FC Barcelona defeated Real Madrid 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabéu in what was a much tighter encounter than the scoreline suggests. Below are some quick thoughts on what transpired. More detailed coverage and analysis will follow in the coming hours.
Notes On The First Half
- FC Barcelona molded their nominal 4-3-3 formation into a 4-4-2; Sergi Roberto played on the right-wing while Lionel Messi roamed freely in a false nine role. Though that was a smart way to maintain attacking balance with the personnel on the field, it was obvious that Barcelona were missing Malcom’s 1v1 threat from the first leg. Barcelona had to rely on tough one-two combinations from Messi to collapse Madrid’s defensive structure and free up Ousmane Dembélé for crosses from the left. Consequently, Barca only had one shot — which was from long-range — in the entire first half.
- Real Madrid started the game with an intense high press but were largely pushed back into their own half, where they defended in 4-1-4-1 medium block. Lucas Vázquez did an excellent job man-marking Jordi Alba, and the midfield and defense were generally good at staying compact and tracking runs.
- Toni Kroos man-marked Sergio Busquets which helped nullify Barcelona’s possession play. It wasn’t 100% foolproof, however, as Barcelona exploited it on one occasion around the 7th minute. Sergi Roberto drifted away from his right-wing role and freely received the ball in the right halfspace, drawing Kroos away from his assignment. Busquets got the ball back and Barcelona were able to launch a dangerous attack.
- The game was a stalemate until the last 10 minutes, when Madrid started to find their rhythm on the counter-attack and Vinícius Júnior caused all sorts of problem. From those opportunities alone, the home side probably deserved a goal.
- Both sides committed a lot of tactical fouls in transition that escaped yellow cards.
Notes on the Second Half
- Barcelona scored early in the second period of play to set the tone of the half. It was simply a case of Madrid making their first defensive errors of the game; Lucas didn’t stick close enough to Alba and Dani Carvajal was half a second late when tracking Dembélé’s run. This allowed both Alba the time and space necessary to set up Luis Suárez for the opening goal.
- Real Madrid responded extremely well after going down — the team immediately sought to dominate possession and constantly funneled the ball towards the left, where Vinícius Júnior could do his thing. That “thing,” it turned out,” was single-handedly torching the right-hand side of Barcelona’s defense to create a flurry of good chances. Reguilón also helped ably and it only looked like a matter of time before the equalizer came.
- But football can be cruel and Barcelona scored against the run of play in the 69th minute. It was again a case of being unable to adequately track Dembélé’s run, who beat the offside flag to force an own goal through a good cross.
- A couple minutes later, Barcelona roved forward in acres of space and won a penalty, which Suárez duly converted. The game was over from then on.
- The final result was definitely unlucky for Solari’s men, but it’s worth noting Madrid’s inability to control counter-attacks when they decide to really step it up on offense. The lack of structure in attack and the reliance on a lot of fluid combinations to break down the opposition makes it difficult to counterpress, let alone build a structured one. This has been a consistent weakness for this side except for the Sevilla match and a couple games afterwards, where Madrid kept the counterpress stable through sheer intensity. As a result, Barcelona were allowed chances to kill the game despite Madrid’s superiority.
- Messi was not particularly dangerous or influential, making this match all the more winnable and this loss even tougher to take. The same goes for Valverde’s tactics.
- Vinícius is already out of this world even when considering his subpar finishing ability. He was the best player on the pitch by far and already has the talent to win games on his own.
- Casemiro had an excellent game; he not only won the ball back on numerous occasions, but was instrumental in sparking some of Madrid’s best counter-attacks in the first half.
- Real Madrid’s performance was probably better than their display in the first leg notwithstanding the fact that they lost. But, if you are not clinical against an opponent like Barcelona, you will usually be made to pay.
- Real Madrid will now play Barcelona in the league on Saturday, before taking on Ajax in the Champions Cup in midweek. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that Madrid’s season could be effectively over if things don’t go as planned over the next 6-7 days.