Sunday, 22 November 2015

BALAGUE: CLASICO ANALYSIS - The Titanic is sinking, and now only Messi is better than Neymar

Exclusively for Yahoo, Guillem Balague wraps up what he learned from Saturday's Clasico, and it makes for grim reading for Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo and Rafa Benitez.
Barcelona extended the gap at the top of La Liga to 6 points on Saturday, following the 4-0 demolition of Real …
Real Madrid may well be the biggest sporting institution on the planet, but El Clasico statistics make for grim reading. Of the last eight La Liga contests at the Santiago Bernabeu against the old enemy, they have won just two and not since Carles Puyol and Co thumped them 6-2 in 2009 have they suffered such a humiliating and comprehensive defeat in their own backyard.

But what did we learn from the game which left Barcelona top of the table, six points clear of Los Blancos?

1. Barcelona had a game plan and executed it perfectly.
Gareth Bale and his Real Madrid teammates were played off the park by Barcelona.
Luis Enrique’s side took the field with a clear idea of what they had to do and carried it out to perfection. Playing Sergio Roberto as a quasi-winger linking with attack and defence alike from the right wing while he worked hard to stop Marcelo was a masterstroke. Although essentially playing 4-3-3, Sergio Roberto’s flexibility as he applied his talents to the bolstering of a four, sometimes five, man midfield was crucial quite simply because it left poor Toni Kroos and Luka Modric totally overwhelmed in that department. And defensively, he was superb too: Marcelo’s first dangerous run only came in the second half.

2. Iniesta has become a national treasure

After the match Luis Enrique described his skipper, Andres Iniesta as ‘Patrimonio de la Humanidad’ which, while not exactly, is certainly most accurately translated as a ‘national treasure’.
Barcelona extended the gap at the top of La Liga to 6 points on Saturday, following the 4-0 demolition of Real …

Quiet, unassuming, and at times almost painfully shy, he is a man who has achieved greatness and leadership not through being loud, brash and outspoken, but through example. Even after having destroyed Real Madrid, not even their most ardent fans could stop themselves from giving this magnificent little man from La Mancha the standing ovation he deserved when he was replaced by Munir in the 78th minute.

Luis Enrique must also take much of the credit. Barcelona’s new philosophy of ‘mixing the play’ means that Iniesta can thrive in a side that he would otherwise struggle in if they opted solely for a box-to-box counter attacking approach as they did often in the first half of last season. When Barcelona look to the possession game to control proceedings as they frequently do, then Iniesta is quite simply in a class of his own.

Some have ventured to suggest that he has never scored enough goals to be considered one of the greatest players ever. I beg to differ. It isn’t just the quantity, but also the importance of the goals he has scored. His strikes in the semi-final of the Champions League against Chelsea and his World Cup winner against Holland are proof positive that the phrase ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’ could have been written with him in mind.

3. Neymar is becoming the second best player in the world

Neymar’s natural instincts to play all over the pitch to maximum effect and create the most havoc possible have probably helped cement his status now as the second best player in the world.

When he tries to do the same thing with the Brazilian side he tends to get lost, but bolstered by the quality that surround him in this Barcelona side means he now has the patience to wait for the right ball or opportunity to make a run or go one-on-one with any defender in the world.
What he has now is the platform to really establish himself as one of the world greats and Isco’s disgraceful, frustration-laden, petulant swipe at him that earned a straight red is almost a grudging acceptance and recognition of his admittance to that most exclusive of clubs.

4. Real Madrid players do not want to play for Rafa Benitez.
How much longer will Rafael Benitez be in charge?
How much longer will Rafael Benitez be in charge?
Benitez’s plan against Barcelona was as simple as it was logical. Pressure high and in so doing prevent Barcelona from building from the back. That’s how to play Barcelona if you want to compete. Unfortunately for the most part, the Real Madrid players wouldn’t do it. The first occasion I can recall it happening was in the 18th minute by which time Barcelona were ahead and, more importantly, in total control.

In its simplest terms, this is a side that does not want to play for Benitez, although the manager is far from blameless.
Rafa certainly picked his best players, but that’s a million miles away from saying he picked his best side. James Rodriguez looked totally out of sorts even though his long range shoots created some danger and Benzema’s prolonged absence meant that he couldn’t perform his defensive duties as well as his link up work to full effect.

This was not a typical Benitez side and the dogged determination and ‘rolled-up sleeves’ approach of someone like Casemiro should have been given their chance.

5. Defeats like this have consequences; so what happens next?
The pressure will be ratcheted up President of Real Madrid Florentino Perez.
The pressure will be ratcheted up President of Real Madrid Florentino Perez. 
The lack of a natural successor for the Santiago Bernabeu hot seat means that Rafa will probably be safe for a while, although not even the holder of the ‘Optimist of the Year’ award would believe he will be there next season.

Florentino Perez will talk to the players and his fellow board members as they seek to define their strategy. Smoke and mirrors; the fact is that poor Rafa is already as far as his tenure at Real Madrid is concerned, a dead man walking.

And it isn’t all his fault. This is a club that has a clear business plan. Unfortunately it’s a plan that naturally creates a very unbalanced side and as a consequence it becomes almost impossible for coaches to make an impact.

Benitez is old school, and as such someone who thinks that players should be treated as footballers and not superstars. People like Carlo Ancelotti are far better at massaging massive egos, and for a while that works but even that eventually runs out of road.

Talks of Zinedine Zidane taking over are also premature because he is still relatively inexperienced as a coach, and I’m not convinced that he has the full confidence of the president. There is even talk of Jose Mourinho making a comeback at the Bernabeu but it is not the right time yet.

Here are the facts. Ignore for a minute the money, the galacticos, the business plan and the millions of replica shirt sales around the world.

Under Perez’s rule Real Madrid have won just two La Ligas in 12 years, and just one in the last seven years of his reign. Everyone needs to take a look at themselves in the mirror, not least the President himself. 

Raising the volume of the Madrid rallying song ‘Hala Madrid’ to drown out the boos of the crowd at the end of the game as the players slunk off, is the football equivalent of asking the orchestra on the Titanic to play louder while the boat is sinking. 

For Real Madrid, these are the bad times.