Send us a message

Interested in being a part of the team? Get in touch with us today.

El Clasico Disassembled

 Posted by on March 25, 2014 at 5:07 am  The Ball is Flat
Mar 252014
Real Madrid entered Sunday’s clasico with a four point lead on their rivals FC Barcelona and a feeling that, while an end of an era isn’t yet on the cards, that certainly there had been a sea change between the two. While it had always been Real Madrid that were weak in the back coming into these matches and vulnerable to the quick darting runs of Messi and company, it was Barcelona that had still not adjusted to the declining skills of Carles Puyol and Dani Alves, and the players they bought left them susceptible to attacks on the wing (Jordi Alba) and set-pieces (Javier Mascherano). With the waves upon waves of attacking talent that los blancos can throw at you on the counter  and the aggressive athleticism that they muster in midfield I didn’t think on paper that the blaugrana had much of a chance going into the Bernabeu and snatching three points, but snatching is right. The scoreline ended with Real Madrid CF 3-4 FC Barcelona but there was much more going on.

Referee: let’s get this over with quickly. I’m not a fan of the claims by either side that every time either of these clubs wins their rival immediately brings of referee bias or league intervention. There were many contested calls on both sides: a clear penalty on Pepe tripping Neymar in the area was missed by Undiano as was a Pique handball on a Modric set-piece, not to mention a Pepe head-butt to Cesc after Messi scores Barca goal that deserved a red card and an expulsion. This isn't even considering the calls he gave on either side.

Match Report:
Real Madrid 0-1 Barcelona: Andres Iniesta’s goal was superb to the right corner. It was obvious that they had Diego Lopez scouted well and that looked a weakness for him all night. It also exposed a lack of communication in the Madrid defense: Carvajal and Pepe looked lost between them and let Andres slip in but it was the lackadaisical positioning of Marcelo who kept Iniesta onside in the first place. It wouldn't be the only time.

Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona: Karim Benzema's majestic header with Javier Mascherano marking him. Angel di Maria, man of the match for Madrid, whipped in a high cross and Benzema was just taller and stronger than Mascherano. Granted, Pique usually plays these more classic center-forwards, but with Cristiano in the mix he had to divide his attentions. This is the fundamental flaw in Barcelona's system. I know they tried to maintain a bleeding edge tactical set-up since Pep Guardiola experimented with three at the back and using a combination of Busquets and Mascherano to shore up that other center-back but enough already. They can't ignore the absence of Carles Puyol any longer.

Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona: the second goal came with Benzema again exploiting the spaces that Barca continually left ahead of Valdez. The keeper has taken a lot of criticism over the years, but with Alves  bombing forward and Alba wandering centrally, it was chaos for Masch and Pique even with Busquets drifting back. Benzema was so dominant in the first half he could have easily have had 5 goals in a rout for the hosts, but sooner or later the frustration would settle and as usual Real Madrid's players would get frustrated and careless.

Real Madrid 2-2 Barcelona: I know it's hard to praise Lionel Messi these days for fear of either gushing to much and sounding the biased observer or inciting that vocal minority of trolls that will forever downgrade his achievements, but this close quarter goal in front of Lopez after passes from Cesc and Neymar is why I like him so much as a player. He stays on his feet, uses three-dimensional space like no one else and his finishing is without peer.

Real Madrid 3-2 Barcelona: With this goal I thought the match was over. It starts with Marcelo passing to Cristiano with Mascherano guarding him. He turns him around easily and blows right past him. Alves then slots in but he has no defensive position at all and looks to be avoiding contact when Cristiano trips (or is tripped, hard to see intent) but what is clear is that the initial contact occurs outside the area. A penalty is awarded and Cristiano scores just outside Valdez's outstretched hand.

Real Madrid 3-3 Barcelona: Considering how controversial the previous goal was I wrote in my notes that Undiano might be more inclined to award a goal to Barcelona to make up for his mistake on the previous penalty by gifting one to the visitors. It didn't take long. Neymar is brought down by Sergio Ramos in the area, red card and penalty taken and scored by Messi to Diego's left again. Did Ramos deserve either call? Not really, he might have pulled a little shirt at the end, but Neymar who has a reputation of going easily to ground was already diving in. What's more egregious I think is that I'm not so sure that Neymar was onside in the first place.

Real Madrid 3-4 Barcelona: Iniesta sandwiched between two defenders tries to split them and is pushed to the ground by Carvajal. Do they call it a penalty in England, or practically anywhere else in the world? Italian referees would wave it off and gesticulate wildly to continue play, but it's a clear penalty in Spain and indicative of what the real problem in this match is: bad refereeing. I know, every league wants to stake claim that there refs are worse than yours are. They're not. Not only are Spanish refs poorly positioned, they have hair-triggers imposing themselves as primary protagonists in matches (especially in less media-centric matches), rarely letting play continue and because in Spain everything is about politics and ethnicity, the fact that Undiano Mallenco is from Pamplona means something tangible in how he approaches the game. As an outsider that sounds silly, but because he's from the North the Madrid media say, it's hard for him to be impartial. Whether or not you think it's real or more nonsense spread by the Spanish press, in the end I know that is a question that is debated in every match. Everyone in Spanish football is referred to by their region and it effects how they are treated. So, "of course Mallenco had a bias. He's from Navarre don't you know."

The Good: What all this does is obscure the fact that this was one of the truly entertaining clasicos in recent memory. After years of Real Madrid parking the bus on Barca, Ancelotti attacked them in their own style but favored the fact that their talent is as good or better on paper than Barcelona. If Benzema had buried any more of those chances that he had in that dominant performance he had in the first half we wouldn't even be talking about referee bias in La Liga. He and Angel di Maria were key for Real Madrid. For Barcelona the Man of the Match was Lionel Messi who was front and center for the blaugrana. This was the first time I'd personally seen him play in more of a classic Argentine #10 role and it suits them if they want to fit Neymar into the squad.

The Bad: both defenses. When we see a defensive mishap we look at the closest defender and we assess blame. Javier Mascherano playing out of position and allowing Benzema space and uncontested shots in front of Valdez leads to two goals. Carvajal and Pepe comically caught in no-man's land while Barca's wingers ran past them and they're useless. Sergio Ramos puts another defender down and he's a red-card magnet. Well, in a team game it's not always about one person. Mistakes happen when players are stretched beyond their responsibilities and covering for weaknesses in their team-mates. Marcelo and Dani Alvez will never be disciplined defenders. You may say that's not their responsibility, that they bomb forward as Brazilian fullbacks are taught to, but there is a delicate balance in defense and in La Liga if you can't stay organized at the back you'll get burned.

The Ugly: the after-glow press conferences. I'm sorry, but I'm tired of the complaining in practically every presser in these clasicos. Someone should brief these players in media relations whether with traditional or with social networks. There is no grand conspiracy to hand the league to Barcelona or Madrid. Get over yourselves. When matches mean so much in Spain key suspensions for criticizing the league or the refs can hand a league to any of the leaders. Any loss of points is magnified in a league so stratified.
Enhanced by Zemanta


The Ball is Flat

The Ball is Flat is a website and podcast devoted to the Beautiful Game. Football, Futbol, Fusball or whatever you call it, it is the game that divides and unites us. The Ball is Flat's mission is to cover European football with an eye open, the heart in motion, and the brain colored with the right amount of cheerful cynicism. Read more:

 Leave a Reply



Refresh Image


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>