Real Madrid got the better of Barcelona in a very rainy Clásico at Valdebebas and they’ve leapfrogged the Catalan side in the LaLiga table. This was a huge match in terms of the 2020/21 title race and here we take a look at three questions this game answered and also three new ones that this Saturday’s events have conjured up.
1. How much rotation would Zidane apply to El Clásico?
Considering this Clásico was sandwiched between the two legs of the Liverpool Champions League tie, one of the big pre-match questions concerned rotation. Would Zidane make changes in his system or his personnel? Well, he did a little of both. The system became a 4-4-2 diamond as Fede Valverde came in for Marco Asensio. It was a small change, but it worked really well as the same overall philosophy from the Liverpool win was applied again, getting the ball forward quickly in space to cause problems. Then, what was really curious, was how Zidane made a few rotations in the second half of the Clásico, with the score at a precarious 2-1. Already thinking about Liverpool, he took off Toni Kroos, Vinícius and Karim Benzema. That was a gamble, with Barcelona chasing an equaliser, but Zidane eats black magic for breakfast and it paid off.
2. Could Vinícius repeat his heroics?
After Vinícius had arguably the best game of his career against Liverpool, could he then repeat those heroics in this game against Barcelona? Well, yes. He did. Although the Brazilian didn’t score himself in this Clásico, he was effective once again and most explicitly contributed to the win by winning the freekick from which Kroos scored Real Madrid’s second. But, it was more than just that. Vinícius caused havoc every time Real Madrid launched a quick break. He should have done better with one really good counter-attack in the second half, but overall this was another good game from the winger in his role as chief counter-attacker.
3. Would Messi end his Clásico drought?
Coming into this game, Messi hadn’t scored or assisted in his previous six Clásicos. So, would he be able to do so this time? Well, no. He certainly came close on a couple of occasions, even so nearly scoring an Olympic goal in the first half, with his corner kick nearly going all the way in only to hit the woodwork and bounce away to safety. It was an odd game from Messi, who was so affected by the rainy conditions that he had to go an change during the game to put on a thermal under-cover. It’s now seven Clásicos without a goal or assist for him, with Zidane’s Real Madrid doing a good job of keeping him relatively quiet time and time again. And that might be how his Clásico story finishes, as we don’t even know if he’ll play another one.
1. What does this mean for the title race?
With the three points going to Real Madrid, the title race in LaLiga has become even tighter. Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid are now both joint-top on 66 points, while Barcelona are third on 65 points. Atleti still have to play this weekend, but they don’t have it easy as they have a tough fixture away at Real Betis on Sunday night. It really is tight at the top, giving us the best title race we’ve had since 2015/16, the last time it was genuinely a three-team tussle. There is still one more head-to-head match among the title challengers, as Barcelona vs Atlético Madrid takes place in Matchday 35. It’s going to be a fascinating final stretch of the campaign.
2. Where does Benzema’s goal rank in Clásico history?
Can we talk about Benzema’s goal a little more? I know that this was an epic Clásico with so many talking points, but I feel that the striker’s backheel flick to open the scoring deserves more credit. Honestly, I think it was one of the all-time great Clásico goals. A backheel? At the front post? To beat a top ‘keeper like Ter Stegen? With the perfect contact? It was beautiful and it was perfect. As awkward as the Kroos and Mingueza goals were, the Benzema one was sheer class. Let’s not underrate it.
3. Who plays against Liverpool?
It’s the Liverpool second leg next, on Wednesday night. Zidane said in his post-game press conference that his players were at their physical limits, but they’ll have to get ready to go again in just four days. But, who will start that match? With Kroos, Vinícius and Benzema being taken off for a rest, they’re all set to start in midweek – although we already knew that with those three. Meanwhile, it looks unlikely that Lucas Vázquez will be able to do so after his injury, so we’ll have to see if Dani Carvajal is ready enough to come in at right-back or if Álvaro Odriozola – who actually did quite well tonight when he came on for his first ever Clásico – will start again. We’ll also need to see what shape Zidane goes for. Is it the 4-3-3 that worked in the first leg against Liverpool? Or the 4-4-2 diamond from tonight? Or back to the back three? We’ll soon find out. Then, after Liverpool, it’s Getafe away in LaLiga and this is one to keep an eye on. If Real Madrid are tired now, they’ll be even more so after the trip to Anfield. And they won’t have Nacho or Casemiro as they’re now suspended for the next domestic game following this Clásico. It was surely, though, a price worth paying to win this Clásico.