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Retro Visual Analysis: Zidane’s first Clasico as manager

Revisiting Real Madrid’s win at the Camp Nou in 2016

FBL-ESP-LIGA-BARCELONA-REALMADRID Photo credit should read LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images

El Clasico on April 2nd, 2016 had a grand setting as this fixture often does. Luis Enrique’s Barcelona seemed to have been running away with their title defense until Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid raised some eyebrows and closed the gap to an uncomfortable distance for the Cules.

Luis Enrique’s Barcelona had destroyed Rafa Benitez’s Madrid earlier in the season at the Bernabeu. Lucho’s side hadn’t lost a game in almost six months and for more than 30 games. The expectations from Zidane’s team were not huge but this game propelled Real Madrid for greater things despite eventually missing out on the LaLiga title.

This was still in the vicinity of El Clasico's glory days. One could easily make a World XI with the players from these two starting XIs only. It was MSN vs BBC. A Barcelona legend vs. A Real Madrid legend at the dugouts. This was box office football, easily.

Passing networks of Real Madrid (left) and Barcelona (right).

The first half of this game was intense and it kind of flew by but Barcelona never really let go of the control they sought in this game, especially at the back. The four most efficient passers of this game were Sergio Busquets and three of their starting defenders.

Zidane sustained his confidence in Casemiro as a starter. Although Benitez had also tried with the Kroos, Casemiro, and Modric midfield, he crumbled under the pressure from his bosses and reinstated the glamorous midfield of Modric, Kroos, and James Rodriguez soon after. That midfield had glamour but it lacked balance. Zidane took charge of the team at a moment where he could experiment for a little longer with KCM. Casemiro’s inclusion meant Madrid was not shy from winning the ball back in the central channels while facing transitions.

Despite the cat-and-mouse play, both teams only had one shot each on target in the first half. Barcelona was expectedly dominating possession. Real Madrid had to be cautious with their defending as half of their defense — Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal — were booked within the first 18 minutes of the game.

The game got way more interesting in the second half. Gerard Pique put Barcelona ahead with a thumping header in the 56th minute. It was a big moment in the game. That goal was thought to be the official end of whatever catching up Real Madrid were doing. However, Zidane’s team had different ideas. Real Madrid equalized within seven minutes of conceding with one of the best team-goals from Madrid in recent memory. The fine move started all the way back in Madrid’s own half, propelled by Marcelo’s ball-carrying, and finished by Karim Benzema’s great volley.

Gareth Bale had a completely valid goal disallowed for a foul while attempting a header to Claudio Bravo’s near post. It remains one of the most baffling decisions to this day. The game got more chaotic and the clock ticked away. Madrid took 10 shots compared to Barcelona’s eight in the second half.

Just when Real Madrid thought they had a foot inside the door, one of the better performers of the night — captain Sergio Ramos was sent off.

Madrid bounced back from this setback quickly with Cristiano Ronaldo finishing off yet another glorious team move as 10-men Real Madrid went 2-1 up. Ronaldo hit his iconic ‘Calma Calma’ celebration which he reserved for Camp Nou goals mostly. Barcelona couldn’t come back from that. Ronaldo completed only 11 passes in this game but he was there when Madrid needed him the most.

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