“It was a great display by Real Madrid under pressure. The celebration of the Los Blancos after the final whistle clearly hinted what this victory meant for them. There were emotions, huge roar and music everywhere – as if the rest of the footballing world joined the Los Blancos to celebrate”

 

1954 days. Yes, you read it right. For 1954 days Barcelona dominated at the Santiago Bernabeu. Even the presence of the great Cristiano Ronaldo was not enough to achieve a victory against Barcelona at the home of Los Blancos. Meanwhile, in the course of time, Los Blancos entered a transition phase. The world witnessed the fall of a great kingdom, which dominated Europe and the world for a brief period. Then came that alternative smooth-sailing and rough-ride – the expectation of bringing an end to the jinx at Bernabeu remained less.

Even though Zidane started off with a 4-3-3 formation but changed according to the demand of the situation. He shifted to 4-2-4 with the ball on possession with Isco given a free role and Valverde moving on the wide right flank. But when when they were without the ball, they shifted to a 4-1-4-1 shape with Benzema playing the role of a lone striker aided by Isco behind and Vinicius on the left. Casemiro was the pivot.

Benzema and Valverde combined well – more often Benzema dropped deeper to open the space for Valverde on the flanks. While Barca defenders were focusing on Benzema, Valverde was let free to dictate the game. It was all about the experience of Benzema – if you can’t score goals then let’s drop deeper, bring on the markers closer to him and open the space for his partner. It was a great move.

Setien loves to rely on possession-based football and Zidane exploited this fully. His apply of high-press on the Barcelona midfield and forwards created a lot of problems. Barca started to build-up from the back, but the vertically positioned Benzema and Isco – facing each other hampered the passing lanes from ter Stegen to the players up front.  The only passing optio left were the midfielders who were marked by Real markers and behind them Valverde was in a free role.

The ball was passed to Arthur, but he went out of position and returned to Stegen who tried the long-ball to Arturo Vidal, but Casemiro won the aerial battle smartly. Vidal lost the ball. Casemiro won and Barcelona were out-numbered by the strict high-press.

But Barcelona attacked the flanks by putting Marcelo out of position, which let Semendo move free. Vinicius Junior had to tackle and stop a promising attack. He digested a yellow card.

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The man-oriented pressing led to lose the focus on the ball at times, which led Barca to attack. One of them was Messi’s clear-cut chance, which was cut down by Marcelo.

For almost an hour, Barcelona created chances, while Real Madrid weathered the storm with their man-oriented pressing. The Catalans nearly scored when Martin Braithwaite’s shot was cleared off the line by Raphael Varane.

But after the first hour of play, Real Madrid started to gain the momentum – the return of Toni Kroos in the center of the park injected life. It was him who blazed over the crossbar from the game’s first chance, shortly before Antoine Griezmann did likewise up the other end.

Kroos marshaled the midfield. Either he would break the passing lanes or run down the flanks to split-open the Braca defence. Madrid’s first goal came from a superb defence-splitting pass from Kroos to Vinicius Junior, who ran down and scored from the angle.

Here, Benzema played a crucial role again. With Kroos on the ball, he witnessed Benzema in front of him. But he was surrounded by three Barcelona defenders. And in behind one of defenders, Vinicius was making a blind run like Ronaldo O Fenomeno. Kroos passed the ball, Benzema did not even touch it. Vinicius picked it up and started running.

The young Brazil international broke into the penalty box, freezing Gerard Pique and bundled home a shot via a deflection from Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Vinicius became the youngest person to score a goal in Spain’s most famous fixture in the 21st century, replacing Lionel Messi, who bagged a hat-trick in 2007.

Real Madrid deserved the lead for their pressure after the break, having seen Isco go close twice and then Karim Benzema volley narrowly over, while Ter Stegen made a good stop to keep Sergio Ramos at bay.

The Bernabeu came alive and witnessed the Cristiano Ronaldo celebration in an El Clasico after a long time. In fact, the legendary number 7 was present at the stadium and encourage his former club mates.

Also read: El Clasico: What should Real Madrid do?

In the stoppage time, Zinedine Zidane substituted Mariano Diaz and no sooner had he entered the field, he scored. Bernabeu was in a party mood – it was a much-needed victory to uplift the mood and also, a very important in terms of defining title this season. Real leapfrogged Barca to the top he points table.

From a technical point of view, Zidane tried to deliver the best and response to the need of the hour. He maintained a watertight defence and his gamble with Marcelo instead of Ferland Mendy paid off. Maybe Zidane was looking for the attacking upside rather than worrying about the left-back’s defensive deficiencies but Marcelo dished out a fantastic display.

At one moment, Lionel Messi raced past everyone and seemed well poised to score, but Macelo made one of the best tackles of his career and halted Messi from scoring. Marcelo stayed alongside Messi and helped dispossess him before celebrating wildly as if he had scored a goal.

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Then there was that tank Casemiro, who broke down each and every Barcelona’s efforts when they were desperately trying to come back in the second half.

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At the top of the diamond-shaped midfield, there was Isco, who yet again impressed everyone. His coordination with the frontline and midfield never let Real lose the momentum.

But the hero of the night would surely be Toni Kroos. Without his leadership qualities in the midfield, it would have been tough for Real o weather the storm. How badly Real Madrid need players like Kroos and Casemiro in the midfield can’t easily be expressed in a few words.

It was a great display by Real Madrid under pressure. The celebration of the Los Blancos after the final whistle clearly hinted what this victory meant for them. There were emotions, huge roar and music everywhere – as if the rest of the footballing world joined the Los Blancos to celebrate.

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