In a big afternoon of football, Real Madrid beat Barcelona 2-1 in El Clásico to go top of La Liga.
What did we learn?
1. David Alaba brings the Bayern spirit and does Ramos proud
Real Madrid came to the Camp Nou and they were put on the back foot for the opening half hour. It wasn’t like the old days, sure but Los Blancos weren’t the dominant force in the game which you had expected them to be given recent form.
They played well, for sure, relying on counter-attacks to generate their pressure. But they also didn’t look like they were going to score. Until David Alaba stepped up, that is. The former Bayern Munich defender has a frankly outstanding record against the Blaugrana; coming into today’s game he had played three, won three – with his teams scoring 15 goals and conceded just 2.
David Alaba has scored his first Real Madrid goal in his first Clásico appearance with his first shot on target in LaLiga.
Absolutely worth the wait. 🚀 pic.twitter.com/vcGIghSBxx
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 24, 2021
When Real Madrid handed David Alaba the shirt number “4” of departing captain Sergio Ramos, many eyebrows were raised. But Alaba has shown with this goal why he was a worthy recipient of it. The Austrian is a phenomenal big game player, someone who thrives under the spotlight and loves to humiliate Barcelona.
Sound like anyone else you know?
2. Eric Garcia. Again.
It’s sad to pick on one player, particularly a young player, for not being good enough. But Eric Garcia is just not good enough. He’s a solid enough defender, decently quick and truly excellent with the ball at his feet, but his actual defensive skills are so dull.
For such a talented and studious player, Garcia is often slow to recognise danger and close out on shooters. As he did for Real Madrid’s first goal when he stood around and watched David Alaba take a wide-open shot and open the scoring.
Garcia’s other big flaw is that he’s weak. So while he recovered from his initial error to defend well at the heart of defence, the first time Los Blancos attacked him without Gerard Piqué around as cover, he was beaten to a rebound by Lucas Vazquez. This was an unforgivable error for a centre-half to make, once again he slow to react to the danger of the loose ball and then the fact that he let Lucas come through him to score… it was just despicable defending and Garcia was directly responsible for the defeat. Both goals were his fault, and it was Ronald Koeman who sent him out there (and then kept him out there even with the half-time change).
3. Can we please have Modric vs. Busquets until the end of time?
This wasn’t a Clásico with the highest quality we’ve ever seen, but one thing that remains constant even as both of the clubs go through a relatively low ebb was the magical midfield battle of Sergio Busquets and Luka Modric. These two have been going toe-to-toe for 8 years now and the battle almost gets better with each passing year as the eternal quality of both men comes into sharper relief.
For Modric, a Ballon d’Or winner, the impact was obvious as Los Blancos won and when they were on top, everything ran through Modric and when they were defending, the Croatian was one of the chief bulwarks in Barcelona’s way.
For Busquets, while Barcelona lost and Koeman’s change prevented the midfield from flowing as harmoniously as it should have done, he was still individually excellent. The Catalan won the ball back with supreme confidence (he and Modric both had 4 interceptions each, the most in the game – Busquets had 3 tackles, Modric 2) and enabled Barcelona’s high press to function.
This is a battle we will never tire of watching. Sheer footballing class.
4. Madrid go for four, but Atleti are the big winners
Real Madrid have won four consecutive Clásicos for the first time since the early 1960’s. That level of dominance is impressive but is also partly down to Ronald Koeman just being woeful at his job as three of the wins have come against the Dutchman who seems incapable of structuring and rousing his players for the biggest of big games.
But Madrid weren’t great at the Camp Nou. They scored twice but weren’t exactly beating down the back door to add to that total. Hell, if Barcelona had Ronaldo Araujo fit, there’s a chance Los Blancos may not have scored at all. The one worry for Carlo Ancelotti is that if Karim Benzema isn’t scoring or assisting, Madrid can struggle to open teams up.
Now as long as Benzema is fit that shouldn’t be a problem, because the Frenchman is honestly outrageous right now and the best player in La Liga by some distance. But if he gets injured? Los Blancos could go through a lean patch and today was the proof. And in what is sure to be a tight race for La Liga with Atlético Madrid, that could make the difference.
◉ Real Madrid 2-0 Barcelona
◉ Barcelona 1-3 Real Madrid
◉ Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona
◉ Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid
Los Blancos have won four consecutive LaLiga Clásicos for the first time since 1965. 😳 pic.twitter.com/6YVQb2a325
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 24, 2021
5. Koeman fixing his own mistakes, but still not enough
For the first time this season, Barcelona were much better second-half than they were in the first frame. Ronald Koeman made one substitution and a tactical switch and Barcelona really responded by being the better side in the second-half, even if they couldn’t quite break Los Blancos down.
However before anyone rushes to place garlands around Ronald Koeman’s necks, the Dutchman was just fixing his own ridiculous mistakes. And he didn’t even do that all the way either.
Barcelona’s first XI in this game was strange in that Frenkie de Jong, usually operating on the right side of midfield where his movement and athleticism contrasts the pass-heavy approach on the Blaugrana left, was instead on the left where he got lost in the shuffle and his dynamism was of little to no use. He perked up a bit in the second-half after Barcelona switched to 4-2-3-1 but then got subbed off anyway.
Meanwhile young Gavi, who is so effective on the left side of midfield, was on the right where he didn’t have the athleticism necessary to live with Los Blancos. After the 4-2-3-1 switch, Gavi was moved to right-wing where he was absolutely anonymous. Koeman may “play the kids” but he clearly doesn’t give them any coherent instructions.
He also played Memphis on the wing and Ansu up-front, which definitely didn’t work and then his change at half-time was to swap them back! And when Ansu had to come off on 72 minutes (they are still managing his minutes) on came Luuk de Jong and Memphis was back to the left! Why did Yusuf Demir not come on? Why was Memphis constantly moved around.
“I’d like to think the fans weren’t booing Luuk de Jong but Ronald Koeman there,” said Simon Hanley on commentary. And while in reality it probably was a bit of both, the blame for this defeat belongs solely to the Dutch coach, rather than the Dutch striker.
Koeman’s biggest mistake, of course, was playing Eric Garcia and asking Oscar Mingueza to man-mark Vinicius Jr. rather than let Barcelona play their own game. Mingueza struggled to man-mark Vinicius (as anyone would) and so Koeman abandoned the idea second-half and things dramatically improved as a result. Of course he also took Mingueza off at half-time to switch to 4-2-3-1, but left Eric Garcia on rather than removing his obvious weak link and moving Mingueza into his natural position of centre-back. Doing so would have prevented Madrid’s second goal and thus Sergio Aguero’s first-ever strike for the club would have been a dramatic late equaliser.
But even when Koeman does things right, he’s only fixing mistakes he made in the first place. The Dutchman was a world-class player but he is a pub-class coach and Real Madrid just called for last orders.