So much for that extra day off.
Mid-week, Cristiano Ronaldo complained about Barcelona getting an extra day of rest before El Clasico.
When it comes to rivalries, an extra day off isn’t a factor since both teams are pumped and playing on adrenaline. That proved to be the case as Real Madrid controlled the majority of the game and defeated Barcelona 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Barcelona dominated early in the game, and Neymar put them ahead 1-0 in the 4th minute.
To start the game, Barcelona had an attacking trio of Neymar, Messi, and Luis Suarez, who played his first game following a 4-month FIFA suspension for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup. Suarez looked lively on the pitch, but he was rusty in front of goal.
Messi had a chance to increase Barcelona’s lead in the 1st half, but failed to put Suarez’s cross into the back of the net. Until that point, Barcelona controlled the match. Afterwards, Real Madrid began to attack at will.
Cristiano Ronaldo tied the game, from the spot, in the 35th minute with help from Brazilian fullback Marcelo.
Marcelo was a thorn in Barcelona’s side, more specifically Dani Alves’ side, and he often exploited open space on the left flank. He was able to get into the box and tried to cut the ball back into the middle, but Piqué blocked Marcelo’s pass with his hand as he went down.
In the 2nd half, Real Madrid put the game away.
A major problem for Barcelona, in the past, has been defending set-pieces, and that problem came back to haunt them. In the 50th minute, on a corner, Pepe was able to power a free header past Claudio Bravo to give Real Madrid a 2-1 lead.
Then in the 61st minute, Real Madrid put the game to rest with a lightning counter-attack.
On a clearance from a corner, by James, both Iniesta and Mascherano seemed to have the ball covered, but a mistake by both players allowed Isco to come onto the ball and lead the break. Isco was able to find Cristiano Ronaldo, who fed the ball to James out-wide. Benzema made a run behind Sergio Busquets, and James was able to feed him with the perfect through-pass for the finish.
For a player who has often been criticized for his performances, Benzema came up big for Los Blancos, and he’s in superb form at this moment.
Real Madrid defended with two banks of four, which made it difficult for Barcelona to attack the wings. They forced Barcelona to mainly attack through the middle where Modric and Kroos worked very hard to put out attacks.
The main focus of Real Madrid’s attack was on the left wing. Opposing fullback Dani Alves is known for attacking and being too far up the pitch at times. Real Madrid made sure to attack this weakness throughout the game with Marcelo, and he often found space on the left to wreak havoc and to connect with the midfielders and forwards.
Barcelona only defended with seven players as their forwards mainly remained up the pitch. The problem with defending with only seven players is that you need a hard worker in midfield to wipe out the opposing team’s attacks. Busquets wasn’t at his best in midfield, and both Xavi and Iniesta aren’t known for their defensive qualities. Real Madrid dominated the midfield throughout the game.
Despite the loss, there are positives that Barcelona can take from the game.
The performance of Luis Suarez was very encouraging. He didn’t look like a player coming off of a 4-month suspension. He looked very sharp and threatening at times, and with more game-time, he’ll become sharper in front of goal and return to his best.
Also, before the game, Barcelona hasn’t given up a goal in league play. Only one of the three Madrid goals came during the run of play, and that was a from a mistake that Iniesta and Mascherano rarely make. If Barcelona can sure up their defending of set-pieces, they’ll be fine.
Man of the Match: Marcelo. He was an absolute beast on the left wing, and his play on both sides of the ball was magnificent. He often exploited the space in front of him and linked up with teammates who can do damage.
Right now, Real Madrid are on a spectacular run of form, and they seemed to have put their early season struggles behind them. Their defense has improved immensely, and their attack has become relentless. Cristiano Ronaldo is in great goal scoring form, and the rest of the team has also rounded into form — there are no glaring weaknesses in the team.
If this run of form continues, Real Madrid will become favorites to win La Liga and to repeat as champions in the UEFA Champions League.