*Note: I wrote this entire article right before Sergio Ramos scored, but I’m publishing this because it’s going to serve as our post-match thread.
Sergio Ramos goat.
HOLY SHIT I HAVE TO REWRITE MY ENTIRE IMMEDIATE REACTION AND I DON'T GIVE A SHIT— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) December 3, 2016
Strong start wanes over time
Real Madrid’s first half was strong. Perhaps surprisingly, the approach to this game was much different than the one in Camp Nou last season where Zidane opted for a narrow defensive line with a compact central channel. Today, the defensive width was more obvious, which stretched out the defence and left a gap in front of the central defenders.
Nevertheless, Real Madrid were able to close those pockets of space as they appeared - something which the 4-4-1-1 allows. While Barcelona pressed well and defended well in transition, Madrid found space in impossible situations thanks to Marcelo and Isco’s ingenuity. After 30-35 minutes the match started to open up, and Real Madrid ended the first half as the better team.
The 2nd half was nightmarishly in contrast to the first. While Varane had a very encouraging game overall - seriously, didn’t put a foot wrong - he was bested by Luis Suarez on the goal. To be fair, defending free-kicks from that angle are extremely difficult. But, that goal essentially changed the game completely, and Real Madrid just weren’t the same after that.
The problems were only accentuated by...
If you had told me at half time that Iniesta would come on for Barcelona while Real Madrid would replaced Isco for Casemiro I would’ve congratulated Barcelona right then and there. Andres changes everything for Barcelona. There’s no need to dissect why, we’ve done it multiple times. Real Madrid, meanwhile, were in a situation where their offense was always going to be laborious without Gareth Bale, and in a game where Isco is clearly one of the keys to unlocking a tension-riddled game, the decision to replace him with Casemiro was - shocking.
The most shocking thing about this change was that it came after Barcelona scored. It was the ultimate sign of offensive regression. No matter how you try to spin it - Modric playing an advanced role doesn’t compensate for the offensive drop-off in this change - Zidane rolled the dice in the wrong way here.
I’m sure we’ll elaborate more on this in tomorrow’s podcast.
Modric and Kovacic
Special shoutout to these two, who were on fire all night. Their workrate was through the roof, as was their ability to snuff out attacks, dribble out of tight spaces, and get team team forward in seemingly impossible situations.