I believe it is safe to say this was not the best El Clasico we have seen in the last few years. In the first fifteen minutes it was more cagey than expected and it was interesting to see both teams set up in a 4-4-2; mirroring each other. Real’s approach was clear to see at the get go with Kovacic getting a surprise start ahead of Isco; Zidane sort to limit Barcelona’s positive qualities. Here are my observations from the last El-Clasico for 2017 which saw Barcelona make it three away clasico wins in quick succession:
Real Madrid early High Press:
It was quite interesting to see Real Madrid press into the Barcelona half very early on; especially with Marcelo and Carvalj occupying positions beyond the halfway line. The idea was to limit Barcelona’s intricate build up play and then eventually shut out the outlets through the full backs.
At the beginning it worked; as Real forced Barcelona into playing long balls with the Catalan giants finding it hard to find a rhythm. This aided Real Madrid to create the best chances in the first half, looking like Los Blancos would get the chance to seize the initiative, but they failed to make this happen.
Paulinho’s Forward Runs
I am one that has never believed in some terms used by international pundits who claim there is a particular way of playing the game associated to each club. It is interesting to see Barcelona completely departing from the 4-3-3 formation that they have been largely associated with; credit for this belongs to Ernesto Valverde and his use of Paulinho.
This new approach, allows Messi to drop into midfield spaces to enable him create for the team allowing Paulinho to drive forward, make those late runs, joining Saurez in attacking positions. The numbers clearly show why Paulinho’s goal scoring numbers have improved significantly and this was clear to see as he always seem to be Barcelona’s biggest threat going forward at every given time.
Kovacic on Messi
As I watched the pre game conversation between Guillem Balague and Thierry Henry; Guillem made reference to Kovacic starting as a ploy by Zidane to man mark Leo Messi. He even backed this decision with stats from previous games where Zizou had gone with this approach. At first it seemed to be going according to script; however the danger with this tactic is it eventually leaves gaps in your midfield and your team ends up been outnumbered.
As the game wore on Messi found ways to avoid the action points and areas of the game; this way Kovacic’s man marking becomes absolutely useless; this was evident in the way Barcelona scored their first goal.
The worst kept secret with respect to how Barcelona begin their attacking play is the role of Sergio Busquet; from manager to manager he has remained integral to their build up play; this was evident in how Barcelona brought the ball out of defense for their opening goal.
Many opposing managers have tried with little success to curtail Barcelona by preparing to shackle Busquet, but with little or no success; for me he is Barcelona’s most underrated player.
Real Madrid can switch their focus now
I know stranger things have happened and will always happen in football; but I do not see Real Madrid recovering from a 14 points deficit even though they have a game in hand. As far as I am concerned; Zidane can concentrate on another piece of history making, to win the Champions League in a three peat; now I am sure that will gladden many a Merengues fans.
*** Pictures courtesy Managing Madrid, Guardian.ng, fourfourtwo.com