Real Madrid at Barcelona: First thoughts from a much-needed victory

Real Madrid (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)
Real Madrid (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images) /

Real Madrid dominated in the first half, persevered in the second, and clinched the win deservingly.

Real Madrid played this game in desperate need of a win to bring back their confidence, after losing two games in a row at home, and they got it. A fantastic performance from Real Madrid resulted in a 3-1 victory over Barcelona.

In the first half, it was a good and even game. Real Madrid started off well in good defending shape for the first couple of minutes, but without much of the ball. Then, in the fifth minute, Karim Benzema saw the space behind Lenglet and Pique and noticed the latter’s positioning, and exploited it with a brilliant pass to Valverde, who slotted it in the top corner.

It was the start that Real Madrid had wanted after having literally no intensity in the two losses before. Unfortunately, due to some terrible marking by Asensio / Nacho, the early lead was erased. (Jordi Alba was too busy covering Coutinho, and everyone was so focused on Messi that Asensio almost completely broke Alba free, who gave a simple pass to Fati and he scored.)

Real Madrid had the majority of the possession in the remainder of the second half and should’ve had another goal had Benzema converted the chance in the early stages of the game.

How did Real Madrid do against the press?

Casemiro had a few bad moments while in possession of the ball. He had a yellow card but he wasn’t slowing down for some reason! He also was very high up the pitch once he started getting wooed by the press, and sometimes was pretty useful. Not much else to it.

In the attack, Mendy played as an inverted fullback, using the left halfspace to combine with Vinicius or Kroos, and switching to the flank once Vinicius cut inside (which he did a lot).

Real Madrid — unlike in previous contests against high pressing teams — actually managed to break the press very well, for the most part. They used quick one-touch passes, mostly short ones to break the press and transit to farther areas of the pitch. ‘Los Blancos‘ tried to exploit the space left behind by Barcelona’s high line through Vinicius’s line breaking runs and used the space left by the defenders when they came towards Madrid players to press them, for chances from in between.

Nacho, who was having problems covering Jordi and Coutinho already, got substituted for Lucas Vazquez due to an injury, apparently.

Real Madrid took control of the game later in the second half

In the second half, at least at the start, it was pretty similar, but Barcelona’s pressing was up a notch.

There was a sequence where Vazquez completely left Coutinho wide open, but he missed the header.

Sergio Ramos won and scored a penalty at the 63rd minute due to an interesting call: Lenglet noticeably pulled his shirt for a considerable amount of time inside the box, and Ramos couldn’t get to the ball coming at him, going down in the process. Some might argue that it isn’t a penalty, but it was an infringement of the rule, so it was given. It was interesting because it’s just a very inconsistent call. Inconsistent, but correct.

Real Madrid defended deep after that and sat down without rush. Koeman’s substitutions, later on, were, questionable, as his decision to go for too many attackers cost him the control in the midfield, which helped a lot.

Luka Modric came on for a (presumably) injured Fede Valverde and buried the game. With Madrid’s forwards capitalizing on Barcelona’s errors very late in the game, the ball came to Luka, who kept his cool and slotted it beautifully past the whole defence. (Yes, they were all practically inside the goal.)

Some additional notes:

  • Real Madrid defended in a 4-5-1, with great counter-pressing in the final third when they lost the ball. BUT, they had many sequences where the defensive imperfections were quite visible. Many times, there were unforced giveaways, many times, there were open spaces. All in all, they looked better than previous games, which is a plus point. The role of the wingers today was literally that of a two-way winger, particularly Asensio, who covered winger overloads along with Nacho — and then Vazquez — all game. Asensio wasn’t involved at all until late in the first half, but he helped out in the defense then as well.
  • Fede Valverde and Toni Kroos looked great today. Fede obviously scored, but was really good today. He helped in escaping the press, and helped a lot in executing those one-touch passes with the rest of the midfield and attack. He had to be taken off midway into the second half, unfortunately. Kroos was great in distribution as well, and helped a lot defensively, as he is sometimes criticized for. He had a couple of great chances to bury the game at the end, but Neto channeled his inner Casillas and saved both (and another after that from Ramos) of those shots.
  •  Courtois was amazing today. He saved a couple of great chances by Barcelona, particularly the one from Messi in the first half.
  • Sergino Dest was solid today for FC Barcelona — probably their best player. He pocketed Vinicius on multiple occasions. Vinicius was, hmm, ambitious? But, sometimes, too ambitious. He tried many things, but those things didn’t pan out as he would’ve wanted and they resulted in bad decisions.
  • Vazquez was pretty good as a right-back, at least on offense. That surprised me a lot, to be honest.

Next. Real Madrid's 5 Most Valuable Players Of The Last Decade. dark

Overall, it was a great performance from Real Madrid. They dominated the entire first half and defended very well after taking the lead in the second. They deserved the win one hundred percent.

We’ll break this game down even further very soon.