For the first time in a long while, we approached an El classico without any bitter exchanges from the managers or some controversy leading on to the biggest game in club football. More often than not, the tactical approach of the managers always seem to come to question; especially during the Jose Mourinho era, where it seemed like Real Madrid could not cope with the style and brilliance of Barcelona under Pep Guardiola; however, as time wore on and with about four el classicos per season; Real Madrid started getting used to playing Barcelona’s style and tactics.
Going into this season’s first installment of the El Classico; with both managers taking part for the first time; a number of questions came to mind as to how they would approach the game especially taking into consideration that Barcelona under Tata Martino seem to be more direct unlike previous sides who were more patient and eleborate. Real Madrid on the other hand seemed more of the same, but with greater flair and freedom unlike in the Mourinho era; Carlo Ancelotti’s team look more entertaining.
To the game proper, it may not have been a classic or the best encounter you may have witnessed; but five tactical moves surprised me in this tie particularly from Carlo Ancelotti and I can comfortably say this was the reason Barcelona had the edge and went on to take the maximum three points.
Playing Sergio Ramos in Defensive Midfield
It is no longer news that Real Madrid miss Xabi Alonso in their midfield; he’s calmness, control and command of the midfield is second to none; but haven’t we been here before; especially in the Mourinho era when he played Pepe in Defensive Midfield to add an extra shield to their defensive plan. That plan failed woefully and so did this one; yes Sergio Ramos is good on the ball; but that’s coming out of defense with a 89% pass completion rate. Putting him in midfield was like having a fish out of water; the trio of Barcelona Midfielders easily picked passes around him coupled with their fine movement led to an early caution and eventual substitution for a proper midfielder in Asier Illaramendi; begs the question of why gamble in the first place; maybe Ancelotti doesn’t trust Illaramendi to get the job done yet.
Exclusion of Isco
Big surprise for me was Isco exclusion; outside Cristano Ronaldo, you could say Isco has been Real Madrid’s best player with 4 goals in 9 games and 87% pass completion rate second only to Luca Modric. As far as I am concern, we know Real Madrid was not going to control possession, but having a player like Isco on the pitch would add some creative intelligence and incisive spark to their play; Modric always seems to be keen to play as a Regista (deep lying playmaker) sitting along side Khedira; this would have freed up Isco to do his thing high up the pitch bearing in mind that Real didn’t play with a proper defensive midfielder anyway; so why not play with some freedom.
Playing without a focal point in Attack
Surprisingly Ancelotti decided to drop Benzema and also left out Morata from his squad for the day. Real Madrid looked out of sorts going forward as there was no focal point. Yes Ronaldo can play upfront, but the truth is Ronaldo will always peel off to the wings either right or left; its what he does especially when he has the ball. I would have gone with Morata since Benzema has been off form; Morata possesses the physicality to ruffle the Barcelona back line and he would have caused them a lot of problems. Not that Benzema did not give the Barcelona defense something to think about when he came on, but if he or Morata had started; the outcome may have been different.
What was DI Maria’s Role
Have you ever had a more invisible player on the pitch in a big game of this nature than Di Maria? It was quite amazing to see him wandering all over the pitch with absolutely no aim and Di Maria is not that type of player; in fact Di Maria is second in La Liga in key passes (according to whoscored.com). Its was quite a shock that Ancelotti moved him to the left with Bale on the right and Ronaldo in the middle; interesting thing is Ronaldo kept popping up on the left, more so Bale for the better of his stellar season at Spurs played on the left. Take for example the chance missed by Khedira; it was from a cross by Ronaldo on the left; where was Di Maria? invisible of course. Even the goal that Real scored (permitted that Di Maria was off the pitch at the time) came from a Ronaldo pass from the left; Di Maria should never have been dropped on the right; big mistake and a tactical surprise.
Pace in key areas and at the right time can change games
Real packed their attack with a lot of pace to no great effect as the personnel on offer in midfield could not utilize the outlets provided by this pace. Barcelona on the other hand, struggled when they had to run at the Real Madrid defense. Interestingly, since the departure of David Villa and the eventual return of Messi to the right of the Barcelona attack; that role has been available for grabs; it was a surprise to have Cesc Fabregas play in the role; call it the False Nine role; he didn’t provide the pace Barcelona needed in that area at certain times until the introduction of Alexis Sanchez and what a way to mark his introduction, but with a fantastic goal.
In conclusion, Barcelona had their tactics spot on, Real on the other hand were shocking tactically and it would not be the first time that Carlo Ancelotti would be questioned on his tactical astuteness.