It finished 0-0, even though Real Madrid deserved more from their delayed trip to the Camp Nou. Zinedine Zidane was bold in his tactics and line-up and several of the Real Madrid players turned in memorable performances. This all meant we got answers to some of our lingering questions, while there are other new questions which now need answers.
1. Would non-footballing incidents overshadow this game?
Yes and no. There was a reason that the Clásico was postponed in the first place. Catalonia is a political tinderbox right now and protests were organised by the Tsunami Democràtic protest group. As many as 32,000 were supposed to turn up, but in the end only 5,000 or so did and this meant that the police could control the area around the Camp Nou and ensure there were no security risks as the teams arrived at the venue. And those who were there were largely peaceful. At the stadium, some managed to sneak blow-up balls past the security at the stadium gates and these were thrown onto the pitch at the game’s first substitution to delay proceedings for a couple of minutes, but otherwise the game ran smoothly. Afterwards, there were some incidents around the ground, but the positive is that we got so see some football. And, although it was 0-0, there was a lot of good football on show.
2. Would Zidane regret leaving Modrić out of this starting line-up?
No, not at all. Perhaps the boldest call with regards to the Real Madrid starting line-up was the fact that Luka Modrić was left on the bench. For Los Blancos to go into a Clásico without a Ballon d’Or talent on the pitch was considered a risk by many, but Zidane’s tactics paid off. There’s no way that Modrić would have had the energy to press and push and prickle Barcelona like Isco and Fede Valverde did. The plan worked really well, as Isco and Valverde were two of the capital city side’s best performers.
3. Would we get to see another Casemiro vs Busquets duel?
No, we never did get to see Casemiro take on his counterpart Sergio Busquets. We thought we were going to see it as the Catalan was included in Barcelona’s initial team sheet, but then the Blaugrana made a revision and released a second line-up which had Ivan Rakitić in Busquets’ place. Busquets, according to Barcelona’s coaching staff, had a fever. While this was probably a positive for Real Madrid, it was a shame that we didn’t get to see the two holding midfielders go up against each other. They are so different, but so similar at the same time and they greatly admire one another. “At Real Madrid, I look at Casemiro as he is so strong physically and provides balance to the team,” Busquets said in an interview with Líbero Magazine. When this was put to Casemiro in his own interview with the Spanish publication, the Brazilian said: “He is one of the best defensive midfielders. Maybe he doesn’t have the physicality that I have, but he positions himself so well and is always in the right place, which is so important. For me, he has been the most important player of Barcelona’s recent years along with Lionel Messi.” It’s always great to see the clash of styles when these two face off, but sadly we never got to witness this on Wednesday evening.
1. Will Marcelo automatically take back his left-back spot?
This was Ferland Mendy’s first Clásico and he did a good job at the left-back position, keeping an eye on Messi. Some will say he should have produced more in attack, but any left-back who is going up against Messi has to have a defence-first mindset and Mendy did a great job when at the back. In attack, he did almost contribute with the most important cross of the game as his beautiful technique fed the ball to Gareth Bale to fire past Marc-André ter Stegen. However, Mendy had strayed just a half-step offside and the goal didn’t count. Overall, this was a good Clásico debut, just as Mendy has been good whenever he has played – barring that moment of madness when he got himself sent off against Espanyol. Marcelo is close to returning from injury, but will he automatically be the starter at left-back again? Probably, but Mendy is putting together a strong portfolio of good performances.
2. Will we get more of Bale’s long throw-ins?
Bale’s long throw-ins were one of the talking points of this Clásico. Whenever Real Madrid were in the final quarter of the pitch and had a throw-in, they were sending the centre-backs up and into the box as if it were a corner or a freekick - and with the way Bale was delivering the ball into the box it felt like it was. It’s nothing new for the Welshman to be taking long throw-ins. The first time he did it was back in 2008, in a UEFA Cup match between Tottenham and NEC Nijmegen. He’d used this skill a few other times after that, but it had largely been forgotten until a long Bale throw-in led to a goal in a 2016 World Cup qualifier between Wales and Austria. Chris Coleman had been working in secret on this with Bale in training and now it seems Zidane is keen to exploit this strength of Bale’s too. Perhaps this was just a circumstantial tactic. But maybe we will see more of it.
3. Will VAR luck really even out?
Raphaël Varane will quite justifiably believe he could have been awarded two separate penalties in the first half of this game, for fouls from Rakitić and Clement Lenglet. However, neither was given and Sergio Ramos was one of the calmer voices on this subject after the match. In his pitchside post-match interview, the captain said: “VAR is there to help, it was bad luck. On another day, it will miss a foul we might commit in the penalty area.” This is wishful thinking from Ramos. In theory, what goes around comes around and officiating errors should even themselves out over an entire 38-game season. But this was a big mistake in the biggest game and might be more costly than some other ones. We’ll have to wait to see just how costly that lack of a spot kick - or two - will prove to be.