It Wasn’t An El Clásico For The Purists

After all of the build-up to what is routinely billed as ‘the greatest club game on the planet,’ Sunday’s El Clásico was a bit of a let down.

The usual heady mix of skill and quality was missing for large parts, replaced by more rudimentary fare.

That’s not to say it wasn’t an absorbing watch, but the purists would’ve turned their backs on it long before the much-maligned official, Hernandez Hernandez, brought proceedings to a close.

Luis Suarez’s opener was cancelled out by Cristiano Ronaldo, injured in the process, and tempers boiled over on more than one occasion in a tetchy first 45.

It wasn’t too much of a surprise when Sergi Roberto received his marching orders at the end of the half.


Despite his protests, the decision was right, but the referee had missed an awful challenge not a minute before, when Gareth Bale launched himself into Samuel Umtiti’s calf.

He’d also flashed a yellow at three players in the minute preceding Roberto’s red, so one can infer it was Hernandez’s way of taking back ownership of a game he was rapidly losing control of.


Missed Opportunity for Real

In any event, Real were in the ascendency and their fiercest rivals being a man down for the entire second half would only help their cause. They would become the first team to beat Barcelona in the 2018/19 league season.

At least that was the half-time narrative from media across the world.

Against all odds, it was the hosts who took the lead for the second time, Lionel Messi finding half a yard of space to score his 26th goal in this fixture. Only Sevilla (30) and Atletico Madrid (28) have conceded more goals against the Argentine.

Gareth Bale would equalise with a delicious first-time strike shortly afterwards, but despite knocking on the door a few times, it was Barcelona who came the closest to adding to the score when Messi brought a world-class save out of Keylor Navas.

The hosts managed to keep the supposed ‘best team in the world’ at bay largely thanks to Ivan Rakitic’s best game since the last El Clásico on Christmas Eve.

Luka Modric and Toni Kroos were kept quiet for the most part, meaning that if Real were going to score, it would be from plays down the channels.

Valverde’s trump card was bringing on Nelson Semedo, as his speed and diligence ensured that Marcelo wouldn’t be too much of a threat on the left side.

Down the right, Lucas Vazquez was given a directive by Zidane to get in behind Jordi Alba and cross the ball early. The Spaniard rarely had the opportunity against his national team colleague.


Griezmann Could Be More of a Hindrance than a Help 

Barca were, for almost the entire last half hour of the game, playing on the counter, but it worked.

They frustrated Los Blancos for long periods, the closing down of space ensuring that Modric, Asensio and latterly Kovacic, couldn’t get balls in behind.

Looking at how well they managed to subdue Real, one has to ask the question as to whether Antoine Griezmann is really needed at the Camp Nou.

Suarez appeared to let slip that the striker would be joining the club in the summer, but not at his expense, and the Frenchman doesn’t really offer anything different to what Barca have already.

Barca are heavy favourites to sign the French forward, who has been linked with a move away from Atletico for some time now.

With Messi, Dembele and Coutinho also in situ, adding Griezmann to an already overbooked front-line only causes problems.

It’s all well and good being able to buy the best players, but moulding them into a cohesive unit is clearly going to be an issue for Valverde.

For many, though one can’t argue with results, this has been the most uninspiring Barcelona sides for years, and they certainly don’t need more problems to deal with.

An unbeaten season – if it happens – will be quickly forgotten if players are foisted upon a coach with no real thought given as to how he’s supposed to integrate them.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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