First things first, Barcelona defeated Real Madrid, at home, at the Camp Nou, 2-1. But, the Clasico has its own rules. Any result where the winner isn’t ahead by at least 2 goals is considered a narrow victory. Regardless if that’s a correct reflection of the match itself. Madridistas will feel being wronged… Again. While Real Madrid failed to convert any of their chances, save for the Jese Rodriguez consolation goal, Barcelona were ruthlessly efficient. Roles reversed one might think. So one feels inclined to turn to the events that could’ve changed the flow of the match, disallowed penalties perhaps?
Did Javier Mascherano foul Cristiano Ronaldo… Um, yes. But to those who sympathise with Madrid, or also suffer from selective memory, Mascherano fouled Ronaldo in the 71st minute after Barcelona were denied a perfectly legitimate penalty call in the 52nd minute when Pepe kicked Cesc Fabregas in Los Blancos’ box. If anything those two disallowed penalties cancel each other out. Furthermore, what about the totally undeserved penalty that literally fell into Madrid’s lap (at death) in the match against Elche?
There’s no point in focusing on what could’ve or should’ve been.
Barcelona made their chances count, Madrid didn’t.
Thus far there’s no indication that Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti is doing things differently to his predecessor Jose Mourinho, at least in the Clasico. One of the ideas Mourinho introduced to Madrid was to deploy Pepe, a central defender, in defensive midfield to pick-up the runs of Lionel Messi and hassle the diminutive Argentine whenever he was in possession. Ancelotti basically had the same thing in mind when he installed Sergio Ramos in the same capacity. But Messi didn’t play in his favored false 9 position; instead Gerardo “Tata” Martino shifted La Pulga to the right-wing, Cesc centrally, plus Neymar on the left-wing.
But while the qualities (aggression, determination, brute force) that make Ramos and Pepe ideal candidates for doing the donkey work in defensive midfield, it also earmarks them for cards of all sorts of colours. Betting on Ramos and/or Pepe to receive at least a yellow card in a Clasico is always a worthwhile gamble. Their competitiveness usually gets the better of them once frustration takes over. And there’s no side better at frustrating its opponents than Barcelona and their never-ending sequences of passes, especially when the Catalan side is leading.
Ancelotti’s Madrid is at best a side in transition, at worst a team without a clear philosophy. Frankly, the Italian is in a little over his head here. Prior to taking over Madrid Ancelotti always favored wingless formations, with the width being provided by full-backs. Of course, neither Ronaldo, nor Di Maria, nor Bale is a winger in the classic mould but none of the three is a striker either. Hence, opting for a trident that featured the trio was rather ambitious, though by no means a sound idea. Nor was the inclusion of Bale in the starting XI for that matter.
The Welshman was by far the worst player on the pitch. Deprived of space, the former Tottenham player just isn’t effective. On the very few occasions he did have some space he chose to give his best John Wayne impression and shoot on sight no matter the distance instead of making a run for it. His counterpart Neymar fared better. The Brazilian scored one, and created Alexis’ goal before being subbed off.
The former Santos forward produced a complete performance, in addition to playing a significant role in both goals; he also tracked back and pressed whenever he wasn’t in possession.
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Normally, Barcelona would’ve struggled to mount an effective attack sans Messi but Neymar more than compensated for the off-color Argentinean. Since he’s still adjusting to European football it’s quite remarkable how far Barcelona’s latest Boy Wonder has adapted to the rigours of La Liga, and La Blaugrana’s very distinct philosophy. So far he has scored 3 goals and created 6 assists in 9 La Liga appearances, producing 1 goal per game.
Of course, Bale has been unlucky with injuries ever since he joined Madrid, and Ancelotti is kind of clueless or undecided what works best for his side. Then again, refusing to train during the latter days of his Tottenham Hotspur career was entirely his choice. In his defence however, it does appear that Ancelotti has been urged to include Bale in the media event that is El Clasico. Still, Neymar stole the headlines and once again underlined why Real Madrid were desperate to sign him before Barcelona secured his signature.
Though it’s too early to tell it is probable Bale could turn into the next Kaka, who was also injured quite often when he joined the Madrid outfit. The archetypical Perez vanity signing for whom Madrid’s president has become known for.
On some level Madrid’s stuttering start echoes the period when Perez decided it was only beneficial to the club to sell Claude Makelele but add the aforementioned Beckham. This time his fixation with a Premier League darling has caused him to strip Madrid of its main creative outlet, German International Mesüt Özil, to finance the purchase of Bale. In 2003 he sold Makelele, the defensive lynchpin of the Merengues, to make room for Beckham who didn’t add any dimension to Los Blancos’ play.
Strangely enough, Perez Galactico policy has yet to fulfill its premise – create the most dominant team in the game. Since 2000 Madrid’s rivals Barcelona have ascended to the pinnacle of Spanish and European football. Furthermore, Barcelona did so without making it a mission statement to break the transfer record whenever possible. Even more interesting is that Barcelona’s annual turnover is just 6% off Madrid’s revenue stream. Playing good football seemingly has its advantages too.
For the time being it looks like La Blaugrana have made an inspired signing with the acquisition of Neymar, who has adapted wonderfully (according to various surveys he’s also the most marketable athlete in the world), and while Bale isn’t a bad footballer, he isn’t and can’t be the creative hub Madrid need. It’s certainly reminiscent of the time when Ronaldinho and Beckham signed the dotted line for the respective clubs in 2003, exactly 10 years ago.
Who knows, maybe history does repeat itself. The latest Clasico suggest it does.
Follow Sebastian on Twitter @JubeiKibagame