Barcelona and Real Madrid fought out a tactical chess-match that ended 1-1 at the Camp Nou, leaving Madrid 6 points clear of Barca at the top of the table. Here, Alex McVey reviews the match as it happened, and provides some key takeaways.
The match began as an edgy, nervous affair as each side tested the other out. Luka Modrić and Mateo Kovačić each made key dispossessions early on in the midfield, letting loose Cristiano and Vázquez. On one of these runs forward, Vazquez was brought down in the box for what should have been a nailed on penalty, but the referee ignored it.
After a nervy first 5 minutes, Barca settled into possession, launching dangerous attack after dangerous attack, mostly originating from excellent midfield work by Sergio Busquets, who was in fine form all match long. Despite Barca controlling a significant amount of possession, Real Madrid’s back line, shielded by a rampant Luka Modrić, consistently broke up plays and made key interceptions, setting Madrid free on counter-attacks that Ronaldo and Benzema couldn’t finish off. The referee perhaps missed another penalty when Mascherano grabbed Ronaldo’s shirt in the box in plain view of the referee, preventing him from going up for a header.
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Around the 30-minute mark, Madrid began to take control of the game in spite of Barca’s superior possession. Benzema, who had a quiet night overall, was intelligent off the ball, occasionally pressing Ter Stegen at key moments, forcing him to send the ball out of bounds. Benzema’s press was soon joined by Ronaldo, Isco, Marcelo, and Luka Modrić, who forced a dispossession on Barca’s right side that turned into a dangerous attack. Modrić continued to command the midfield, making a number of crucial interceptions, one of which set Ronaldo free to shoot at Ter Stegen, who could only bat the ball away for a corner.
The remainder of the first half was marked by a defensively disciplined Madrid successfully preventing Barca from making clear opportunities and setting the attackers free on the counter. Perhaps if Madrid had Bale at their disposal, some of these counter-attacks would have been more successful.
The second half changed things dramatically, as Barca came out looking sharp and Madrid were immediately put on the defensive. Varane, who had otherwise had an immense match, gave away a foul just outside of Madrid’s box. Neymar took the free kick and crossed it into Suarez, who muscled Varane out for the goal. It’s difficult to blame either Varane or Navas; Suarez goal was the product of a pinpoint cross and a fierce header that there was little Madrid could do about.
It seemed as if the goal was deflating Madrid’s spirit, as Barca commanded the second half with force and fury. Sergi Roberto kept Marcelo in his pocket, blocking cross after cross and preventing Madrid from getting meaningful service into the forwards.
Madrid was not helped by the introduction of Iniesta, who came on for Rakitic in the 50th minute. Iniesta immediately energized the Camp Nou, and provided some much needed midfield for cohesion for Barca. It looked like Barca was much more likely to get a second goal than Madrid was to equalize. Neymar let Madrid off the hook after a clear break, skying his shot over the net following a great effort near the edge of the box to earn significant space to shoot.
Casemiro was brought on for Isco in the 66th minute, in an effort to add some strength to a midfield that was getting dominated by Busquets, Iniesta, and Messi. While ideally this would have freed up Modrić and Kovačić to attack, the game did not pan out this way, as Madrid spent most of the next fifteen minutes pinned back in their half blocking Barca’s persistent attacks. Key deflections by Carvajal and Varane, along with a near-miss from Messi in the 81st minute, kept Madrid alive.
The game ended in dramatic fashion as Sergio Ramos headed home a cross from Luka Modrić in the 90th minute. With the game in its last dying breaths, Barca made one last all-out effort to try to claw back the 2 points that had just been taken from them by Madrid’s lion-hearted captain. Deep into extra time, Navas was forced into action, punching the ball out towards the edge of Madrid’s box. With Navas sprawled out on the ground, Barca nearly scored a last-ditch winner, but was stopped by a crucial goal-line headed clearance by Casemiro.
And with that, Madrid began to celebrate a draw that felt like a win. Madrid remain unbeaten, 6 points at the top of the league, and fully in control of their own destiny.
Missing Influence of Key Players
Real Madrid were obviously missing the influence of Toni Kroos and Gareth Bale. Kroos’ ability to switch the play across the field with ease was noticeably absent in the first half, as Madrid gave away the ball sloppily when trying to advance the ball over Barca’s midfield. Additionally, the absence of Bale’s explosive pace prevented Madrid from being as effective on the counter as they could be. Benzema was unable to break with the pace needed to make the most out of the counter-attacks.
The Luka Modrić vs Sergio Busquets Show
The box-to-box midfielders made all the difference this match for their respective teams. Busquets had 86 touches, Modrić had 85, a team high for each player. Both Modrić and Busquets were responsible for ensuring their team’s defensive stability, and each was crucial to building up their team’s attacks. Modrić ultimately provided the assist for Sergio Ramos’ late header, and Busquets was crucial in launching the attacks that troubled Madrid’s back line all night.
Madrid’s center-back pairing was on point
Rafael Varane is beginning to show the kind of form that made many believe he could be one of the best defenders in the world. He was all over the place at the back, and despite making the foul that led to Suarez goal, was single-handedly responsible for preventing a number of Barcelona goals. Ramos also had an uncharacteristically disciplined game in defense, largely avoiding the stupid errors that have marred his performances in the past. And, once again, when Madrid need a hero, Don Sergio Ramos Garcia came to the rescue.