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Sunday, December 11, 2011

ElClasico : Saturday Night Sensation for Barcelona

When the final whistle went off at the end of 90' at the Santiago Bernabeu the result 3-1 would have hard to sink in, if sometime had gone off to sleep at halftime. But this is Barcelona, the best team in the world at the moment and they would have left Mourinho gasping as to what is left for him to do to beat this Barcelona side something which he hasn't achieved in 4 league meetings, the first Real Madrid manager to achieve such a feat.

Since moving to a country with a different timezone my football viewing has been made more smoother with EPL at breakfast and LaLiga at lunch or tea time. And with ElClasico at a perfect time in the day I couldn't miss it for any reason. And while I was following it, the tension certainly was rising as each minute passed by even for the neutral in me. The Barca fans must have had a tough time in the first half and the Madrid fans in the 2nd. Add to that if I was told that 3-1 was a fair reflection of the game,I wouldn't  have an option but agree as Real Madrid were made to pay for all the missed chances they ought to have finished.The reason why you can't get off your couch when your watching a football match right from the 1st second till the end of the game was once again displayed today by the universal declaration of beautiful and scintillating football.

The fastest goal in an El Clasico - 23 seconds

The 2 teams had between them 10 world cup winners on the field with another 3 on the bench. Any game with so many winners on the field are not going to be short of some exciting play. However the 1st goal was on the contrary to all expectations. A goal in 23 seconds for Madrid was something even the Madrid fans and Mourinho wouldn't have even expected in their wildest dreams. And the culprit was none other than Valdes who sliced a hellish clearance to Di Maria loitering just outside the 'D' and after multiple rebounds fell to the feet of Karim Benzema who steered the ball into the net over the embarrassed keeper. This was just the beginning to a game which was never short of drama even for a minute. Besides the football there was so much blood boiling between the players , that it was entertainment right from the word go. Real kept up the steam post that goal too keeping the Barca team frustrated .However cometh 30th minute and Barca create one from nothing, Messi weaving his magic by running down from the centre circle drawing 3 white shirts around him, but managing to slide a pass to Sanchez who whipped a shot into the left bottom corner giving Casillas no chance. This brought game back to life with the chants get louder.

However the frustration was still getting to Barca with Messi losing his calm in the 37th minute with Pepe clipping Sanchez's heels and Messi getting booked for talking the big talk to the referee. 7 minutes later something incredible happened. Messi's late challenge on Alonso prompted the referee to reach for a card and incredibly he managed to pull out nothing realizing just in time who he would be booking and ultimately sending off. It would have needed a brave man to send off Messi. However pitiable it is that two bookable offences are two bookable offences regardless of the player and with this act the referee has done his clan no good. This ultimately seemed to be the turning point of the game with the result going against Madrid.

The 2nd half was  a different game altogether. The 11 Catalan players who looked a shadow of themselves in the 1st half  must have come back with some 'PEP' talk as they looked to overcome the Madrid dominance at the Bernabeu and it took them only 7 minutes as Ramos' sliding tackle put the ball at Xavi's foot whose shot was well covered by Casillas. Unfortunately for the Madrid team it took a big deflection of Marcelo and rolled to the inside of the post before crossing over the line, putting the Bernabeu faithful to silence at the farce they just witnessed. Mourinho's  restlessness saw him replace 3 players within 10 minutes, but Barcelona's goal at the 62' put the game beyond Madrid's reach. There was no freakishness to this goal with Fabregas scoring a diving header to put the ball in the back of the net. The rest of the game was synonymous with Barca's usual dominating style of play and ultimately Jose Mourinho was left with more questions than answers at the end of the 90 minutes.

The Story of the First 45 Minutes:

The first 45 minutes was more of Madrid than Barca. Strangely Mourino preferred to star Coentrão at right back than his usually central midfield position just like he did against Sporting Gijon last week. Much more surprising was the starting of Alexis Sanchez ahead of David Villa. From the pitchmap below we can see that Madrid had a lot more attacking run, playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation, whereas Barca were in their regular 4-3-3 or 4-1-3-1-1 formation. Conceding just 17 goals in their last 17 games, it took Madrid under 1/3th of  a minute to score the 1st goal, firstly thanks to a mistake from Valdes, but also the fact that they that a lot of players around the box with each one covering the box entirely so as to not lose the ball. Alonso is the focal point here with him being able to pass the ball to all parts of the Madrid attack. And with Coentrão and Marcelo attacking on the wings Mourinho never parked the bus even after they scored the first goal thus giving them more opportunities to have shots on target. Barca on the other hand lost their touch of tiki-taka football for the initial part of the first half with Alonso and Diarra stopping the flow of play in the centre. Busquests never moved ahead while the combination of Messi and Sanchez looking jittery till they combined to score the first goal with Messi's genius and Sanchez's smart finishing. This was possible as Barca switched to their regular 3 man defence with Alves play almost as a  left winger.

1st Half
2nd Half

The Deciding 2nd Half:

Barcelona were back to their usual self in the 2nd half. Guardiola switched his players to the centre of the pitch with Messi, Sanchez, Xavi, Iniesta moving closer. This allowed them to keeping passing the ball  more easily and score the 2nd goal. Alves played a more attacking role which helped him run up the field and create the cross for the 3rd goal which was eventually scored by Fabregas. Messi who an anonymous figure in the 1st half except for the one chance came to light with his trademark runs in the 2nd half due to the space provided by the Madrid formation. Di maria played a lot wide and was wasted. Pepe and Ramos found it difficult handling a bunch of Barca players on their own as Madrid pushed forward looking for the equaliser but eventually ending up losing by a 2 goal margin. Benzema was the only Madrid player who kept trying to get the better of Puyol but lack of support from his teammates didn't help the cause. Mourinho's attacking policy might have eventually backfired on his team as they didn't take their chances as and when they came.

5 Reasons Why Madrid Lost The Game:
  1. Christiano Ronaldo's 21 goals so far this season counted for nothing as he wasted one too many chances to finish off the game quite early.
  2. Mourinho's attacking approach might have rewarded him so far this season, but this was a game where attacking with caution would have been a better approach.
  3. Barca's superior tactical changes at half time took the game away from Madrid.
  4. Bad Luck ??
  5. The referee's not so brave decision of not booking Messi for a 2nd yellow just before the end of the 1st half is definitely a major factor. Playing against a 10 man side is a different ball game and Messi's superior show post the break made a huge difference.

The expression says it all - How unlucky can I get?
For the fourth season on the run, Barca have made a clear statement at the Bernabeu -  that they still are the supreme reference point in the world of football. In a high voltage game, the team fought back from a first minute setback with ambition and majestic football. Three goals stamped their authority and ensured another historic win at the home of their great rivals achieved with their trademark style to retake top spot, though Madrid do have a game in hand. The battle has just begun....

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