Real Madrid vs Barcelona – Tactical Analysis – Deja Vu

After Madrid’s convincing win over their rivals in the Copa del Rey fixture midweek, the clubs renewed hostilities in the league albeit with little at stake due to Barcelona’s 16 point lead. Both sides minds were firmly fixed on forthcoming Champions League games.

And it appeared to be a serous case of Deja Vu. It was as if the midweek clash in the Copa del Rey had never occurred. Barcelona changed a couple of players yet set about their task with the exact same game plan which played perfectly into the hands of a mainly fringe Real Madrid side.

Line Ups

As expected, both sides made a number of changes to their respective starting line ups for this game but the extent to which Mouirnho made changes surprised many observers.

Madrid chose to rest Alonso completely as he continues to nurse a minor injury whilst Arbeloa, Khedira, Di Maria, Higuain, Ozil and Ronaldo all began life on the bench

Essien moved in at right back with Pepe in a defensive midfield role.

Real Madrid vs Barcelona Starting Line Up

Real Madrid vs Barcelona Starting Line Up

Roura brought Mascherano and Thiago into the side for the injured duo of Puyol and Xavi. Villa started with Cesc on the bench.

For Madrid, this game, as important as a clasico is, was entirely secondary to Tuesday night in Manchester. Whilst Barcelona needed a performance more than anything in this game following recent disappointments.

Possession, Possession, Possession

Once more in a clasico, Barcelona dominate possession but Real Madrid possess a much greater attacking threat. The possession stats look anomalous. Barcelona made 631 passes from 701 attempted as they gained 63% possession they they scarcely looked like scoring aside from their one goal. Madrid meanwhile, only made 186 successful passes but carried a real attacking threat borne out by their 14 attempts at goal. Strangely, all of their attempts came from the left to centre positions. No shots originated from the right.

David Villa started but is becoming increasingly marginalised and wasted in a wide left position. This may offer Barcelona tactical width but Madrid were unconcerned by him and retained their defensive shape. The lack of a central reference point, somebody who can make runs and occupy and stretch opposing central defenders is a major obstacle now.

The inability or reluctance to to shoot at goal is becoming something of an issue for Barcelona. The graphic below shows their shots at goal in this game:-

Barcelona Shots

Barcelona Shots             

Barcelona managed five attempts in 90 minutes yet Ronaldo could muster six attempts in a brief 32 minute cameo.

Quite simply, Barcelona appear to be content with possession for possession’s sake but there must be an end product. There is no point in passing the ball. The 30th minute summed up Barcelona’s approach. Messi and Iniesta exchanged a series of passes about 10 yards inside the Madrid half under no pressure. Why should Madrid charge in and press their opponent thus opening up space?

Apart from Messi’s goal, the only other shot on target from Barcelona arrived due to an error by Madrid.

The heat map below is further evidence of Barcelona’s inability to enter the opposition penalty area. Barcelona dominate the middle of the pitch:-

Barcelona Heat Map

Barcelona Heat Map           

There are two issues for Barcelona to address.

1. If Barcelona are intent on continuing such an approach then they must tempt the opponent out by building play deeper. They force the opponent deep and contribute to their own downfall. Construct play deeper and allow the opponent to move forward. It carries risks but also rewards.

2. Barcelona must develop a greater sense of dynamism and verticality to their game. Too often the movement is lateral. They need to adopt a little of what makes Real Madrid so good; the explosive pace and movement on counter attacks. Barcelona will not counter like Madrid with the players they presently possess but they can increase the tempo and counter. Forgo the control for that riskier pass every now and then. Take the chance.

Work Ethic

Real Madrid set up with a broadly similar set up to that which worked against Barcelona midweek. The main difference this time being that whereas Ronaldo and Higuain were less inclined to track back, Morata and Benzema recovered position quickly and dropped deep.

The performance of Callejon was one of complete discipline and intelligence. The forward sacrificed himself for the team, undertaking his defensive tasks with diligence and completely nullifying Alba in the process. Callejon made two successful tackles in the game, both occurring deep within his own half.

The heat map below shows his time more or less split between both halfs:-

Callejon Heat Map

Callejon Heat Map

There was something almost Saachian about this Real Madrid performance today. So often the side was very compact with the whole team being within about 25 meters from defence to attack. Lines were compact and the team defended as one unit before bursting forward when they became more open.

The graphic below shows the Real Madrid side in position when Barcelona have possession at the halfway line:-

Real Madrid Defensive Positions

Real Madrid Defensive Positions

To retain discipline and organisation for the full 90 minutes requires a superb collective effort from all the players. And yet again, a Madrid side prevented Barcelona from creating many genuine opportunities. This was not a park the bus performance, it was a Rolls Royce performance.

The Goals

Madrid opened the scoring after just five minutes. Ramos intercepted a Thiago pass near the halfway line and released Morata who making his clasico debut. The young forward beat Alves far too easily on the left and whipped in a cross to the far post where Benzema had run off Mascherano and knocked the ball home. Alba was five or six yards further back when he should have been much closer to his central defender. It is a goal so typical of Madrid. Gain possession and swiftly attack before the opponent can regain shape. It’s the exact sort of goal that Barcelona seldom score.

Too often recently Barcelona have lacked penetration with no player making runs in behind an opponent to stretch their defence. David Villa provided this to an extent against Sevilla even though he spent considerable time on the left. The equalising goal arrived when Messi made a surging run forward and latched onto Alves through ball. Cutting to the inside of Ramos, Messi beat Lopez at his near post far too easily. The keeper really should have saved the effort.

Messi becomes the first player to score in 16 consecutive Liga games and also equalled Di Stefano’s record of 18 goals in the clasico. It was the one bright spot for Barcelona.

Sergio Ramos scored the winning goal. For the third clasico in a row, Barcelona concede a goal via a header. The ease with which Ramos beat Pique in the air was considerable,demonstrating a gap in the physique and power between the sides.

Where Now?

With two wins in a row under their belts, Madrid can head to Manchester in fine fettle for the real game that matters to them against Man Utd in the Champions League. Having said that, it will be a strong boost that a team containing to many squad players, albeit hugely talented squad players, can see off Barcelona without any real examination.

For Barcelona, a period of greater introspection is needed.

The illness of Vilanova had pushed Jordi Roura into the limelight. Clearly uncomfortable with the role and now clearly struggling in the role, the primary concern Barcelona face is overcoming Milan in the Champions League. To do so though, requires recognition of the issues facing the side and an ability to make key alterations mid-game. Thus far, Roura has not demonstrated either skill.

At this precise moment, decisions that Barcelona take off the park could prove to be as important as decisions they make on it.


For such a meaningless game, as if any clasico could ever be completely meaningless, there are significant ramifications for each partner.

Despite being a game with lower than normal intensity, a win is still important. The 16 point gap between the sides being narrowed to just 13 points will have no bearing on the title but this game, and midweek, is further confirmation, if it were needed, that there is no inferiority complex from this Madrid side when the face Barcelona. It is now Barcelona who are left to wonder how they will defeat their rivals from the capital.

Barcelona vs Espanyol – Tactical Analysis

Barcelona turned in a rampant first half display, during which time they battered Espanyol and had the game wrapped up by half time courtesy of a four goal lead.

This was a game in which Barcelona produced a performance of considerable quality even if their opponents were sufficiently lacklustre.

Line Ups

Tito Vilanova returned to the dugout having missed just one league game through illness. He named what is arguably his strongest eleven.

Barcelona Starting Line Up vs Espanyol

Barcelona Starting Line Up vs Espanyol

Taking charge of Espanyol for the fifth time, Javier Aguirre set his Espanyol side out in a 4-5-1 formation with ex Barcelona player Sergio Garcia as the lone striker:-

Espanyol Starting Line Up vs Barcelona

Espanyol Starting Line Up vs Barcelona


With Barcelona already 4-0 ahead at half time, the game was over as a contest. The key aspects from a tactical perspective arrived mainly during the first half of real quality and verve from Barcelona. There were still a number of points during the second period but Espanyol were soundly beaten by that point and Barcelona were already very comfortable.

Sergio Busquets

Sergio Busquets is well known for his positional ability sitting in front of the defence and recycling possession quickly and accurately but this game illustrates that Busquets possesses other qualities too. The midfielder completed more passes than anyone else on the pitch, even Xavi, with 121 passes completed from 137 attempted.

Critics of Busquets will claim his passing is always short ignoring his ability to play rapid first time passes. Against Espanyol, he was able to showcase his range of passing.

Busquets Passes vs Espanyol

Busquets Passes vs Espanyol       

Busquets provided the assist for Barcelona’s third goal in the 26th minute. By this point Busquets had already played a number of diagonal crossfield passes changing the angle of Barcelona’s attacks and forcing Espanyol to shuffle back and forth across the pitch. His forward pass through the centre of the defence was read perfectly by Pedro who accelerated beyond Moreno and clipped the ball over the advancing Casilla. Espanyol failed to press Busquets in the midfield.

The warning sign was not heeded and in the 42nd minute, Busquets played another through ball which narrowly evaded the forward running Cesc Fabregas.

Two passes of real quality and vision displaying the awareness and technique of Busquets combined with the forward runs from his team mates.

Iniesta and Cesc – Sharing The Left

The arrival of Cesc Fabregas and his subsequent integration into the side has provoked much debate. Initially positioned on the left side of attack, his form fluctuated. Now however, Vilanova appears to be about to reap the rewards from Guardiola’a tactical tinkering.

Fabregas is now positioned in the midfield with license to break forward whilst Iniesta, although he confirms it’s not his favourite position, situated on the left of attack. The positions are nominal only due to the movement of both players. Their relationship has developed to the point whereby they now combine and interchange frequently both safe in the knowledge that the real width will be provided by the marauding Jordi Alba from left back.

The graphic below shows Iniesta’s heat map:-

Iniesta Heat Map vs Espanyol

Iniesta Heat Map vs Espanyol

The heat map for Cesc Fabregas is remarkably similar. Both players prepared to move to the left when required and equally drop into the centre as need be. It enables Cesc to burst forward into the penalty area to receive the kind of passes that Busquets was making. It’s this fluidity of movement which makes it so difficult for opponents to stop even if they employ a low defensive block.

And it’s not just in the midfield area where the movement and interchanging is occurring.

Pedro Rodriguez

Following an injury hit season, Pedro Rodriguez has returned to full fitness this season but the goals have not yet arrived. Going into this game, he had scored just one league goal.

Deployed on the right wing, Pedro seldom stayed there during this game as the graphic below highlights:-

Pedro Action Areas vs Espanyol

Pedro Action Areas vs Espanyol

The forward from Tenerife frequently made diagonal runs to a central position seeking through passes as Messi dropped deep and to the right. For a period of the game, Pedro operated as the No9 with Messi wide.

His first goal perhaps carried an element of luck but Pedro was still in the right position to take advantage of that luck. His second goal was a classic run off the shoulder of the last defender.

Pedro scored two further goals which were ruled offside. On both occasions he was the main striker breaking into the box at speed with Messi much deeper.

Pedro’s positioning was possible because Dani Alves produced his best performance of a below par season. Quite often Alves was alone on the right flank as he moved up and down offering tactical width to the side.

Barcelona Fluidity

And the constituent parts highlighted above provided Barcelona with a display arguably on a par with anything produced during the Guardiola era.

The fluidity of movement and the interchanging of position is something which has to be developed on a training ground over a number of years. It’s not a style of play can be perfected quickly.

The real issue for Barcelona now is can this level of performance be sustained for the remainder of the campaign both at home and abroad and can it be produced against higher quality opponents?

Espanyol – Where Did It Go Wrong?

Still, it’s difficult to completely ignore the assertion that Espanyol contributed to their own downfall with a woefully inadequate performance.

“You can lose face, but you have to give more,”

Capdevila summed up the issue for Espanyol perfectly.

The loss of the early goal would have been a considerable loss to Espanyol, but they appeared to be devoid of motivation or aggression for the majority of the game. Barcelona enjoyed far too much freedom and time on the ball.

The graphic below highlights where Espanyol made tackles:-

Espanyol Tackles vs Barcelona

Espanyol Tackles vs Barcelona

Espanyol were not stopping Barcelona further up the field. They retreated to the edge of their penalty area and tried to hold Barcelona off at the point by defending in a compact and narrow format. Previously the template for halting Barcelona but last night it never looked like being successful. The loss of the first goal so early made that approach futile and it developed into something resembling damage limitation thereafter.

Espanyol should have been able to compete, to press and harass Barcelona and make them work harder for their victory. It was too nice. Espanyol never disturbed Barcelona. This is not a suggestion that Espanyol simply kick their opponents but the team with the worst disciplinary record in La Liga this season was surprisingly disciplined and meek.


Barcelona produced a brilliant first half performance but the inherent poverty of Espanyol’s play leaves you wondering if they could have produced the same level against a more competitive opponent. They will get that opportunity next week when they visit La Rosaleda.

Aguirre will have arrived at the Camp Nou expecting nothing and received precisely that. The fans will expect a response next week in a far more meaningful match whet they entertain Celta Vigo. A similarly apathetic approach will not be tolerated.

Celtic vs Barcelona

We seen this film before, haven’t we?

We know every single exact little detail. The script has been written then read and re-read time and time again. Barcelona come up against a team who are very defensive, hold a line at the edge of the penalty area, congest the centre, counter attack and they struggle to break the opponent down.

“We did what we needed to do in these types of games, we’ve seen this on other occasions”


There are lies, damned lies and statistics – Barcelona “enjoyed” 84% possession, 91% pass completion, 25 shot at goal and 8 shots on target. Final score Celtic 2 Barcelona 1. Vilanova’s assessment is correct.

To the names of Inter and Chelsea, Celtic can now be added. The only consolation for Vilanova and his players is that this defeat has arisen in the group stage and not later on in the competition. There is time left to address the issues which this game has raised.

To Be Direct or Not Be Direct – Pass, Pass, Pass

There is a general view that Barcelona has become slightly more direct this season under Vilanova with the dichotomy of Xavi or Cesc being the crux of this issue.

Xavi guarantees game control via ball retention whereas Cesc, his style of play greatly influenced by both La Masia and the Premiership, plays further forward with less emphasis upon control and a focus upon creating more goal scoring opportunities.

Is it a straight choice between the styles? Which style is best?

Last night, Barcelona produced their least direct performance of the season and in doing so overwhelmingly dominated possession enjoying 84%. Their hosts, Celtic, set a new Champions League record for winning a game with the least amount of possession standing at just 16%.

As is so often the case, Barcelona continually passed the ball but against such a deep lying defence and midfield, they found openings extremely difficult to create.

A further problem for Barcelona was their lack of presence within the penalty area. There was no central focal point.

The lack of a reference point in attack is exacerbated when the players play cross balls into the box. Alves made 18 crosses into the penalty area whilst Alba made just 5. This highlighted the reliance upon the right-wing for attacking by Barcelona. Alves was also the third highest passer in the team with 122 attempted passes (93% completion rate).

The reason for this is probably due to Messi moving to the right as the game progressed to find space. From there however, Messi frequently moved inward towards the congestion.

Barcelona only made two through balls in the entire game, both from Messi. If he drops deep, somebody has to move into a central position but until Villa and Cesc arrived, this was not really happening. Sanchez tried this, but he lacks confidence at the moment and is off form.

Celtic Approach

As highlighted, the problem for Barcelona was that Celtic were so deep that there was no space behind their defence to run. All the play occurred in front of Celtic who held the defensive line around the edge of the penalty area with the midfield sitting just ahead.

Having said that, Samaras remained high up the field and was supported by Miku who dropped to the left when Celtic lost possession. Celtic were defensive, but they were also forced back but attempted to retain an attacking dimension to their game.

Both full backs and wide midfielders tucked in narrowly too, moving towards their respective opponents in wide positions when the ball was played there. Pedro, Alves and Alba were positioned very wide and always had space until they received the ball.

Barcelona needed to draw Celtic forward but instead suffocated them which ultimately hindered Barcelona. The first goal in this contest would prove to be pivotal.

Critics of the zonal marking system will attack Barcelona’s concession of the opening goal. This ignores two key points.

Firstly, the delivery of the corner kick from Mulgrew was excellent. The ball was whipped in with pace. Secondly, Wanyama attacked the ball from just beyond the back post. Given the lack of height in the Barcelona team, who would have man marked Wanyama and then would they have been able to prevent him scoring? The first goal was simply Celtic using their superior physical strength over the Barcelona team. Sometimes, good goals should just be enjoyed rather than seeking defensive inadequacies.

With the opening goal going to Celtic, the rest of the game became more straightforward from a tactical perspective, and almost like a training game. Celtic simply asked Barcelona the question, can you break us down?

Despite the superiority of possession, Barcelona were unable to do so until they trailed by two goals.

Celtic were never going to compete with Barcelona in terms of possession so they attempted to control space and did so extremely effectively. Wanyama was central to Celtic’s performance. Despite making just 16 passes, he made 6 tackles and performed an essential job in the heart of midfield, closing down and disrupting the likes of Xavi. His performances will not go unnoticed either and it seems likely he will depart Celtic Park shortly for a higher profile league.

Without sounding clichéd, the Celtic players displayed the sort of characteristics which the British game is well known for. This was a performance of character, determination and strength. But add to the mix the mental qualities to complement the physical attributes. A high degree of intelligence and discipline was shown as Celtic conceded just 11 fouls.

The second goal was a simple kick out from Forster which inexplicably evaded Xavi when he had a fresh air swipe at the ball allowing it to run through to Watt who finished with aplomb.

How Important is Busquets?

Was the defining moment of this game actually the dismissal of Busquets in the 88th minute against Benfica?

The subsequent two match ban saw him miss both games against Celtic

It’s widely accepted that Messi is central to the functioning of this Barcelona team. Xavi and Iniesta are essential components too.

Why does nobody ever highlight just how effective Busquets is? Yet how can a defensive midfielder be so central to the team?

Busquets contributes defensively and offensively from his deep midfield position. His positional sense enables team mates to find him when in trouble and keep play flowing whilst his quick one touch passing allows him to recycle possession quickly. Song is adapting to life at the Camp Nou but he’s not yet at the level Barcelona require. That much was evident tonight when he somehow evaded a second yellow card and remained on the pitch for a few additional moments before Vilanova withdrew him.

Song is given a fairly restricted role in the side. He switched places with Mascherano to allow the Argentinean to bring the ball out of defence but Song so far has not pushed forward to offer anything resembling his Arsenal form in an attacking sense.

The statistics suggest that Song performed well with a 95% completion rate from his 62 attempted passes. Song also played six long balls, all of which were accurate. This was a key aspect of his play whilst at Arsenal and he should have used this more often last night. Too often the long balls were lateral rather than vertical. The real cause for concern though is the concession of three fouls.

Xavi never broke forward into the penalty area and Iniesta was also very conservative. Was this due to having Song behind them? Were there concerns over the lack of security Song offers compared to Busquets?


The win should secure Celtic’s place in the knockout stages which probably surpasses their initial expectations in the group.

This game will give renewed hope to those teams who advocate adopting an ultra defensive approach against the Catalans but it must be remembered that when such a gameplan succeeds, it is the exception and not the rule.

Barcelona will still qualify as group winners for the knockout stage but it’s a timely reminder to Vilanova that when teams “park the bus” Barcelona are vulnerable especially when too many of their players have a drop in their level of performance.

Barcelona vs Real Madrid – Tactical Analysis

The third clasico of the season, but the first meeting in the league, ended all square at the Camp Nou, Messi 2 Ronaldo 2.

Or at least that is what many in the media would have you believe. And while these two players are the clear stand out performers for both teams, there is much more than their individual performances to discuss.

The game lacked the same level of aggression and intensity that has been so prevalent in recent encounters between the two. There were also a couple of developments which broke from the norm. Barcelona committed more fouls than their counterparts (17vs16) and Madrid scored two goals from superbly constructed moves in comparison to Barcelona’s goals arriving via a defensive error and a sublime free kick.

Line Ups

Both managers made changes to their starting line ups following their away victories midweek in the Champions League.

Vilanova, somewhat surprisingly, chose to replace the injured Puyol with Adriano. Further forward, Iniesta returned following injury with Sanchez dropping to the bench.

Barcelona Starting Line Up

Despite the inclusion of three full backs in Alba, Adriano and Alves with only one centre back in Mascherano, Barcelona lined up with a back four. Adriano operating as a left sided makeshift centre back.

Real Madrid Starting Line Up

Mourinho brought back Di Maria, Khedira and Ozil into the starting eleven with Essien, Callejon and Kaka all sitting on the bench.

Madrid began with their now familiar 4-2-3-1 formation.

Set Up

The inclusion of Iniesta at the expense of Sanchez provided Barcelona with increased depth and strength in the midfield area but removed their attacking threat on the wide left area. Iniesta tucked inside closer to central midfield.

Vilanova would have assumed that Iniesta could afford to do so rather than hold a left sided position as Arbeloa is not the most threatening of full backs. Arbeloa followed Iniesta inside opening up the left flank. This would then allow Alba to move freely on the left as Di Maria naturally drifts inward also. However, Khedira made a number of runs forward, pulling to the right and looking to expose the space behind Alba.

It’s been a common theme in clasico’s whereby Madrid seek to expose Barcelona on the counter and in behind the full backs.

For Madrid, the team operated more or less as anticipated when the line up was announced.

Ozil was able to drift laterally on either side behind Benzema whilst Ronaldo operated in the inside left channel looking to either cut inward or occasionally go on the outside of the full back. Marcelo sought to attack when possible, causing Dani Alves some problems early on with his attacking impetus.

The game, after the first 30 or so minutes settled down into the pattern which we have witnessed recently. Barcelona dominate possession whilst Real Madrid seek to counter attack. Barcelona made 637 successful passes from an attempted 724, a pass completion rate of 88%. With a more direct style, Madrid completed 237 passes from 322 attempted, a completion rate of 74%. The game threatened but never reached the heights of recent clashes in a collective sense but individually, Messi and Ronaldo demonstrated their standing as the best players in the world.

First Half

Real Madrid settled much quicker than their hosts creating a number of opportunities which are examined later, including the opening goal from Ronaldo.

Barcelona failed to find any rhythm as Madrid pressed intelligently. When attacking, Barcelona moved centrally too often leading to the play being congested. Real kept the space between their lines to a minimum and defended narrowly. With Iniesta tucking in from the left and Arbeloa following, the central area was often packed.

Madrid were defending well, preventing any space from developing. The only real outlet for Barcelona was via Pedro who offered genuine width on the right. The equalising goal arrived from a Pedro cross. With Madrid holding two narrow banks, Pedro had time and space to receive a pass and cross the ball before Marcelo closed him down. Pepe badly misjudged the bounce of the ball and Messi was able to score.

Second Half

Real Madrid continued to sit deep and allow Barcelona to attack, operating with Ronaldo and Ozil normally left up front on their own.

Both sides still appeared tentative. Khedira broke forward on the right again and support was available but the move fell away. On two separate occasions, Alba and Pedro provided crosses but no Barcelona players were in the penalty area to take advantage.

Barcelona took the lead from a near perfect free kick from Messi. Again,Messi received the ball centrally but was subsequently fouled by Alonso. The execution of the free kick was superb.

Prior to the goal, Barcelona were about to make a substitute, withdrawing Cesc for Sanchez. An attacking move, the substitution still went ahead despite Barcelona now leading. With Madrid trailing, the game would become stretched providing space for Sanchez to break into and to create by holding a wide left position.

There was little opportunity for Sanchez to have any impact before Madrid equalised. Madrid pressed effectively in midfield and the ball broke to Ozil who hit a wonderful pass through the Barcelona defence for Ronaldo to collect and sweep home.

No real clear cut chances emerged after this.

Too Conservative?

Were both teams too conservative in the game?

Barcelona have had defensive difficulties thus far this season and have yet to field the same defensive line up in two successive games. This is compounded by the present injury situation which required Adriano to deputise as a makeshift centre back. Vilanova seemingly deciding that neither Song or Bartra were suitable replacements. The inclusion of both Iniesta and Cesc ahead of Sanchez meant there was no real width on the left handside unless Alba moved forward. A key aspect of Messi moving deeper to perform a No10 role has been the need for inward runs from the wingers to a No9 position providing an attacking threat and occupying the opposition defenders. Without this, the opposition can push high and squeeze Barcelona. If the wingers don’t provide diagonal runs, the midfielders, principally Cesc, must break forward. This was not adequately addressed as midfielders breaking forward seldom occurred and there were no options on the left and Pedro remained wide right.

The graphic below highlights Barcelona ’s heat map from the game. There was little activity within the Real Madrid penalty area. There was not enough mobility from Barcelona in forward areas

Barcelona Heat Map vs Real Madrid                         

Vilanova sacrificed attacking width for midfield security. Too often, there was nobody willing to run beyond the ball or Barcelona . Xavi, whilst excellent with his distribution, had few options for the killer pass and operated slightly deeper than normal. An indication of Barcelona’s desire to protect the defence.

Xavi Passes vs Real Madrid                                        

From the Madrid perspective, why did Mourinho not force the issue more? Real Madrid created a number of early chances and should have led by at least two goals by the time that Messi struck. The goal seemed to energise Barcelona whilst Madrid retreated into a more defensive frame of mind. Should Madrid not have pressed Barcelona more, taking advantage of the uncertainty within their defence?

Did the conservative line up from Barcelona have a knock effect on Real Madrid?

The normal space which Real Madrid can exploit against Barcelona was not available. Barcelona sought and gained midfield security for the remainder of the team, committing fewer players in attack.The extent to which Madrid dropped off Barcelona can be seen by the graphic below which shows all of Real Madrid’s tackles in the game. All were attempted within their own half of the pitch.

Real Madrid Tackles vs Barcelona                                   

The defence moved deep but held a solid line, close to the midfield preventing Barcelona from having the space in which passing movements could be constructed. Madrid were seldom forced into last ditch clearances or tackles around their penalty area.

Real Madrid Chances

Real created a number of clear cut chances in the early stages of the game. Whilst there were some elements of poor defensive play involved, Madrid crafted a number of openings through their intelligent play and movement of the players.

Benzema had an early chance in the 12th minute when a Ronaldo cross from the right arrived at the far post where the French internationalist arrived unmarked, but hit his shot wide. Dani Alves had been attracted towards the run of Marcelo.

Sergio Ramos should have scored in the 20th minute when he was allowed a free header at a corner kick. Interestingly, Barcelona were using a combination of man marking and zonal marking perhaps to compensate for their lack of height and the threat which Madrid carry at such set pieces.

Ronaldo’s first goal arrived following a well worked move from Madrid. The move was instigated by a diagonal from Xabi Alonso to Khedira high on the right wing. The ball was eventually recycled to Ronaldo who broke inward on the left. Alves, similar to his positioning against Sevilla when Trochowski scored, failed to close Ronaldo down and provide an attempted block.

The graphic above illustrates the gap which Ronaldo exploited with Barcelona attracted to the ball. Ronaldo’s drilled shot beating Valdes at his near post.

Immediately following their goal, Madrid pressed Barcelona very aggressively sensing that the Blaugrana were struggling for composure and solidity at the back. Benzema hit the post in the 24th minute. Di Maria ran forward into the penalty area before passing to Benzema. No Barcelona player matched the run of Di Maria.

That Madrid failed to add to their opening goal would have been the only real issue for Mournho during those opening 30minutes. Madrid were organised and efficient with an incisive edge going forward.


Who will be the happier manager following the game?

This was surely the time for Mourinho and Madrid to press Barcelona and take advantage of their poor defensive set up and patched up defence yet it never quite materialised following the initial good start to the game.

Madrid remain 8 points behind Barcelona but perhaps crucially, they now, in theory, have the edge in the head to head record based upon the assumption that they win at the Santiago Bernabeu.

They used to be here,” Mourinho said, gesturing with his hands. “And we were down here. Now, they’re still up here but so are we.”

For Vilanova, the record breaking seven opening game winning streak was missed but he must be pleased with how the team performed given the line up. Defensive anxieties returned once more and whilst Barcelona have been fortunate in games this season, the defensive situation needs addressed at the earliest opportunity.

At this early stage of the season, perhaps both managers were content with a point. Titles are not won or lost in October.

All graphics and statistics taken from