La Liga

Lessons Learned from the First El Clasico of the Season

There are few better ways to kick off the new football season than a competitive game between Barcelona and Real Madrid. A full-house at the Camp Nou set the perfect stage for the first leg of the Supercopa de España. A Cristiano Ronaldo wonder goal, red cards and Sergio Busquets being kicked about the park, the match lived up to its reputation as one of the world’s best and most exciting derbies. Here’s what we learned from Madrid’s 3-1 victory and another classic El Clasico.

Pre-season is well and truly over

Whilst the first half was forgettable, with few clear-cut chances, it is lazy to say it was through lack of competitiveness. Instead, it was more due to two sets of solid defensive displays, especially from both pairs of centre-backs in the first half.

In the whole game, the only real defensive error was Gerard Pique’s own goal as he slid in to block a cross. Jordi Alba, Samuel Umtiti and Marcelo all had superb games defensively and, in the case of the two wing backs, going forward as well.

The match started off timidly, with both teams still visibly in the routine of playing pre-season friendlies. However, as the first half came to a close, the intensity ramped up. Just before the 40th minute, heavy tackles started flying as three bookings were brandished in as many minutes.  Even the usually calm and collected Zinedine Zidane was animated as both sides started sloppily and recklessly.

As soon as the second half started, it felt like a completely different game. The action began with Pique’s own goal four minutes after the half kicked off, followed by a controversial decision to award Luis Suarez a penalty after minimal contact with Keylor Navas. The penalty was duly converted by Messi to draw Barcelona level. Cristiano Ronaldo was introduced after an hour, and soon after scored a stunning long-range goal. A booking for taking his shirt off during the celebration and a red card for simulation followed all within three minutes.

Far from a pre-season tournament, you will struggle to see a better Clasico all season.

Isco roams free, Asensio the next Galactico

Isco was once again at the heart of Madrid’s attacking play and was the most influential player from both teams in the first half. The midfielder, who has a dog named Messi, has developed shades of the Argentine in his style of play. He is certainly one of the few people who can hold a candle to Messi’s level of dribbling.

Isco’s new ‘free role’ under Zidane suits his game perfectly, drifting across the pitch and popping up in the right places, either centrally behind the strikers or on the wing, sometimes even winning the ball back in central midfield. It was in fact Isco, intercepting a pass from Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, which almost led to a Madrid goal within the first minute.

Marco Asensio on the other hand, is a player who looks certain to break through into the Madrid first team one way or another. Real’s next ‘Galactico’ scored a stunner of a left-footed strike, rocketing into the roof of the net. Already staking his claim for the first team, the 21-year-old impressed in the latter part of last season, even scoring in the Champions League final. The performances of both Isco and Asensio opens a wide debate, with Ronaldo entering what must be his final few years at Madrid and the futures of Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema under constant scrutiny, the Spanish duo could become key players in Madrid’s forward line in seasons to come.

Deulofeu is no replacement for Neymar

The former Everton player impressed on loan at AC Milan last season, being a constant threat on the break with his pace. However, against Madrid he looked on a different wavelength to his Barcelona teammates. He gave away possession cheaply on a number of occasions and could clearly tell he had been away from the Camp Nou for a few years. Perhaps he was thrown in at the deep end with such a unique atmosphere, having only previously made six appearances for Barcelona.

Considering he never reached his potential or even nailed down a starting place at Merseyside, he is unlikely to ever replace the world’s most expensive player. He lasted an hour in the game before being replaced by Denis Suarez.

Barcelona lack squad depth

With a full-strength starting eleven, Barca are still immaculately precise in their play and irresistible to watch. However, take even one or two players out of that eleven and the system is visibly weaker. Squad players such as Aleix Vidal and as previously mentioned, Deulofeu, struggled to keep up with the intricate play.

With a healthy amount in the bank following the Neymar transfer, it looks like Barca will have to spend at least half of the €200 million to capture Ousmane Dembele. It is a long season and Barcelona must act quickly and invest the other half in first-team quality players such as Coutinho if they are to compete for La Liga and Champions League this year.

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