“Barcelona were beaten by the tactical display of Zidane, who was the ultimate master in last night’s El Clasico”

 

It was freezing, wet, slippery and some players were forced to change their shirts, but the action never stopped as the ball travelled from one end to the other – the feet never took a rest, the things pumped and the hairs flew – El Clasico unfolded amidst thunder, lightning and driving rain.

The storm tore through Valdebebas and the heavens opened when Real Madrid and Barcelona were fighting it out on the pitch for supremacy. The conditions were really testing ut the determination to stamp one’s own authority was always evident – the tempo never slowed down, the intent was always there and after the storm, one team smiled, while the other left the pitch with a sad face.

It was the Royal Whites who won back to back El Clasicos for the first time since 2007. It was that man Zinedine Zidane, who was crucified not so long ago, proved his worth once again to the world. It was that man Zidane who let the people know that no matter how underappreciated he might be, the critics need to understand football more to realize the true value of Zidane the manager.

Just imagine the state of the Los Blancos six months back – they were in a mess, but one man always kept the spirit high and never wanted to accept that everything is finished. He treated every match as a final rather than complaining and six months later, he is well poised to defend the La Liga title.

Yet another resurrection for a manager who has something almost mystical about him – no, not actually mystical, but more methodical, confident and tactically sound – Zidane, after six months, was the true hero last night.

Zidane made just one change from the team that downed Liverpool in midweek, as Fede Valverde came in for Marco Asensio, meaning the Frenchman opted for a four-man midfield. Meanwhile, Ronald Koeman left Antoine Griezmann and Gerard Pique on the bench and instead went with Ronald Araujo at centre-back and a two-man attack with Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele.

Even though there was a rumour that Zidane might opt for a three-man backline, but he persisted with the 4-man defence and 4 in the midfield against Ronald Koeman’s 3-4-2-1.

Casemiro was the lone defensive midfielder in front of the defence while Vinicius Junior joined as the wide left midfielder and Benzema playing as the lone striker.

Zidane knew very well how Koeman has been faring well in recent time and which is by dominating in the midfield where he plays Sergino Dest and Jordi Alba to unsettle the opposition and dominate the flanks while Busquets and Frenkie de Jong pull the strings easily.

This requires a midblock and thus the inclusion of Fede Valverde gave Zidane the extra edge.

Barca never had the problem while building up in the first phase, but as soon as they progressed, Real Madrid’s discipline in the centre of the park suffocated the Catalans – their wing-backs failed to script their attacking intents.

Andre ter Stegen opted for the long balls and Barcelona switched to 3-2-5 to attack but Zidane let his team switch to 4-1-4-1 or a lopsided 5-4-1.

Pedri was cut off by Vazquez,  Valverde, who dropped to a right wing-back position took care of Alba, Dembele was checked by Eder Militao, Nacho Fernandez and Casemiro had the authority over Messi while Ferland Mendy checked Dest. Vinicius roamed freely while Modric and Kroos dictated the compactness lying in the half-spaces.

Lenglet would advance to outnumber the battle higher up and it allowed Valverde to move and exploit the spaces, and then Vazquez would swap the position with him to guard the right flank where Lenglet joined Alba – but Lenglet is devoid of creativity and attacking intent, thus, his advancement did not give Barca the cutting edge.

Modric shifted his positions whenever there was a space and Kroos did the same from his position.

Real Madrid were so disciplined and solid in their mid-block and defensive abilities, it only allowed Barca to progress without any fruitfulness.

The pivots of Barcelona were caught on the back foot – Benzema dropped into space and often drew a centre-back and Vinicius would make those runs with blistering pace from the wigs that unsettled Araujo. Meanwhile, Valverde would force himself higher into that space on the left and cut back in.

An ill-advised Jordi Alba step allowed Fede Valverde to find a wide-open Lucas Vazquez on the right-wing and the cross met the boot of Benzema, who kissed it into the net with his heel for a 1-0 lead.

Real Madrid were controlling matters and were able to double their lead 2-0 via a Kroos freekick that was given when Vinicius was fouled just outside the area. The German’s effort glanced off the back of Sergino Dest, who erred by turning his body away from the ball, and ricocheted into the net off the attempted headed clearance of Jordi Alba for the goal.

Any time Real Madrid launched an attack, Barcelona seemed to be out-numbered and out of sorts and only the post and a masterful follow-up save from Ter Stegen prevented a third for Real Madrid, with Fede Valverde denied by the woodwork and Lucas Vazquez stopped by Ter Stegen.

Barcelona, undone by the midblock, could hardly muster any attacks until the final moments when Messi almost curled in a corner kick for an Olympic goal but instead saw the ball smack the post and deflect out.

Barcelona poured more bodies upfront in the search of a goal – after an hour Alba curled in a cross that was dummied by Griezmann and stabbed home by Oscar Mingueza to make it 2-1.

Zidane went right to his bench to try to restore the two-goal advantage, with Asensio summoned for Fede Valverde.

But it was Vinicius who almost produced the goal with a cross that Araujo nearly deflected into his own net but was saved by the post.

Koeman then countered, with Sergi Roberto seeing his first action since January, coming on for Busquets.

It was action-packed stuff from the two sides, with Barcelona coming with everything to try to find an equaliser, which in turn allowed plenty of space for Real Madrid and Kroos should have made it three with a header, but missed badly and allowed for a Barcelona clearance.

Zidane’s final changes saw Kroos, Benzema and Vinicius yield their spots to Isco, Mariano and Marcelo respectively, while Koeman swapped Ilaix for Araujo, followed later by Trincao and Martin Braithwaite on for Pedri and Dembele.

It would not be a Clasico without controversy and it duly delivered in the final minutes when Barcelona howled for a penalty after contact from Ferland Mendy on Braithwaite in the Real Madrid area, but referee Jesus Gil Manzano and VAR concluded that a spot-kick was not warranted.

Two yellow cards on two different fouls in the span of a minute resulted in a sending off for Casemiro just minutes from full time, as Barcelona launched one final attack and they were a whisker from getting the tying goal through Ilaix, whose last-second shot rang off the crossbar, sealing the three points for Real Madrid.

Barcelona were beaten by the tactical display of Zidane, who was the ultimate master in last night’s El Clasico.

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