus jugadores. La impunidad con Casemiro es tal que hasta él se permite agredir a un árbitro. Y Gil Manzano parece que le deba pedir hasta perdón. pic.twitter.com/XvWPw1UNQZ— UncleWiiz (@TheTruthWiiz) April 10, 2021
Ilaix then came agonisingly close to snatching a last-gasp equalizer too. The midfielder struck the crossbar with a shot from inside the penalty area in the dying seconds and the look on his face after the miss said it all.
It’s another performance from Ilaix that shows he really deserves to be part of the first-team set-up, and we can surely expect to see plenty more of the young star in the final weeks of the season.
Messi’s curious Clasico drought continues
There was plenty of focus on Lionel Messi again on Saturday with many wondering if the game was the captain’s last Clasico. Hopefully not, although he did come within a whisker of scoring another memorable goal when he hit the post from a corner in the first half.
Lionel Messi tried to score from a corner ... and hit the post pic.twitter.com/WA5i6usZcb— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 10, 2021
Yet that’s about as close as Messi came as his curious Clasico drought continues. The fixture’s all-time leading goalscorer has now gone seven games without a goal or an assist against Los Blancos in all competitions - the longest drought of his career.
It certainly wasn’t a great night for Messi. The captain was even spotted shivering in the heavy rain in the second half before opting for a change of shirt. The international break seems to have certainly disrupted Messi (and Barcelona’s) rhythm but Koeman needs his main man and his team to regroup quickly with the Copa del Rey final up next.
Another big game defeat for Koeman
The Copa del Rey final will be another huge test for Koeman who will head into the match after defeat in another big game. The Dutchman deserves credit for turning Barca’s fortunes around this season and trusting in youth but has been lacking at crucial times.
The defeat means Los Blancos have now done a La Liga double over Barcelona for the first time since 2007-08. Defeats in key games to Atletico, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, and Athletic in the Spanish Super Cup also mean doubts remain over Koeman’s long-term suitability to be Barcelona coach.
The Dutchman does have president Joan Laporta’s backing for now at least but if Barca are beaten by Athletic again next weekend you can bet the rumors over a Xavi return wil be back with a bang.