El Clasico is one of the most watched sporting events worldwide, and yesterday’s clash would prove no different. Although much of the animosity in recent years has been removed thanks to the departure of Jose Mourinho, there was plenty to be intrigued about in the match between the two Spanish giants.
How would the two new managers set their teams up? Who of the two biggest summer signings would shine, Neymar or Bale? Could Madrid win three Clasicos in a row for the first time in 34 years?
Let’s have a look at some of the things we learned from the game, which Barcelona went on to win 2-1.
- Ancelotti’s tactics: The Italian surprised many with his decision to start Sergio Ramos in midfield, and opt for a defensive pairing of Pepe and Raphael Varane. The Spain international was playing alongside Sami Khedira and Luka Modric, with each clearly having been told what role to play. Ramos rarely ventured further forward than the centre circle – his job to prevent Messi and co running into free space. Madrid’s midfield was too rigid and lacked guile – the perfect solution was on the bench – Isco.
- The New Boys: What contrasting fortunes! Neymar scored just 19 minutes into his El Clasico debut and was a constant thorn in Madrid’s side. His pace and trickery down the left hand side meant Ramos would have to move over and help Daniel Carvajal try and fend off the threat. Bale, meanwhile, didn’t make any real contribution until the 25th minute and even then his long range effort was sent high and wide. The Welshman is clearly still not match fit and was taken off after an hour in place of Karim Benzema. Neymar was given a standing ovation for his contribution when he was removed in the 85th minute. 1-0 to Neymar.
- Ronaldo vs Messi: So many previous El Clasico encounters have been settled by their brilliance, but yesterday both of them had quieter games than usual. Ronaldo started on the left of the front three, but pushed more into a central role, making the Los Blancos forward appear to be very congested and working in little space. Should have won a penalty in the second half, but endured a frustrating day. Messi lined up on the right hand side and would constantly cut on on his left foot. Madrid’s defenders did well in doubling up on him though.
- What might have been for Madrid: Los Blancos didn’t get going until after half time, but they dominated for large spells of the second half. The game could, and should have, changed in the 72nd minute when, with the score till at 1-0, Ronaldo was felled by Javier Mascherano in the area. Replays show it should have been a penalty. Karim Benzema, on for the ineffective Gareth Bale, crashed his effort against the bar seconds later. Just moments after that though, Alexis Sanchez went down the other end and chipped Diego Lopez to give the Catalans an unassailable lead.
- La Liga hopes: The gap between Barcelona and Madrid has opened to six points now, not enough to rule Los Blancos out of the championship yet. But Ancelotti’s men will need to improve, and fast. To date, they have been too disjointed and look the most likely of the two teams to drop points as the season progresses. Find some consistency and a ruthless streak and they will be challenging for honours.