Sunday, 11 December 2011

El Clásico Match Report: Barça assert their dominance once again on the BernabéuFabregas


Fabregas and Messi 

By Des Norris
The scene was set for yet another dramatic clash between the elite of world football.
A game which featured all three Balon D’Oro nominees, two thirds of the candidates for FIFA World Coach of the year award and two teams who between them could boast a collective score line of 138-23 in all competitions since they last crossed paths back in August’s Super Cup.
In midweek Pep Guardiola attempted to deflect the focus away from the enormity of his side’s encounter in the Santiago Bernabéu by speaking about how events elsewhere merited more attention than a mere game of football, namely those in Brussels, where the future of the Euro was being mulled over yesterday. Needless to say his efforts were in vain. As perilous a state as the EU finds itself in economically, the truth of the matter is that financial recessions just doesn’t generate as much passion or interest as El Clásico does.
Football’s most decorated club in recent years toe-to-toe against the most decorated club of all time - Real Madrid versus FC Barcelona - and, for the first time since becoming coach at Chamartín, José Mourinho found his team heading into the match as favourites.
Despite having been a different class coming into tonight’s game, los blancos will no doubt feel their recent surge in form a hallow consolation as once again they succumbed to the mesmerising football of their arch nemesis in a 3-1 home defeat and thus threw away a great opportunity to effectively wrap up the title race at such an early stage into the campaign.
As it stands now the two teams are neck and neck in first position, with Real having a game in hand. However, even with that advantage, today’s result will be a massive psychological blow for Mou’s team as their self-created bubble was so savagely burst in front of them and talk of a shift in power towards the Spanish capital will be very much muted as a result.
With most of the pressure being heaped on Barcelona going into the tie, Pep kept his cards close to his chest and the multiple selection imponderables remained that way until close to kick off. Speculation about which formation would be employed (the work-in-progress 3-4-3 or tighter 4-3-3)? Who would appear up front with Messi? And whether Gerard Pique or Charles Puyol would play were closely guarded secrets the Barça coach was in no mood to reveal to the press.
Having made no secret about his intentions to start with a 4-3-3 formation with a three-mantrivote in the middle of the park, the two main points of discussion surrounding Mou’s starting XI were, would Lass Diarra start in the middle along with Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso or do a job as right back, as question marks hung over Alvaro Arbeloa’s fitness. And who would get the nod to accompany Di María and Ronaldo up front, Karim Benzema or Gonzalo Higuaín?
In the end the Special One couldn’t resist a surprise. Presumably because Arbeloa wasn’t 100% to start, utility man Fabio Coentrão started at right-back while Khedira made way for Özil in midfield, meaning that the trivote idea was ditched in place of a 4-2-3-1 formation. The system that had provided their 15-game winning sreak and best utilises the attacking prowess of Ronaldo, Özil and Di María, with Benzema getting the nod up top.
Meanwhile Pep made some eyebrow raising selection choices of his own, with both David Villa and Javier Mascherano being sacrificed. Going with a 3-4-3, both Pique and Puyol partnered each other at the back alongside Eric Abidal, while la pulga was accompanied by Cesc and Alexis up front.
Much of the build-up to the game focused on how improved Madrid have become this season and their relentless pressing game was highlighted as a real worry for their visitors. Nonetheless, no one expected them to come out of the traps in the manner with which they did.
Twenty-four seconds was all Benzema needed to justify his inclusion, scoring the quickest goal in Clásico history. However the creation of the goal owed more to a horrendous error from Victor Valdes than a great Madrid move, the Barca keeper made a hash of a routine clearance straight from kick-off by gifting the ball to Di María whose failed through ball was blocked only as far as Ozil and his deflected shot looped towards the poaching Frenchman, who was able to adjust his stance and volley in from close range.
An amazing start, which madridistas probably thought was a just the beginning of a memorable night. Unfortunately for them it soon became one they’ll quickly want to forget.
Apart from the opening goal, the high-octane start produced few clear-cut opportunities for either side. Messi got the better of Ramos in the fifth minute after the wet surface caused the centre-half to lose his footing, but the ensuing run and snap shot was safely palmed away by Iker Casillas for a corner.
Ronaldo, again failing to live up to his world-class reputation on the big occasion, was guilty of glory hunting soon after, when a wonderfully delicate pass from Benzema to feed the Portuguese talisman in should have been laid off to Di María, who was in a much better position to score. Instead he went for the spectacular shot, leathering it well wide.
Messi punished such greediness minutes later with yet another mazy, chaos-creating run through the Madrid midfield, beating Lass and Ramos, then playing a superb vertical ball into the path of Alexis who, with plenty still to do, cooly shrugged off the hot-on-his-heels Coentrao and Pepe before rifling the ball well out of Casillas’ reach into the bottom left hand corner.
For all the talk before the match of referee, David Fernández Borbalán’s anti-madridista bias from certain corners of the Spanish sporting press (guess which ones), he handled the game well. However just before half-time he had a big call to make as a late challenge by Messi on Alonso which wasn’t punished with what would have been a second yellow card for the Argentine. Overall though, the ref was fair. All five yellows he produced were bookable offences and this time Mourinho will have to accept his side’s inferiority to a far stronger team than blame the referee for the result.
The equaliser signalled the start of Barca’s dominance in the game, and from that point on Real were a shadow of the team which has performed so dominantly this season.
Soon into the restart things went from bad to worse for the home side, when Xavi, on his 600thappreance for the blaugrana, attempted a speculative effort from outside the box and his, admittedly well struck, shot took a wicked deflection off Marcelo which wrong-footed Casillas, who could only watch helplessly as the ball bounced in off the post to make it 2-1, seemingly in slow motion.
Soon after and against the run of play, Ronaldo failed to make things level with a golden opportunity from a ball swung in from the right that the former Manchester United man only needed to direct into Valdes’ net from all of six yards out with no one marking him. Instead he headed it wide and had to look on in pain as Cesc Fabregas was on hand to show him how to finish with his head just a minute later.
From Ronaldo’s miss Barcelona started a lightening fast sweeping move involving the ever-present Messi who released Alves on the right who then sent in a perfect cross towards Madrid’s back post which Cesc met with a powering header that flew into the back of the net. At 3-1 the game was over.
A speculative shot from Benzema, cutting in on his right, could have provided the home side with a lifeline had the recently introduced Higuaín been able to get on the end of it as it zipped past Valdes’ goal, however, it was beyond his reach and there were to be no more chances for the home side.
The game ended to a deafening cacophony of booing and hissing from the home support. Barcelona put an end to any doubts about their mental resolve and quietened and detractors who were pointing to their poor (by their standards) away record, by strolling to what in the end was an easy three points.
Back to the drawing board for Mou, who will have to lift his squad’s spirits ahead of next week’s trip to Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán to face Sevilla.

No comments:

Post a comment