A football match comes down to, when you really look at it, a collection of moments that swing one way or the other. Sports can be, at times, unfair. That’s just part of the game. Unfortunately, the first Clasico of the season was an example of just that. Barça were clearly the better team for 70 minutes, but a football match isn’t 70 minutes long.
Xavi started the match with a three-man defense, allowing Cancelo and Balde more freedom to push up. With Gavi and Gündoğan as holding midfielders, Barça had quite a comfortable first half. They looked calm, created chances, and generally limited Real Madrid. Araújo did very well against Vinicius and the Madrid defense looked shaky at times.
However, as the game wore on, Barça started to look tired. They lacked the ability to really control the flow of the match. Individual mistakes allowed Madrid back in the game, and Barça couldn’t quite grasp that they needed to slow the game down and take more possession of the ball. In the end, the visitors from the capital would win it in the 92nd minute on a bit of a broken play.
Despite the loss, it must be said that Xavi’s growth as a coach is something very encouraging, as well as some of the individual performances in this one. The tactics were spot at the beginning, even if some mistakes were made later on (Romeu!). Hopefully, with the return of some of their injured players, they can get back in the swing of things and get back to winning ways quickly. Let’s look at each player in this match:
Marc-André ter Stegen – 5/10
Remember how I said football is a collection of moments? Madrid were pretty much dead in the water until Bellingham’s first goal. Not to take anything away from Bellingham, as it was a tremendous strike, but ter Stegen definitely should’ve saved it. He got a hand on it, but it wasn’t strong enough or in time, and he could’ve done much better. There was nothing he could do on the second goal really, and he did have a couple of nice saves throughout the match. But the first goal really shouldn’t have gone in, and it changed the complexion of the whole game. That one moment ruined his match.
Balde – 7/10
Not a bad game from the young left-back, but an average one. He did a very good job of pinning back Fede Valverde, but this was mostly due to the tactical setup in that first half. Some of the same issues were on display again, mostly the on-ball stuff. Despite this though, Balde is always good on defense and a constant threat on the left.
Iñigo Martínez – 8/10
It’s a strange match to rate, since none of the defenders really did anything wrong, despite conceding two goals. Martínez has had three very good games now in a row. His experience and savvy is obvious, and he’s fit in very well with the team so far. He’s been good in the air, and his passing from the back as a left-footed defender gives the squad a new element. He also hit the post on a header that would’ve put Barça up 2-0.
Christensen – 8/10
Christensen was forced on more than one occasion to sprint back and deal with Vinicius, which he did very well. His timing and natural instincts are very good. He defends well while barely giving up fouls. He would very easily start on most teams in Europe at this level, and he was solid again in this one. To have him as their third center back is tremendous depth.
Araújo – 8/10
Araújo is something special. Rio Ferdinand wants him at Manchester United (never happening), and for good reason. He’s strong, fast, and extremely physical. He truly is the answer to defending Vinicius long-term, as he knows just how to be handsy with him and get the Brazilian winger out of his game. He’s also improved on the ball out of that right back position. He looks much more comfortable there and doesn’t lose nearly as many balls.
Cancelo – 7/10
A light 7 from Cancelo in this one. Maybe a 6.5. He did well enough going forward in the limited space he had on that right side, but he had several moments where he should’ve done better in the final third. Despite making Camavinga look silly at times, he wasn’t able to pull off the final pass or shot that’s so crucial in a match like a Clasico. At least the usual defensive issues weren’t a problem in this match.
Gavi – 8/10
It’s impossible to hate on Gavi, although many try to. He’s a bundle of energy that gives his all in every match, defends like a monster, and never tires. He’s also shown a massive jump in quality from this season to the last. Playing in that deeper holding position, he was massive. He was key to Barça’s ball circulation in the first hour and change. He also did a great job on Bellingham at the base of that midfield and basically took him out of the game. His effectiveness was limited later on when Romeu came in and essentially took his role over, but Gavi has been easily Xavi’s best player this season.
Gündoğan – 7.5/10
The match started off very promisingly when the German midfielder scored in the 6th minute. It was a cool finish, but other than this, he was very good elsewhere and throughout the match. He was calm and in control every time he was on the ball. It’s becoming quite clear that with the current squad, Gavi and Gündoğan is the best possible combination at the base of that midfield. There aren’t defensive issues there, as some may have thought at the beginning of the season.
Fermín López – 7/10
I am very impressed by Fermín and his ability to play off the rest of the team. It seems he’s been playing there for years, and his rapport with his teammates is top-notch. Gavi and Fermín made Toni Kroos look, quite frankly, old. Their first half was a great one. Fermín has a bit of a different feel to his game, with attacking instincts and a real thirst for goal. He knows when and how to make runs in behind, and Gündoğan especially has been able to find him a few times recently. The only reason he doesn’t get an 8 here is because he hit the post and wasted a very good chance on goal in that first half. Overall though, extremely promising.
Romeu – 5/10
Unfortunately, Xavi’s biggest tactical blunder in this one. After conceding the first goal, he shouldn’t have panicked. It was completely against the run of play, and honestly, unlucky not to have been saved by ter Stegen. However, Xavi subbed in Romeu directly after, perhaps thinking that a more defensive presence would help Barça retain control. Not so. He just hasn’t been good enough recently on or off the ball, and in reality Gavi should’ve stayed where he was instead of pushing higher up. Romeu just looks shaky out there, forcing some sloppy passes and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He allowed Bellingham more freedom than Gavi had, which is very bad at this stage given the confidence the Englishman must be feeling.
Ferran – 6.5/10
Not a bad game from Ferran today, just an invisible one. He didn’t really find himself on the end of many chances, and while he made some nice runs, he wasn’t found. It’s notable that the biggest applause he drew all night is when he was subbed off.
Félix – 7/10
Félix is a player that I can definitely see being frustrating at times for Barça fans. A Clasico requires efficiency in movement and decision-making, as well as a clinical touch. Félix has talent in spades, that much is obvious. He nutmegged Rüdiger, as well as provided some good link-up play with the midfielders. However, he sometimes lacks that efficiency. He holds on to the ball for just a second too long, or doesn’t put quite enough weight on his pass. There were a few times in this one that that negative showed.
Lewandowski – 6/10
It’s his first match back from a lengthy time away, but he didn’t look quite that sharp. He didn’t have to drop down nearly as much as he was during the first few games of the season, which was good. His first shot back was a touch too high, and his passes a touch wayward. He’ll be back to full strength soon, knowing him, but he wasn’t at his best in this one. He also only played 30 minutes, and he’ll probably get a start soon.
Lamine Yamal – 6/10
Similar to Ferran, but for less time. I can only remember one time off the top of my head that he was on the ball, and that play kind of fizzled out. to be fair, it wasn’t his fault, as Barça were unable to keep possession of the ball near the end and afforded way too much time and space to Madrid.
Raphinha – 6/10
Not a good game from Raphinha for me. He looked rusty as well, which is to be expected, but he also made some puzzling decisions. On one play, when he very clearly should’ve returned the ball to Araújo and maintained control of the game, he dribbled it directly into Camavinga’s path. Barça and Xavi need to do a better job of recognizing time, score, and game state. Knowing when to go on the counter and when to build up from the back and calm the game down. Raphinha is one of the culprits of this at times.
Overall, a match that Barça were better in for well over a half. But individual mistakes, a bad substitution from Xavi, and a lack of awareness caused Barça to walk away with nothing. It’s something to build off of for sure, but still disappointing. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.