El Clasico in the United States during the pre-season has been a regular fixture over the last few years, and the 2023 edition of it perhaps gave us more insight into Real Madrid’s game than expected.
Micro-analysis in pre-season football can be redundant. The intensity, fitness levels, and even the squads do not operate at their usual levels. It is fair to say Real Madrid faced their biggest challenge in pre-season this year against Barcelona, and how they reacted to it in the first half was not ideal. Despite deciding against micro-analysis, some of the glaring flaws of Real Madrid that were exposed in the first half must be discussed with the bigger picture of the imminent football season in mind.
Madrid started in the diamond formation with Jude Bellingham starting as the number 10, but their midfield looked out of composure when pressed in the mid-block. Madrid themselves deployed a high-pressing scheme that tried to press Barcelona very deeply. Madrid had virtually no pressing in the midblock, which allowed Barcelona to dominate possession for large stretches. In terms of structure, the diamond formation requires very well-functioning fullbacks who can contribute to the attack. Starting Carvajal and Mendy together meant that was non-existent for Real Madrid in the first half. Mendy had to leave the pitch injured, and Fran Garcia had to take his place before the halftime whistle.
You need world class FBs for the diamond to work consistently.— Lucas Navarrete (@LucasNavarreteM) July 29, 2023
Barcelona took the lead after Real Madrid were bamboozled by a Pedri pass on the edge of the box. The overlapping Dembele gave Courtois no chance with a shot that had extreme power behind it. Real Madrid got the chance to equalize soon after that with a penalty, but Vinicius Jr hit the post. Rodrygo had a great effort from a free-kick, miraculously saved by Ter Stegan. Madrid came close to scoring again near the end of the half, but the ball just refused to go in, after a chaotic sequence inside the Barca box.
Real Madrid brought on Modric and Kroos in the second half to gain control in the midfield. The press resistance improved with them, of course. However, in the attack, the team continued to be predictable, and every move seemed extremely forced. Tchouameni had a great effort saved by Ter Stegan amidst this. Madrid changed the shape to 4-3-3 in search of a goal and brought in Joselu as Bellingham went out. However, the crosses suddenly dried up after Joselu came in.
Barcelona youngster Fermín López killed the game in the 84th minute after a defensive lapse from Madrid. A venomous shot from 25 yards out shell-shocked Real Madrid to the point of no comeback. Ferran Torres added one more in stoppage time to make it an embarrassing 3-0 defeat.
It can be argued that Real Madrid hit the woodwork numerous times in this game, and had those gone in, the outcome of the match would have looked much different. However, the performance itself was simply not good.