Barcelona has beaten Real Madrid 2-1 in the ‘clasico’ played this Saturday at the Nou Camp with goals by Neymar and Alexis Sanchez. Jese Rodriguez was the goal scorer for Real Madrid. This win sends Barcelona six points ahead of their rivals who could also find themselves five points behind Atletico Madrid if the ”Colchoneros” beat Real Betis on Sunday. Even though Real Madrid was better in the second half, it’s in the first half that Carlo Ancelotti‘s men lost the game.
Real Madrid started with a very surprising line-up. Ancelotti changed his usual 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3 with his captain Sergio Ramos who is usually a center back starting in midfield. Another surprise was to see Gareth Bale, who is still struggling to find his form after his recent injuries getting the start over Karim Benzema. Barcelona started with their usual 4-3-3 with Xavi Hernandez,Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets in midfield, Lionel Messi as a right winger, Neymar on the left and Fabregas as a ”false nine”.
By starting Ramos instead of Asier Illaramendi, Real had more power and a stronger physical presence in midfield but they had less technique, quality passing and ability to retain the ball. Ramos is a defensive minded player and even though he’s good, he doesn’t have Illaramendi’s passing accuracy, vision and ability to retain the ball and make the right moves. The idea was probably to stop Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Neymar from getting the ball between the midfield and the defense and run at Real’s defense with pace.
Overall, Real did a good job at limiting Messi’s influence. The Argentine forward was often isolated on the right during the first half and didn’t create as many chances as he usually does. Defensively, Real remained very disciplined throughout the first half and didn’t really concede many chances. By focusing so much on Messi, Real has left Neymar with too much time and space on the ball and he punished them with the first goal at the 19th minute. On the goal, no Real player steps up to close him down until he receives the ball. Unfortunately for Real, it was too late to stop the Brazilian star from curling his shot to the far post.
The other problem for Real in the first half was that their three forwards, Cristiano Ronaldo, Bale and Angel Di Maria were often isolated from the rest of the team. By picking a destroyer (Ramos) over a creator (Illaramendi), Ancelotti made it very difficult for his team to retain possession and create chances. Luka Modric, who was the most attack-minded midfielder wasn’t able to support his forwards because his team was losing the ball too quickly. The three upfront were often forced to drop deep to get on the ball. Except a Ronaldo cross at the end of the first half, all their chances were long-range shots.
Ancelotti made the right change when Illaramendi replaced Ramos. When the former Real Sociedad player came in, Real Madrid controlled the tempo, retained possession, forced Barcelona to defend deep and created many chances. Ronaldo, Sami Khedira and Karim Benzema all had clear chances to score but Victor Valdes and the post came to Barcelona’s rescue each time. Also, Ronaldo was brought down in the penalty box by Mascherano, but the referee didn’t award a penalty even though it seemed obvious. Even though they conceded a second goal by Alexis in the last 15 minutes, Real looked better in the second half and deserved better.
Carlo Ancelotti’s tactics and team selection lead to a difficult first half for Real Madrid. The Italian manager made the right adjustments at the break but it was unfortunately too late to win the game. Real dominated the second half and deserved better than a loss but Jese Rodriguez’s goal scored at the 89th minute came too late for Real Madrid.