Barça come unstuck in Madrid

Madrid 3-1 Barça Luis Suarez debut 2014Luis Enrique’s first clásico as Barça’s coach ended in a disappointing 3-1 defeat at the Bernabéu this evening. The game started well for the visitors with Neymar Jr firing home after just three minutes but Madrid reacted with goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe and Benzema to earn a deserved victory which narrows the gap at the top of La Liga to just one point. 

Carlo Ancelotti made no ‘surprises’ in his starting XI but Luis Enrique made three decisions that had limited success. First he decided on starting with Luis Suarez who looked reasonably sharp in attack considering his four-month absence but he was allowed little space and consequently lacked chances. The second decision was to start Xavi in place of Rakitic and while the veteran midfielder didn’t play badly it wasn’t one of his classic Bernabéu games and he lacked the final pass. And thirdly Jeremy Mathieu was moved to left-back which left Jordi Alba on the bench and meant the erratic Gerard Piqué partnered Mascherano in the centre.

Madrid 3-1 Barça Neymar goal celebration 2014Barça began promisingly enough. From kick-off the team passed the ball around comfortably and Madrid didn’t touch the ball for the first 70 seconds. Then in the third minute Messi dropped back to receive the ball from Alves before setting off on a quick spurt into the Madrid half, Xavi found Suarez on the right and the Uruguayan sent a fine cross-field ball to Neymar who easily cut inside past Carvajal and Pepe before shooting low inside the far post to score for the sixth successive game.

Madrid soon came searching for an equalizer. In the sixth minute Isco’s cross found Benzema just in front of Bravo but the French striker could only get a slight touch on the ball which flew away past the post. Then in the tenth minute Ronaldo crossed from the left and Benzema headed the ball against the underside of the bar and then pounced on the rebound to crack a shot that clipped off the top of the post and over.

The game was fairly even at this stage. Kroos and Ronaldo had shots from distance that Bravo saved comfortably, then in the 22nd minute Messi tested Casillas from 20 yards and a minute later Suarez whipped in an excellent low cross but Casillas spread himself well to deny Messi’s point-blank effort.

A second goal for Barça at this point might have changed the final outcome. However, Madrid began to get the better of the game with consistent attacks down Alves’s flank. It’s easy with hindsight to suggest that Rakitic and Pedro might have done a better job of supporting Alves than Xavi and Suarez but as things were the Brazilian was often left with two men to control as Marcelo got forward time and again. In the 34th minute Madrid’s overlapping left-back burst into the area and when he pulled the ball back from the by-line Piqué went to ground and his outstretched arm blocked the centre. There was little doubt that it was a penalty and Ronaldo sent Bravo the wrong way from the spot. After eight games and 34 minutes unbeaten the Barça keeper finally conceded a goal.

Barça were on the back foot now despite having more of the possession. Iniesta became Barça’s fourth player to get booked after early yellows were shown to Messi and Neymar and Piqué was booked for the penalty. Shortly before half-time James spread the ball out to Marcelo and darted into the box for the cross but sent his header well wide. The half-time whistle arrived with the score at 1-1 but there was the feeling that Madrid were slightly having the better of things.

In the second half Madrid’s lightning transition from defence to attack would prove more devastating. In the 50th minute Benzema led a counter-attack after exchanging passes with James, the Frenchman then sent Ronaldo into the right of the area and Piqué needed to make a good sliding block to stop the Portuguese’s shot. Kroos sent in the resulting corner towards the far post, Benzema played a block on Mascherano, Alves ended up on the floor, and Pepe was free to head Madrid firmly into a 2-1 lead.

There was a brief response from Barça with Mathieu cracking a fine drive from the left which produced a spectacular diving save from Casillas, but Barça’s attacks were generally coming to nothing apart from winning corners. Barça would win a total of nine corners to Madrid’s three over the ninety minutes but the Barça corners produced more danger on Bravo’s goal than on Casillas’s, especially as the game went on with Madrid’s counter looking more and more dangerous. Rakitic replaced Xavi after an hour and his first action was to take a corner from the right. As with Xavi’s corners, Rakitic’s was disappointing and as Madrid cleared their lines Iniesta found himself running back towards the halfway touchline with Isco on his back, Mascherano was running across to support but as Iniesta kept the ball in play he inexplicably knocked it past Mascherano allowing Isco to run free, quick passes through Ronaldo and James put Benzema clean through and he shot across Bravo and inside the far post.

The final half hour was too depressing to write much about. There appeared to be few ideas and little spark to Barça as Madrid defended solidly. Pedro replaced Suarez and Sergi Roberto was needed after Iniesta injured a calf muscle but the belief seemed to have gone. Messi and Neymar both faded as the game went on and the only player worthy of praise really was Mascherano who held things together a bit at the back to prevent a bigger defeat.

So, despite a generally positive start to the season from Luis Enrique’s team, having lost previously to Paris Saint Germain we have now lost two out of two of the big tests this season. It is by no means the end of the world or even the start of a so-called crisis but it is a definite warning that things need to improve. It is easy to say that Luis Enrique made mistakes in his team selection but there is no guarantee that other players or another formation would have fared better. What was of more concern was the fact that there seemed to be no ideas to turn things round once Madrid took the lead.

Real Madrid: Casillas; Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo; James, Modric (Arbeloa m89), Kroos,, Isco (Illuramendi m83), Ronaldo, Benzema (Khedira m86).

Barça: Bravo 6; Alves 5.5, Piqué 5, Mascherano 7, Mathieu 6.5; Xavi 6 (Rakitic m60, 6), Busquets 5, Iniesta 5.5 (Sergi Roberto m72, 6); Suarez 6 (Pedro m69, 5.5), Messi 5.5, Neymar 6.

Goals: m4 Neymar 0-1, m35 Ronaldo (pen) 1-1, m50 Pepe 2-1, m61 Benzema 3-1.

Yellow cards: m9 Messi, m14 Neymar, m34 Piqué, m38 Iniesta, m74 Carvajal, m94 Ronaldo.

Attendance: 80,000

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7 Responses to Barça come unstuck in Madrid

  1. barcacentralomer says:

    @Nic: Tend to agree with most of the above. However, I’m not sure we have been learning from our past mistakes. To begin with, I can understand and accept that our defence can never be remotely close to Sacchi’s Milan side but surely we need to be better organised at the back if we want to beat the big guns of Europe. We let in the second goal because of poor set-piece defending and then the third one was almost comical with Iniesta gifting the ball to Isco. No doubt Real were spectacular on the counter but shouldn’t have Barca prepared for that? I don’t know if they’re fitter than our guys but quite a few times Real’s counter-attackers tended to outnumber our players tracking back and yet we didn’t seem to adapt to/counter that tactic.

    Where exactly was our forward line in the second half aside from playing the passing game in the final third and ultimately losing the ball to Real. Suarez might not have had much luck but I don’t know what Pedro brought to the game and perhaps the first half-wonder Neymar should have been subbed instead. Given it was his first competitive game and considering he’s adapting to the Messi-centric playing style, I think it was an ok performance from the vampire.

  2. layibiyi says:

    Common Enrique! You are supposed to be ‘the brave one’….The only bright side is that this loss come early enough in the season, so it should be a ‘definite lesson’.

    Maybe enrique needed to see ‘our issues’ against teams like madrid live for himself before believing the narrative…. Our same old issues of overrun alves, set piece defending, counter attack prone, little defensive transition from a busquets-xavi-iniesta midfield trio.

    Kudos to Madrid though, they have raised the bar. We need to step up quickly.

    • fredolution says:

      I totally agree. My biggest fear really is did barca really buy defenders? NO. Is this enrique guy up to the big guns? NO. Imagine this guyz against a bayern now under someone lik pep, or against a mou chelsea. Without sentiments enrique might have been a phenomenon as player but he is definitly not a guy to square up against mou or d likes tactitically. Gosh! This guys never learn. The only ‘defender’ barca bougjht after d epic 7-0 is vamalean. Pls peeps wheree is he so far?

  3. Barca4Lyfe says:

    Nic, I agree with everything.

    But when you mentioned ideas to turn the game around rather than an out run midfield .

    It would be safe to say that Busquets and Xavi are making things a lot slower for us atm. While Busquets is good at ball distribution, last night he was frequently out paced by MAdrid’s Attacking midfielders, the same case as showed in the World Cup.

    Squad selection has to be done by merit not by reputation.

    The midfield of Mascherano, Iniesta, Rakitic would have done a lot better.

    I would rather take a gamble on the BArtra, Matheiu partnwrship in defence with The aggressive Mascherano covering them both rather than use that slow midfield and a Gerrard Pique of this current version.

  4. Caleb says:

    I feel like, as opposed to most of our more difficult games this season, this time Enrique hoped that experience would provide where current form may be lacking. Pique had the chance to show he’s still a great defender and frankly he didn’t pass the test. I was upset when I saw he was starting—he hasn’t been good enough for some time. Xavi wasn’t bad, as Nic said, but his contribution on the ball doesn’t eclipse Rakitic (especially considering Rakitic’s outside shooting) and Rakitic is much more combative on defense and in the air. Lastly, if Pique had to play, I think we needed Masch at defensive mid. Busi has not been good this season and he’s too slow to handle Madrid’s counters. Masch is much better at the defensive side of defensive mid.

    That being said, Suarez was Enrique’s most controversial choice and he was fine. I don’t feel like Pedro would have offered anything significantly different. Neymar may have disappeared, but in these sorts of games I feel that if a striker provides one or two moments of brilliance that lead to a goal, not much more can be demanded of them. Masch was a warrior.

    Messi and Iniesta were absent.

    Anyway, I’m not afraid we’re in a crisis. I think this game justifies Enrique’s choices so far to favor Rakitic and Mathieu over Xavi and Pique in the big games. And Busi needs to get back to the top of his game soon.

    Anyway, I think we’ve still got plenty to look forward to this season. We should be patient with the team and with the coach. There were a lot of changes and it will take some time to really click.

  5. ewe_gb says:

    My take on this disastrous performance of yesterday:

    Enrique has been found out two times in the two big games.

    Sorry to say: But atm I cannot see him developing Barca. Hope that I am wrong. I am totally disenchanted.

    How on earth can you put on the old midfield trio which has been found out defensively so many times? Namely: Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets.

    How can you rotate in the big game?

    Why not play Mascerano in the defensive midfield when he has shown that he can play very good there?
    Busqets has been injured and already before his injury he has played not good at all.

    Why put on Xavi and Iniesta? One is enough and the only viable option against Real.

    Mathieu should have played as center back because tonight he doesn’t add anything offensively. Ok, but what are the alternatives?
    Yesterday, it should have been Alba instead because the threat of Bale was non-existent. Poor tactical decision by Enrique.

    This is the result of a disastrous transfer management by Barca’s board and Zubizaretta.

    So we should have a top-notch coach: Do we have?

    Do we have the youngsters who can put in some quality?

    As I have written so often: Where are the midfielders?
    We have lost Thiago and Fabregas and have not brought any creative midfielders instead.
    Kroos would have been available. Why haven’t we gone for Isco.
    This board and Zubizaretta are a catastrophe when it has come to squad building and transfer management. The earlier the board and Zubi are sacked the better for Barca.

    Who do we have for the right full-back position as Enrique obviously doesn’t trust Montoya?

    And so on and so on…

    • fredolution says:

      I agree with u totally. I insisit that enrique is not a tactically sound coach, was just a brave barca/madrid hero in his playing days. Definitly not what we need nw. Tata would have done better if allowed and supported. And the trio of messi/neymar/suarez will amount to nothing without a defense bcos even if they score 4 and we concede 5. That’s a loss. This board needs to go

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