This was almost a tale of two halves — in the most stereotypical, cliche way possible. But anything Real Madrid did in a very brief amount of time in the second half was quickly ripped apart and laughed at by Barcelona as they ran up the scoreline.
Not uncommon in the modern era, Real Madrid turned up in the second half to conjure a delayed surge at the Camp Nou after some second-half adjustments. It was utterly delayed, though, and too brief. The team showed up 45 minutes too late, and then regressed again. And it wasn’t just that they didn’t turn up at all in the first half, it’s that they laid an astronomical egg and looked like they didn’t want to be there at all — counting down the minutes they could go back to the comforts of their own home while curling up with a blanket and a teddy bear.
The first half was a mess. Maybe you could see it coming even without Messi. Real Madrid were wounded walking into this following a string of underwhelming results and performances. But they typically turn up at Camp Nou, and going into a Clasico against a side that will allow you to play counter-attacking football, with your strongest XI (minus Carvajal), seemed like a good opportunity to make a statement.
Instead, Real Madrid ceded possession in favour of a compact-less and frail defensive scheme. The shape without the ball was broken. Real Madrid were in no position to counter-attack properly (though they did have three opportunities to exploit Barca’s high line without any efficiency), were vertically loose, and left a ton of space behind the full-backs — particularly behind Nacho. They didn’t adjust, either. Over and over again, Coutinho, Rafinha, or Suarez made a run behind Real Madrid’s right full-back. On Barca’s opening goal, they not only allowed it to happen, but they also collapsed centrally, as Ramos and Varane made the same defensive run and no central midfielder was in sight to close down Coutinho’s run:
GOAL! Philippe Coutinho (1-0) #ElClásico pic.twitter.com/IUK0BEpwaw— Media Cules Goal (@mediaculesgol10) October 28, 2018
The half continued to unfold in an uncomfortable manner, as Barcelona continued to exploit space while pressing Real Madrid high up the pitch. Real Madrid saw little of the ball as their possession cogs Modric, Kroos, Marcelo, and Isco ghosted; and the team looked incapable of escaping Barca’s press. To make matters worse, not only did Lopetegui just get it wrong (and something I didn’t mention, is that I’m sure Odriozola would’ve at least put some pressure on Alba had he played), the team looked lifeless (here’s an unfiltered thread of my half-time thoughts below).
are we alive— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) October 28, 2018
At half-time, Lopetegui, with his job clearly on the line, took a gamble and shifted to a 3-5-2 — taking out Varane (who had a niggle, reportedly), for Lucas Vazquez. That sparked some life in Real Madrid. They started to counter-press, win possession high up the pitch, and create chances. Lucas Vazquez, who looked good offensively against Plzen, provided really good offensive overloads, and it was his pass to Isco that unlocked Barcelona for Real Madrid’s consolation goal — if you can even really have the cojones to call it that. To make matters worse, Marcelo pulled up injured and had to leave the game in the second half.
This was a disaster, and no one will really remember that brief spell of Real Madrid life in the second half, as Barcelona started to exploit Real Madrid on the counter and just completely blew them away with an embarrassing scoreline. I half-jokingly said on Twitter that Conte is looking at this second half, thanking Lopetegui for experimenting the 3-5-2 for him, and thinking to himself “Hmmm, I think I can make this work!” — but it was only a half joke.
I’m sure you are all upset — but hopefully you don’t let it ruin your day completely. Go out, hug your loved ones, do some cooking, or work out. In the morning you’ll have some news, presumably, about Lopetegui’s sacking. We’ll have a podcast for you up tonight.