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El Clásico, FC Barcelona vs Real Madrid: Tactical review

We take a look at some tactical details that made Real Madrid put up a good fight against FC Barcelona.

David Ramos/Getty Images

Los Blancos seemed the underdogs in last Sunday's Clásico, but they managed to play a good game at the Camp Nou and, until the 56th minute, when Luis Suárez scored Barcelona's second goal, I would say they were the superior side. The return to the 4-4-2, the control of the midfield and the great coordination between Ronaldo and Benzema were some of Real Madrid's most important features.

Average positions


Like every time Real Madrid faces serious opposition, Carlo Ancelotti decided to set his players in a very clear 4-4-2 formation, with Gareth Bale occupying the right wing. Knowing that Barcelona's right winger Lionel Messi would not track back a lot, Los Blancos drifted their play towards their left wing, where Marcelo, Isco, Ronaldo and Benzema outnumbered Rakitic, Alves and Piqué. Most of Real Madrid's occasions were caused by this advantage, but a better use of the weak side, where Bale was too focused on defending, could have resulted in a better output, as his left-wing partners would have been able to attract Barcelona's defenders to the left and then let the Welshman take advantage of the open spaces at his side.

From the defensive viewpoint, the fantastic work-rate by all Real Madrid players served to build a well organized pressure, and the good positioning by the four men in the midfield line was the key to stop Neymar and Messi, which are Barcelona's main offensive arguments. Isco and Bale were patient enough to wait for Messi and Neymar instead of tackling them and, once they moved to the centre, Modric and Kroos were there to recover the ball, something they did up to thirteen times. Once Suárez scored and Modric left the field, Real Madrid's midfielders adopted a more aggressive stance that was easier to beat by Barcelona's attackers, and this resulted in the great stream of occasions they had in the last half hour.


(Above: Sergio Ramos heat map)

For Real Madrid to control the midfield, the aid of an omnipresent Karim Benzema (you can watch his highlights here) and the presence of Sergio Ramos were essential. His incorporation to the place where Isco would have been had Real Madrid played with their usual 4-3-3 helped Los Blancos to control the midfield by a better occupation of the space, as Real Madrid had up to six players there, in contrast with the three midfielders in Luis Enrique's lineup. This approach may seem risky, but it is, in fact, one of the basic principles in which Real Madrid's system is established: with so many players in the midfield, keeping the possession or stealing the ball in case of a loss is easier.

Sergio Ramos' wise passing was very important in activating Marcelo and Isco's wing (in fact, the Ramos to Marcelo connection, which happened up to twelve times, was the one Real Madrid used the most throughout the game) and, although he might be to blame for occasional mistakes in both of Barcelona's goals, it is obvious that his recovery was a great upgrade for a Real Madrid side that had been suffering a lot in previous games.

So, if Real Madrid's performance was so good, why did we lose El Clásico? Well, as I see it, just like it happens in most tight games, we lost by inches: Ronaldo had a shot to the crossbar, Bale scored a goal that was disallowed by a very narrow offside by Ronaldo and Suárez's goal should have never gone in. The good thing is that we managed to put up a great fight for the first time in months against a fearsome rival, with many key players that had just come back from their injuries. If we continue through this path, we will have our options to win the Champions League and, with a bit of luck, even La Liga.

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