- After Messi fractured his arm against Sevilla last weekend, this is the first El Clasico in 11 years without Ronaldo or the Argentine. Bernd Schuster’s Real Madrid won 1-0 with a goal from Julio Baptista that time around. Frank Rijkaard was fired later in the season, replaced by Pep Guardiola.
- Guardiola chimed in on how the two players grew La Liga, while imploring us not to underestimate what Real Madrid lost without the “irreplaceable” Ronaldo. Along with their star power, Ronaldo and Messi combined for 49% of the goals in the last 30 matches. In their place, Gareth Bale takes first billing as the television headliner.
- For Julen Lopetegui, winless in his last four matches in the league, El Clasico is about survival. Amidst frequent rumors of his departure, he simply says he hopes to “still be breathing” after the match.
- Though Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde isn’t buying it, discussing how Real Madrid are “more dangerous” when wounded.
- Looking at the matchup glass half-full, the void presents an opportunity for a new voice to step in and define the clash. At kickoff, Atleti top the table. Barcelona are in second and Real Madrid are between Getafe and Celta Vigo in ninth.
- Isco is active early with a through ball to Benzema, though the French striker is offside. After being sidelined with appendicitis, having your top playmaker back in the lineup is a good way to keep your job.
- It wouldn’t be El Clasico without Sergio Ramos’ physicality. He hits an early tackle on Rafinha to set the tone.
- Barcelona have most of the possession as expected, with Real Madrid hitting out on quick counters.
- Ivan Rakitic hits a beautiful through ball to Jordi Alba, who cuts it back to Coutinho for the opening goal. Rakitic’s ball was beautiful, although this sequence was about Alba: from his run to his patience inside of the box and accurate pass to the Brazilian.
- Alba keeps getting free on that left side, with Nacho, filling in for Dani Carvajal, offering little resistance. Meanwhile, Real Madrid’s only outlet is Benzema who finds himself one on three every time he receives the ball back to goal.
- Barcelona’s high pressure is causing Real Madrid all sorts of issues. It’s taken Real Madrid over 20 minutes to finally get possession and put a pause in this match.
- Raphael Varane definitely clipped Luis Suarez inside the box, with the penalty given after VAR review. That’s also a great penalty from Suarez.
- As many on Twitter pointed out, Real Madrid’s current struggles aren’t matter of tactics, but from their passive attitude as the first half closes out.
- Lopetegui surely must inject some energy into his side. Lucas Vazquez comes on for Varane, with Nacho moving to center back for form a three defender backline.
- The change to a three centerbacks with Vazquez as a wingback pays off immediately. Marcelo’s goal came from an initial Vazquez run on the right side. Lopetegui is back!
- Real Madrid completely turned the energy around with their own high pressure, leading to Luka Modric hitting a strike off the post.
- Suarez comes back with a post of his own off a cross from Roberto, found again by a diagonal from Rakitic.
- Vazquez provides another beautiful cross to Benzema, who puts it high. Burying that would have turned this match on hits head.
- Valverde strikes: Nelson Semedo comes on for Rafinha as he tries to regain control of the match. Roberto moves to center mid. Later, Ousmane Dembele comes on for Coutinho.
- What a streetwise third goal from Suarez, who somehow generates that much power standing still for a header. Also, note Dembele driving the ball through the middle in the buildup.
- That fourth goal from Suarez is my favorite of his hat trick just for its sheer cheek. And it was Roberto, whose made an impact at center mid, winning the ball off Ramos and playing Suarez in.
- And Barcelona aren’t done. Rakitic finds Dembele isolated one on one, who then easily slips past Nacho and finds Vidal’s late run for Barcelona’s fifth.
- 5-1 is both a harsh scoreline, yet well-deserved in how Real Madrid collapsed in the final 10 minutes of the match. We were looking for a new superstar to appear, but instead, it was just Suarez doing what he does when he gets the freedom to roam without Messi. His sense and feel for open space behind defenders - and how he gets to that space either through off ball movement or a feint - is its own genius.
- Although we need a word for the much maligned trio of Valverde, Dembele and Roberto. Valverde’s two subs returned control of the match back to Barca after they were in danger of giving up the second goal. Dembele’s dribbling through midfield and his one on one ability knocked out Real Madrid. Roberto played his usual steady role at right back, and then provided the incisive passes once moved to center mid. Suarez won the match, but that trio provided a framework.
- As for Lopetegui, one could point to tactics but I can’t help but think he was let down by the individual attacking quality of his side. There was a spell early in the second half when Real Madrid looked like they would not only equalize, but also get a third - yet the final ball never came. Neither Benzema, Bale, nor Isco could conjure up a Suarez-like individual performance of single handedly winning a match when something of that sort was needed.
- Afterwards, Lopetegui could only state that he was sad.
La Liga Match Abstract: Barcelona 5, Real Madrid 1