Real Madrid 1 Barça 3

The Champions of Spain and Europe, Football Club Barcelona demonstrated tonight for all their doubters that they are still the best team in the world with a 1-3 victory over pretenders Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu. The unfortunate Madrid fans will have thought the night was going to be theirs when Karim Benzema put them ahead after just 22 seconds. But only a foolish man would write off Pep Guardiola’s players who showed great maturity to work their way back into the game without panicking and always maintaining the Barça style and composure to which we have become accustomed. Alexis Sanchez put Barça level after half an hour and then Xavi put Barça ahead with the help of a big deflection off Marcelo, and Cesc Fabregas added a third heading in Alves’s cross.

Both coaches had small surprises to their team selection, Guardiola left David Villa on the bench, Alexis started up front with Fabregas and Messi. The in-form Mascherano was left out in favour of restoring the Piqué-Puyol partnership in a defence of four. Mourinho left out Khedira and played the more attacking Ozil in midfield in Madrid’s more usual 4-2-3-1 shape. Directly from Barça’s kick off the ball came back to Valdés and Puyol and Pique went very wide as Madrid pushed up, Valdés passed to Puyol who under pressure played the ball back to Valdés who then made a hash of his next pass sending the ball directly to Di Maria who was only 35 yards out, Puyol and Piqué were out of the game and Di Maria tried to get the ball in quickly to Benzema, Busquets managed to get in the way but the ball came back to Ozil who shot, hitting Busquets again and before anybody could react Benzema had pounced and volleyed the ball home from close range. There were only 22 seconds on the clock and it was a terrible blow to take so early.

Messi tried to get us straight back in the game after robbing Sergio Ramos, Messi got into the area and shot under pressure from three defenders but Casillas got down low to the left to save. Madrid kept up a high pressing game but Busquets and Xavi slowing started playing us back into the game. Benzema had a weak header that didn’t trouble Valdés too much, then in the 16th minute we saw the first decent run from Cristiano Ronaldo but Valdés kept his concentration to beat away the powerful shot. At the other end Xavi curled a free kick that Casillas punched away for a corner, then Ronaldo had his best chance of the first half after Benzema pulled our defence out of position but Ronaldo sent his shot well wide.

Soon after this Guardiola made the tactical change that would be crucial to the win as Alves advanced his position on the right and Alexis, who’d had little luck on the left, moved to the middle. On the half hour Messi collected the ball in midfield and set off on a splendid run before playing the ball into Alexis who showed strength to hold off Pepe’s challenge, speed to get away from Coentrao and composure to shoot across Casillas into the far corner for the equalizer. Madrid looked shocked, they hadn’t seen this coming and all of a sudden we were looking like the Barça we know and love, stroking the ball aroung comfortably, always releasing the ball just before the opponent could challenge. The rest of the first half was basically just restoring the rhythm that we wanted and getting Madrid to chase shadows. Pepe was slightly fortunate when he swung a leg at Alexis but there was not enough contact for the ref to give a penalty and then it was Messi who clattered into Alonso after he already had a yellow card for protesting but a second yellow would have been harsh despite the howls at the ref from the Bernabeu.

The second half began with another push from Madrid and they managed to win a couple of free kicks in dangerous positions, Ronaldo hit the first into the wall and the second was well held by Valdés after a bounce in front of him. however, it was Barça who were looking the better team, Iniesta was only prevented by a good tackle from Coentrao and a minute later Iniesta again caused problems getting into the area on the left, Madrid managed to clear the ball but only as far as Xavi who fired a vicious volley towards goal that hit Marcelo and spun out of Casillas reach bouncing in off the post. In Spain, they talk about “the luck of the champions”, this was certainly a stroke of luck but not undeserved on the run of play.

Madrid tried to keep pressuring our defence in possession and there was another kick from Valdés that might have given Benzema another chance if Alves hadn’t been quick to intervene, and Abidal then did well to recover after his own mistake as Madrid struggled to get near our goal. Barça’s dominance increased with time, Alexis had an angled shot stopped by Casillas’s feet and Messi fired a free kick just wide. However, in the 67th minute Madrid had the chance which could have changed everything. Xavi Alonso hadn’t been seen much in forward positions but his cross found three Madrid players unmarked in front of goal, Ronaldo was about ten yards out but his header was poor and I fell off my sofa. From a possible 2-2 we went forward with one of those long passing build-ups that are such a joy when they end in a goal. This move finished with Messi playing the ball out to Alves on the right and Alves’s fine cross was met by Fabregas in front of Coentrao at the far post and he headed in from close range.

The last twenty minutes were a joy as we passed Madrid into submission, Iniesta was particularly brilliant and in the last few minutes he made at least four charges in from the left that really should have led to another goal. However, I’m not complaining, this was Barça at our best again, at the back Piqué and Puyol were both fantastic, Busquets and Xavi organised perfectly, and Messi and Iniesta drove Madrid’s defenders nuts with their mazy runs. There is a long long way to go in this Liga, Madrid will still be better than all their other opponents (until they play us again) so we can not let up for a moment. We now fly off to Japan for the Club World Cup in our attempt to make it three trophies out of three so far this season. This fantastic victory will give us a tremendous boost and no doubt make the long journey just a little bit more bearable. Visca El Barça!

MADRID: Casillas, Coentrao, Pepe, S.Ramos, Marcelo; X.Alonso, Lass (Khedira m64); Di Maria (Higuain m70), Ozil (Kaká m60), C. Ronaldo; Benzema
BARÇA; Valdés 6; Alves 7, Piqué 7.5, Puyol 8, Abidal 6; Xavi 8, Busquets 9, Iniesta 9.5 (Pedro m88, –); Messi 9, Fabregas 6 (Keita m78, 6.5), Alexis 7.5 (Villa m83 –).

Goals: m1 Benzema 1-0, m30 Alexis 1-1, m53 Xavi 1-2, m68 Fabregas

Yellow cards: m25 Alonso, m26 Alexis, m36 Messi, m47 Piqué, m62 Lass, m64 Pepe, m71 Ramos,

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21 Responses to Real Madrid 1 Barça 3

  1. FCBarca88 says:

    First of all, I just want to say that I predicted the line up and the score correctly 😀
    After the first goal, I just felt terrible. I really thought it wouldn’t be our day. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in the team, but a goal in the first 20 seconds was crazy. Was it Valdes’ fault? Yes it was but I also think the defenders can’t just pass the ball back to him and move so far away. If they see Madrid pressuring so high up, they need to help him, get closer so he can make the easy pass. But the way he responded after the goal represents the strong mentality of the team. If I was the Barca goalkeeper and made a mistake like that in the biggest game in all of sports, I would probably have shitted myself, i would seriously need diapers in the middle of the game. As Guardiola said in his post match press, Valdes continued to make passes after that, and it was so difficult in a game like this, cause Madrid was pressuring so much, and he made a great save against Kaka at the end.

    I thought overall all players were great, Busquets, Messi, Iniesta’s second half, Abidal., but Puyol was by far the best. I don’t know what to say about him, he’s amazing and i love him. I really don’t know if we would have won today without him. its not only that his positioning his perfect during every play, but you can see that the defense is so much more organized with him out there. I don’t know how he does it. He says that he can continue playing for 9 more years, i pray to God that he can. The guy is amazing, and I really don’t see us losing against this Madrid with him out there. They have a great attack, but today they should have had zero goals.

    • barcacentralnic says:

      Hey well done on the predictions, I believe FCBarcelonaRocks also got the team right. Team and score is very impressive!

  2. Lee says:

    Fabregas 6? Please. Gets some objectivity. He played his position and role wonderfully. The way you describe his header makes it sound routine. It wasn’t. It was masterful (headers are so difficult, ask Ronaldo). Boo. Show some gratitude.

  3. Caleb says:

    No, I agree with 6 for Fabregas. He had a lot of loose passes. Wasn’t involved in the game much. He had a brilliant header, yes. But it seems clear to me that a 4-3-3 does not suit him…nor being in the front three of a 3-4-3.

    I don’t, however, think that Pique was very good today. Whenever Di Maria, Benzema, Kaka, or Ronaldo had a run at him he didn’t look comfortable, got beat, and gave away free kicks (which is one of the most dangerous things for our team). Masch deserved to play.

    Busi was really good today, both on offense and defense.

    I agree with Iniesta as player of the game. I don’t know if we win this game without him. It’s hard to explain exactly what he does for the team, but you can always tell when he’s absent…somethings just not right.

    Anyway, it was a great game! If that first goal doesn’t happen I think it could have been another rampant Barca victory…it took awhile to settle the ship. We we’re good, but never quit found our stride (IMHO). It was clear that Real simply doesn’t have the quality of Barca. Then again, there may never have been a team that does.

  4. layibiyi says:

    praise has to go to pep also…he has been practicing the 343 trying to find a solution for it to fit all the crucial players (esp alves). It is still not perfect but its really incisive at this stage. He received a lot of criticism for the points we dropped while practicing it but he still persisted because he knew a day like this could come.

    We are as great with a 433 as any team in the history of football and I wouldnt mind being as good in another formation. I have always thought we could play a good 343 with puyol-pique-abidal and the everly floating busquets. Its good to see we can transit from 433 to 343 in such a high stakes match and still be successful. All that is left is to fix the left side of the formation where a lot of people have struggled attacking wise (villa has tried a lot). But as noted, we cant afford to drop points so its better to stay safe when possible.

  5. barcacentralomer says:

    What a match. I won’t go into too much detail right now but just a few things I would like to say about an excellent ‘Classico’. Firstly, Puyol – this guy never ceases to amaze me. I thought he would struggle with his lack of match practice of late and his fitness concerns. But what a performance from Captain Caveman. Puyol was my MOM because whilst Pique seemed jittery in the Barca central defence, Puyol kept on getting those last ditch tackles and blocks right and preventing Real from getting back into the match.

    Not sure about the ratings tho Nic. A bit surprised why Abidal got such a low rating because he was up against the tricky Di Maria and IMO did a very good job and had a far better match than Pique. Iniesta really sprang into the world class player mode in the second half. Moaninho’s team to be fair did put up a very good performance and like Nic says the La Liga title race is definitely not over. Congrats guys and to every Barca fan bcos we are truly privileged to be Barca fans in an era where we are setting the benchmark for everybody else.

  6. FCBarcelonaRocks! says:

    Mine will be…Valdes 6.5 Puyol 7.5(i still don’t like the pass back to Valdes that resulted in the 2nd goal), Pique 7, Abidal 7, The rest will follow Nic’s.

    Gr8 3 points. We showed the Art Of The Champions in this one. We never surrendered. We kept playing to our philosophy despite going 1 down so early in the game, and fully deserve the 3 points!!

  7. barcacentralnic says:

    Of my ratings my only doubt might be on Piqué and that I might be overcompensating for my recent criticism of him, however, despite a couple of early shakes I thought he had a good game. Fabregas gave some poor passes and was heading for a lower mark but the goal and our victory saved him.

    Zonal Marking give their take on our splendid victory – http://www.zonalmarking.net/2011/12/11/real-madrid-1-3-barcelona-tactics/

  8. titi186 says:

    I think the individual ratings are a bit unbalanced but I can never complain since you guys make a fantastic effort to keep the blog going 😀

    @ Layibiyi: I dont think its fair to say Cesc cant play 4-3-3; he can play it but when hes in his natural position which is the center of midfield as hes not a left winger as Iniesta can sometimes play

    Iniesta was good (though where did his 9.5 come from lol), Messi was doing what Ronaldo doesnt and sacrificed a strikers position so he could dictate the midfeild, but for me the MOTM HAS to be Puyol. He won literally everything and cleared up anything Madrid threw at the defense. He even took one to the face and didnt even flinch… He truely is a Barca legend !!

    All I can say is 3 points, a nice little break for Madrid to stew over a dominating Barca performance, and its going to be a fantastic La Liga race !!

    Now if only Pep can stick to this 4-3-3 away from home in other games… 8)

  9. bc9jaCulé says:

    Wow, wow, wow!!! What more can I say? To borrow the words of Nic, RM really are PRETENDERS and we more than proved that last night. And if not for the unfortunate early setback, we would have been more composed and imposing and could have inflicted another ‘manita’ on them. Kudos to the entire team (Pep inclusive) for their legendary showing. Now guys, go bring home the Club World Cup and make us even happier.

    Visca Barça!!!
    Força Barça!!!

  10. FCBarcelonaRocks! says:

    hahhaha Nic, BBoy and all of you fans in here…..YOU GUYS ROCK!!!! Let’s hope this team will continue the magic and win many more titles to come!!

  11. Lee says:

    Cesc did his job, especially in the second half, he sealed the victory. For all it’s strong points and insights, this blog, meaning its writers, didn’t want Cesc. Cesc showed up and it turns out Pep and the players knew a bit more about what Barca needed. A six is not objective. It’s not correct, and I challenge you to find another source that agrees including ZM, which everyone here seems to worship. Sometimes it’s quite nice to have been wrong. It’s this case it sealed a victory over Madrid in enemy territory. I think Cesc’s was the goal of the season (and Alves gets a lot of credit too). Just spectacular. And I didn’t want Cesc either. I was dead wrong. Great victory. And you guys do rock, except everybody’s wrong now and then and it’s better to step up and admit than to give petty low scores to a great players who score clutch goals in giant games. Cesc stepped back and played his role and score an incredible and incredibly important goal. He was heading for a lower mark? Um, I don’t know what to say without sounding sarcastic, which I don’t want to do. We beat Real on their home turf, nobody deserves a 6, not even VV.

    • barcacentralnic says:

      I’m happy to admit that I wasn’t enthusiastic about signing Cesc, we seemed perfectly well covered with Xavi, Iniesta and Thiago, and with other promising youngsters like Sergi Roberto coming through I felt Cesc’s signing would discourage some of the younger players and send the signal that you can leave for Premiership cash and we’ll buy you back some day. We have lost more promising youngsters such as Oriol Romeu and Jon Toral Harper and I did not think signing Fabregas gave a very good message to our youngsters. His talent is obvious and for the price we managed to get him for he is proving to be a bargain. He offers us different tactical options which I never dreamt we would see and he has an excellent understanding with Messi. When he first signed my reports were nearly all glowing as he impressed immediately. However, I don’t think he has always been great and I admit to believing he works best combining with Messi in the 3-4-3 formation. I’m a little unhappy at the idea that I would hold an agenda against a player. I always try my hardest to be as objective as possible and hope I can admit when I am wrong. Judging eleven players is always going to be a matter of personal opinion, however, I’ve read and heard several other accounts of the game and I am certainly not the only one who thought Cesc was not having his best game, Zonal Marking for one said he “played a few terrible passes” which goes much further than I do.

      And by the way, a 6 does not indicate a bad performance, it’s more or less the par-for-the-course mark, or doing-your-job mark which is just what how you describe Cesc’s second half

  12. layibiyi says:

    @titi186
    I never even mentioned cesc in my post. Was it a typo?
    I’m sure cesc can play in a 433 even though some player might need to sacrifice their default starting role entering this season. I never made any point like that though.
    Reading over it again, I think you were replying to Caleb

    @Lee
    I doubt any writer on this blog is that unprofessional. Holding grudges to score a player low. I would have given fabregas 7 just because of the goal which deflated madrid’s spirit. But thats what it is, a ‘personal opinion’. Cesc has scored well in other matches and that nullifies your point. Did you just wait for the first match for him to be scored wrongly(in your opinion) before stating your points? Besides, the main reasons some fans were against the transfer was the extra baggage(transfer war) it brought, not the tactical variety and his performance. Most people still agreed to go after him probably a year or 2 later. I thought he would disrupt the 433 a bit since he is kind of different from xavi/iniesta but pep had other plans to integrate him so its all good.

  13. Caleb says:

    @titi186

    I did say I don’t think Cesc plays that well in the front three of a 4-3-3. And I don’t think he does. Or at least he hasn’t had any really great performances there since he’s signed. When he plays the “false 10” in a 3-4-3 he’s much more convincing. IMHO.

    @Lee

    I’m not a writer for this blog and I don’t think Nic has been overly harsh on Cesc. Beyond his goal in the game I don’t remember a lot of amazing things from him. I remember some bad passes. The goal is great, but I think most of us know Cesc wasn’t at his best in the game. I’m tempted to say “be objective” but I won’t.

  14. FCBarcelonaRocks! says:

    Lee – Fabregas has been a gr8 signing, but before he scored that goal, i was really hoping that we took him off for Villa or Pedro as He wasn’t contributing much in both attack and defence till he scored that goal. That goal alone will qualify him for a 6.5 in my books. But a 6 is really not far. Chill, Fabregas is a good player, just didn’t have the best of nights….and that’s all to it.

  15. FCBarcelonaRocks! says:

    Lol! Nic, i’ll shake your hand and buy you a beer for the 9.5 on Iniesta. Iniesta made some crazy runs, the guy went crazy mazy running in the 2nd half…..i’d given him a 8.0 or a 8.5….. 2 days later….. hahahha 9.5 is what i too would have given right after the match, surely!!!

    I have been following this blog since the FCBNews days,,,i for 1 know that Nic has always been doin a superb job on the writeups. Its the passion that matters!!

    On a different page i really really wish TETMD will drop by sooner rather than later. Sometimes, i still feel he is amongst us, still =D

    • barcacentralnic says:

      Ha ha, yeah, I’d love to hear from TETMD again even if he did drive me nuts a couple of times 🙂 Funny thing is I never thought Toure was a bad player in any way though his form did drop a bit in his third season after two terrific years, I just happened, like many others to recognise how well Busquets fits into that position.
      I’m sure Cesc will be a massive success at Barça, he just has too much talent. The problem at the moment is getting him fully integrated into the system, the 3-4-3 is perfectly designed for him to combine through the middle with Messi, but I’m not so convinced when we sacrifice one of the wide forwards. It’s great to have different options and when things work it can take us to another level, but we do need to work on things and we can’t really afford to drop points from now on.

      • Caleb says:

        Yeah, the Cesc integration problem is interesting… 3-4-3 is awesome for him but Dani Alves doesn’t fit quite as well if you ask me. 4-3-3 just doesn’t quite suit Cesc. But both of them are really great players that nearly any Cule would love to see on the pitch at the same time.

        After Busi’s amazing performance I almost brought up the “Barca will never win an important competition with Biscuits playing as D.M.” made by a certain TETMD, if I remember correctly. Busi had a really great game and on re-watching the first half I think he was probably our best player. Iniesta’s first half wasn’t the best but Busi hardly put a foot wrong.

  16. Fredegar says:

    So just a little player review as it looks there’s some debate about it!
    Valdes: Pep talked about him, and I don’t think I can add anything.
    Piqué: I think the selection dilemna was between him and Masch, as Pep had already planned to switch Puyol during the game, and Piqué won cos’ of his height. It wouldn’t have been wise to expose ourselves to Madrid’s set pieces with Puyol, Busquets and Abidal as our only big men. Piqué had a mixed game and was also a lot at fault for the first goal keeping Benzema inside and standing in no man’s land, but his ability on the ball is always precious to keep us ticking. Saved by Puyol a few times.
    Puyol: an emperor. Put Ronaldo in his pocket once in 2008 and never let him out since.
    Abidal: very reliable, matching di Maria for pace at 32 is impressive.
    Alves: after the first twenty mins as a right back, he gave his best audition for a winger role: helped Puyol to keep Madrid’s left flank very quiet, as always a lot of disponibility, but, totally unusually for him, excellent crosses.
    Busquets: as good as Puyol and Iniesta (second half) were, he’s my man of the match: incredible flexibilty and tactical nous, and for once didn’t make me nervous when playing at centerback. Amazing that people still underrate him, he might be as important to our succeses as Messi or Xavi.
    Speaking of whom: might be a bit lucky, but what a way to celebrate his jubilee! Not much to say otherwise, played as Xavi plays, kept us in the right way.
    Iniesta: very quiet in the first half, a bit lonely on the left flank where Coentrao held him well, but what an amazing second half, showed everything that makes him my favourite player ever!
    Fabregas: ah, the source of the conflict. Must say I totally agree with Nic, he looked completely lost in the first half with no real position on the pitch. Was deployed more as a central midfielder in the second, and I think that helped Iniesta. And of course, just the goal would have justified his presence, but still he had an underwhelming game.
    Messi: decisive, as always, maybe not one of his greatest games ever but he clearly showed the difference in class between him and you know who.
    Alexis: what a wonderfully taken goal! Despite the great run and pass from Messi, so much was left to do and he did it with so much composure, I’m surprised it’s not talked more as it was the best goal of the game and pretty important too. Otherwise very industrious, very strong, very direct, if he can keep this up we will be very difficult to beat indeed.
    Pep: outsmarted his opponent once again, had this planned all along: start with four at the back with Alves to sustain Madrid’s first bout of high pressure, then unleash Alves on the right wing, move Puyol on the right of defence and make Busquets play centerback AND deeplying midfielder… Genius, totally crashed Madrid!

  17. barcacentralnic says:

    Sid Lowe emphasises the courage shown by Valdés and the Barça philosophy – http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2011/dec/12/victor-valdes-barcelona-real-madrid

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