This will be the most testing period of Santiago Solari’s managerial career, with the fixture lost churning out three Clásico’s, a Madrid-Derby and a Champions League Quarter-final tie in the space of a month! The first Barcelona crunch match came today in the Copa Del Rey semi-final at the Camp Nou. Solari made some surprise inclusions and exclusions, but the team still performed reasonably well, and claimed an important 1-1 result away from home to take into the next game. My player ratings from the game can be seen below.
Keylor Navas — 9: Madrid’s man of the match for me. Without him they would have lost this game. He made a string of excellent saves, one diving stop to the right to deny Suárez the highlight. He was also quick off his line to stop numerous one on one situations. The goal conceded can’t really be blamed on him at all. He again did well to come out and deny a strike, before a further two came in and Malcolm had put the ball in the net before he could recover. With his feet there were a few dodgy passes, but on the whole he was strong. There were a lot of long kicks into the opposition half when Madrid were ahead, which appeared to be a game plan.
Dani Carvajal — 6: Saw a lot of the ball as Madrid built out from the back. Defensively looked good most of the time, with one interception in the first half proving vital. Offensively he uncharacteristically offered nothing, though - perhaps due to Alba pushing up and keeping him busy inside his own half.
Sergio Ramos — 7: Got an early booking which seemed harsh, but would more than likely have picked one up over the course of the game anyway. Put in a pretty strong performance at the back, imposing himself in the air and on the ground. He joined in with a lot of the link up play, and didn’t lose his discipline as he often can.
Raphaël Varane — 7: Looked comfortable even after Messi entered the field. At one point the Argentinian was charging towards goal only to be stopped in his tracks by Varane standing tall. Looked good enough on the ball and was able to deal with anything that came his way.
Marcelo — 4: It seemed like every time I looked at Marcelo he was standing somewhere he shouldn’t have been. And when Barcelona inevitably targeted that space he made very little effort to track back and recover. Offensively didn’t make much of a a mark at all either. It was a surprise to see Sergio Reguilón left in the stands, as he would have surely given a more stable performance.
Marcos Llorente — 6.5: Sprayed around plenty of pretty passes, and although nervy still looked good with the ball at his feet. Whilst he was on the pitch Madrid looked the better side by far, coincidence or not. Limped off for Casemiro to replace him in the second half after holding his leg during the minutes prior. Hopefully that is nothing serious.
Toni Kroos — 7: One of the teams better outfield players, holding the ball well and being at the centre of Madrid’s play. He covered the field multiple times over, and came reasonably close to scoring towards the end of the game only to see Pique block his shot before it reached the target. Some more long shots could have formed a decent game plan, but Kroos did his job well.
Luka Modrić — 6.5: Floated around and offered a constant outlet for players on the ball. It’s in games like this where technique can be really appreciated, and Luka is the king of that field. His touch and brain got him out of plenty of crowded situations. Still didn’t look as strong as we all know he can.
Lucas Vázquez — 7: Another player to demonstrate sound technique over and over again. Lucas had a decent game on the right hand side, and scored Madrid’s goal early on. Despite Benzema’s best efforts to make it an easy chance, it wasn’t the simplest to take - and Vázquez slotted it away whilst being off balance expertly. Another player to completely empty his tank before being taken off for Asensio with minutes to go.
Vinícius Júnior — 4.5: The worst game that Vinícius has had in a Madrid shirt so far period, Castilla and all. The nerves simply got to him. It has to be said before we go on that this performance effects absolutely nothing. A Clásico debut for a teenager is ridiculously daunting, and the Camp Nou in full flow is no walk in the park, and It wasn’t even all bad! He did work tremendously hard, and made a better defensive impression on his flank than Marcelo. He was also involved in the goal, finding Benzema with a pinpoint pass, and besides all this completed a couple of impressive dribbles. Despite all this, it was still a pretty bad performance. His decision making, although never dead-on, was exceptionally poor today. The majority of the time the ball came to him he would lose possession, and he just looked very unsteady in nearly everything he did. It proved costly when he was running toward goal in a three against two situation alongside Benzema and Kroos, and could have slotted Kroos in for what would have surely been a second goal - but decided to go for goal despite not having a clear view of the target only to see Pique block it immediately and the golden chance wasted. It had obviously been playing on his mind as he later squandered a decent shooting opportunity to try and pass to a non-existent and unrealistic Benzema run instead. This kind of performance is understandably outside of the norm for this talent, and I’d like to see him give El Clásico another crack in the coming weeks.
Karim Benzema — 7.5: Another really strong game to keep the form going. This time he had to do it largely without Vinícius’s input. Whenever Karim got the ball to feet he looked dangerous, and it was his control that orchestrated the first goal - as he skinned his man before setting up Vázquez to score. He could have had another assist as he found Bale in front of a keeper-less (but not open) goal, but Bale hesitated and made it difficult for himself. Whilst not the best performance in his recent files, he still was the best outfield player Madrid had on the pitch for me. Let the form continue!
Casemiro — 4.5: Came on for Llorente, and looked very shaky on the ball. He was trying to carry it into attack too often, and looked wobbly whenever under pressure. Defensively didn’t seem as effective as Llorente either, although Messi was on the pitch at this time.
Gareth Bale — 5: Came on for Vinícius, but to be fair didn’t offer much more. He could have had the winner but didn’t compose himself correctly as the ball came to him in-front of a keeper-less goal.
Marco Asensio — 5: Only had six minutes to earn a rating, and was involved enough to do so. Looked good on the ball and tried to make things happen. Perhaps with more time something may well have done so, but there will be more opportunities this month I’m sure.
I can’t remember watching a Clásico in which Barcelona handed Madrid so many loose balls and give-away’s. They improved immensely in the second half as Messi came on, but Madrid could still potentially feel disappointing that they didn’t get anything more from the game. Solari has managed to squeeze past his first real test either-way, but absolutely nothing is settled yet. A season defining month awaits...