Let’s get one thing straight, El Clasicos are not friendlies.
They never have been and never will be, and this first leg of the Spanish Super Cup between Barcelona and Real Madrid was no different. From penalties to red cards, own goals to stunners, we saw them all in a matter of 90 minutes. 90 minutes of sheer excitement, unmatched rivalry and unparalleled footballing talent.
With a certain four El Clasicos this season, the first made sure to highlight a number of things worth talking about that have happened over the past few months…
Isco Alarcon and Madrid’s midfield
After four years of trying to convince everyone I know that Isco will be one of the greatest players in Real Madrid, they’re finally starting to see the light.
Real Madrid have always had some of the best talents in the world in their midfield; from Guti to Zinedine Zidane himself, to David Beckham, Kaka, and Mesut Ozil, Madrid’s midfield is rarely a cause for concern. But what the footballing world didn’t cater for was the army Madrid was building with their youth players in the midfield.
For the past six months leading up to the Duo Decima and La Liga win, Real Madrid’s midfield has grown to be one of the most reliable and competent forces in the game today. With Luka Modric’s stealth and tactics, Kroos’ undetectable passes, Isco’s magical footwork and Kovacic’s smart plays, Madrid’s middle men are a key to winning games. Yesterday’s game against Barcelona saw the most experienced and awarded Luka Modric banned. However, the young guys in the middle made sure to fix that gap almost perfectly.
Playing against Barcelona’s more experienced team of midfielders and defence, Madrid’s midfield could penetrate Barcelona’s back line on multiple occasions and take numerous shots at the goal without fail. With that being said, it’s no secret that the man of the match in this El Clasico fixture was Isco.
The first ten minutes of the game saw Isco dancing around the Barcelona defenders as if they were training cones, while skillfully assisting his teammates in every way possible. He seemed almost like Houdini as he appeared anywhere the ball was. Isco’s agility and footwork make him more dangerous that defenders take into account.
The chemistry in the midfield of Madrid right now is unmatched to any I’ve seen as of recent years, and Zidane has been doing exactly what he needs to be doing, i.e. harnessing that talent and rotating players, figuring out what works best and where. This is Madrid’s greatest asset right now, and they would do well to capitalise on it for the next El Clasico fixture in a few days.
Neymar’s noted absence
The biggest shock of this transfer window was no doubt that of Neymar disbanding the MSN trio and leaving his beloved Barcelona, oh his search for achieving his true potential elsewhere (Paris St. Germain).
Personally, I’ve always loved Neymar, and as a fan of Brazilian football, I’ve followed Neymar from Dos Santos and watched him develop into a tactical player at Barcelona. He was truly one of the world’s best players last year, and to hear him want to leave Barcelona came as a complete shock, considering he won La Liga multiple times as well as the Champions League with them. Nonetheless, the transfer happened, and Barcelona were ready to get down to business, buy new players, train their team and face off in these two Clasicos. However, in this first Super Cup playoff, one thing was evident; Neymar was sorely missed.
Ernesto Valverde sought to replace Neymar with Gerard Deulofeu beside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, and it was a noticeably shaky combination to start with. Suarez was quick on the ball as usual, having more shots on the goal than the other two, while Messi’s usual dribbling in and around the box was evident, having a few shots himself and having being targeted by Madrid defenders because of his skill. However, Neymar’s speed and agility was nowhere to be seen, and this proved to be a troubling factor for Barcelona.
Even though Barcelona had much more possession of the ball (62% – 38%) and more shots on goal (16 – 12) the lack of stability and chemistry could clearly be seen from the near misses, the short passes and the corner kicks. For the entire 90 minutes, Barcelona had most of their shots blocked and saved, and the one goal they scored was from a penalty. Now I understand the time in which Neymar has left has been a short period and Barcelona is rebuilding, however, the next leg is three days away and if they don’t get their act together, they might end up in the same situation again.
Luis Suarez’s diving talent
I promised myself I wouldn’t write an entire paragraph on Suarez, but there are certain things that need to be brought to the attention of the open-minded footballing world.
Referees are not gods. They cannot see everything and they will not get every decision right, however, Luis Suarez has been one of the most talked about players when it comes to diving in the box and actually being awarded a penalty for his actions. In this El Clasico, it was a clear dive again, but his exaggerated reaction forces the referees into making a decision that may not be the most accurate one at the time. This begs me to ask the question, what comes out of these decisions after a game is played and it’s clear that an injustice was dealt, one which could have been avoided with fair play? Maybe it’s time things change a little in the footballing world because situations like these have dire consequences in the long run.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s form and the Golden Boy Marco Asensio
After a long, well-deserved vacation and the arrival of two new additions to the Ronaldo family, one might have expected Cristiano Ronaldo to be just a tad bit out of form, but the reigning king in football proved to the world that age is just a number and he had no intentions of losing his spot as he came on in the 58th minute for Karim Benzema and scored his first goal of the season (assisted by Isco) after running half the pitch and shooting a brilliant ball into the top of the net in the 80th minute giving Madrid a 2-1 lead over their rivals.
However, he picked up a yellow card for (foolishly) removing his shirt to mock celebrate what Lionel Messi had done in their previous El Clasico meeting at the Bernabeu. In addition to that, he had made a run with a ball into the box and was given another yellow card for diving, sending him back to the benches and leaving Madrid with ten men on the field. Within the 20 minutes that Ronaldo played on the field, there was a different style of play, almost as if he had changed the pace of the game, something that Barcelona didn’t realise happened. Which then led to this Golden Boy scoring in his very first Spanish Super Cup (which means Marco Asensio has scored in all the competitions he’s played), and allowing Real Madrid to elevate their away lead on the home side.
Marco Asensio has been the saviour of Real Madrid in most of their games, coming on as a substitute in the second half and scoring surprising but welcomed goals for Los Blancos. This El Clasico was no different as he scored with a beautiful ball just inside the box and placed it in the top left corner of the net in the 90th minute. At the age of 21, Marco Asensio is proving to be one of the finest young talents at Real Madrid and the chemistry between him, Isco, and Kovacic is becoming a sight for sore eyes. He’s a keen replacement for Benzema, or even Ronaldo himself in the near future, and would do well to learn in their footsteps.
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