(Everybody’s doing it. I feel like I ought to, too. Sorry it’s a bit late – I have a day job, too.)
I went into this game feeling tense. I was sure that Barcelona would lose – and not just lose, but lose horribly. It just seems like the favorites never win the clasico, and Barcelona were the favorites going in.
But as it turned out, the game was nervewracking, intense, and for many fans of both sides, terrifying for the entire 90 minutes. In a lot of ways, that’s a good thing – it means that it was a great game in which no one was really humiliated. However, I’m also not sure how much more of that my heart can take, and I’m sure I’m not the only fan who feels that way.
But onward and upward.
It must be said: this was a really, really good game. I can’t think of many players on either side who totally failed to show up. Real Madrid will probably be feeling a little happier than Barcelona right now, given that they were lacking some key starters and will have most of them back for the second leg, but still, I don’t think either team will be too unhappy, and the tie is still wide open.
Real Madrid showed how deadly they can be on the counter – they don’t need to control the game to win it, and they took full advantage of some uncharacteristically sloppy passing from Barcelona to press forward and create dangerous situations. Özil in particular was excellent in finding space and delivering great balls to his teammates.
However, while these breakaways caused every Barca fan’s heart to leap into their throat and are a cause for concern, there’s also a positive to be found from them: the defense is back. All four defenders made important interceptions, and Pique and Puyol showed that Barcelona’s CB problem isn’t a problem at all… as long as they’re both healthy. Which they’re often not, but hey. Barcelona also did a good job defending set pieces, especially by their standards, which was nice to see, and in a very odd reversal of almost every game, ever, actually seemed to win more aerial duels than their opponent.
On the other end, Barcelona were not quite as clinical or lucky as fans would have liked them to be: Xavi hit the crossbar, and Messi, Pedro, and Cesc all had great chances to get a second goal that they didn’t convert. That said, credit must be given to Madrid’s new-old keeper (who apparently is not cup-tied), Diego Lopez, who was very, very good, as most of us knew he would be.
More surprising was Varane; while he’s quite talented, I don’t think many people expected him to make such a great accounting of himself. He gave Mourinho a compelling argument for why Pepe shouldn’t automatically get his place in the starting XI when he recovers. In case his excellent job in the defense wasn’t enough, he also scored the equalizer, and is now the second-youngest player to ever score in a clasico. (The youngest is Messi.) Very talented player who shows a lot of promise.
Pinto: 6.5 He pulled off some great saves, and proved once again that he doesn’t really deserve some of the criticism he gets.
Alves: 8 He did well going forward and also remembered that he really is technically a defender and ought to be defending some of the time. Among other things, he avoided what likely would have been a Ronaldo goal.
Puyol: 8.5 He was as solid as usual on the defense, and gets a slight edge over Alves in part because of his great leadership.
Pique: 8.5 I was tempted to give him an 8 because of that idiotic yellow early on, but since no goal resulted from it and he avoided a second yellow for the remaining 88 minutes, I’ll forgive him. Other than that, he was excellent, and was crucial in denying Real Madrid an almost-certain goal when he went hurdling back and somehow managed to put the ball out.
Alba: 6.5 He was the worst defender on Barcelona of the night, which says something about how solid Barcelona’s defending was. He contained a lot of good chances by Madrid, and a lot of why he didn’t score higher was because of a few missed chances on the other end.
Busquets: 8 Word of warning: I don’t foresee myself going below an 8 for Busquets very often. He’s one of the best players in the world, in my opinion, and I think he’s criminally underrated. He was great in this game, as usual.
Xavi: 6.5 This was a solid game from Xavi, and he was unlucky to hit the woodwork early on, but unlike many people, I don’t think that he was anywhere near his best. Did he do a lot of passing? Yes, but it was much sloppier than usual – he ‘only’ completed 90% of them. That seems high, and for most players, it is, but it’s low for Xavi, who usually manages near or even upwards of 95%, and against a team like Madrid, those few extra misplaced passes can be all they need.
Cesc: 7 He had a good game overall – his goal could prove crucial, and he definitely adds something special to the attack. However, he was also a little sloppy with his passing, and could have finished better on a few other occasions. Not a bad game, but not his best.
Iniesta: 7 Again, good game overall, but while he was brilliant individually, he didn’t ultimately end up contributing to the team as much as he could have, and that’s an important part of the game.
Messi: 7.5 Not his best performance, but he was still quite solid, provided the crucial assist and created several other excellent chances. He also probably could have scored himself, but was called offside incorrectly.
Pedro: 6.5 Not his best performance; we’ve seen him be much more clinical with his finishing. He wasn’t bad, either, though – he did well pressing forward, even if his last touch was missing, and as usual, he was good at contributing to the defense.
Substitutes: I don’t like to rate subs who play for less than twenty minutes unless they were truly exceptional, and neither Sanchez nor Thiago were.
Real Madrid ratings
Diego Lopez: 7.5 Very solid work from Real Madrid’s new-old keeper, and Madridistas will probably be thanking their lucky stars that the club acted so quickly and decisively following Casillas’s injury. I’m still not sure why he wasn’t cup-tied – maybe the RFEF just doesn’t have that in the CDR – but regardless, he did a good job, and if not for him and Varane RM could have faired much worse.
Arbeloa: 6.5 Not Madrid’s best player, but not their worst, either. He kind of quietly went about doing his business, and was pretty reliable overall.
Carvalho: 4 Was he this much worse than Arbeloa? Yes, IMO. I can’t think of many things he did well, other than contributing to the defense catching Barcelona in the offside trap a fair number of times. He’s had some good games lately, but this wasn’t one of them.
Varane: 8.5 I know I’ve said this already, but – what a talent. Yes, he failed to step up quickly enough and if not for an incorrect offside call would have played Messi on for what probably would have been a goal, but that was the only mistake I can think of over 90 minutes, and he scored in his debut clasico to boot. Terrific, terrific job. Pepe should be fearing for his place in the starting XI, and Madrid are very fortunate to have such a promising young talent.
Essien: 6 I can’t think of many mistakes he made, but I can’t think of much he added, either. Not a terrible performance, but not one to turn heads.
Alonso: 8 He’s been better, but he was still one of Madrid’s more solid players, helping out in the defense by intercepting some important passes for Barcelona and providing, as always, a lot of great balls to the attackers on his team. They didn’t necessarily take advantage, but that’s not his fault.
Khedira: 7 Not bad, but not as outstanding as Alonso. He didn’t make any major mistakes, but misplaced too many passes to rank any higher.
Özil: 8 Very, very solid, and provided the assist for Madrid’s only goal. He seems to have gotten his season underway in the last month or two after a rough start – I’m still skeptical about Real as a team, but Özil is definitely experiencing a resurgence. I’d have given him an 8.5, but he went down too easily several times, and it’s become a pattern with him that I don’t like and that I’m hoping he grows out of, because he doesn’t need those cheap tactics. His only major flaw other than that was his reluctance to take the shot when it presented itself, but I’m inclined to put that as much on his teammates for not being there as on him.
Ronaldo: 7.5 He was good, but not at his best, and missed a couple chances that he really should have done better on. Still, he was dangerous throughout the entire game, and was denied a couple likely goals by some great last-ditch defending. Had he scored, this would have been an 8 or an 8.5. His free kicks are also continuing to improve after a long period of being relatively poor, and were quite dangerous as well.
Callejón: 6 I don’t want to seem overly harsh, because I don’t think Callejón was bad. He was just a bit invisible at times, though likely he did better than Di Maria would have.
Benzema: 6 I like Benzema, but this was just another relatively poor performance by his standards this season. He’s a great player and a great goalscorer, but it just hasn’t been translating a lot of the time, and it didn’t last night, either.
Modric: 7.5 A lot of people will probably disagree with me on this, but I thought that Modric was a great substitution. Real Madrid seemed to have much more fire in them after he came on, and he added a lot to the attack. Why he hasn’t been starting over inconsistent/poor Di Maria at all this season, I have no idea – he and Özil could be a real force to be reckoned with if they got to play together more often.
Higuain: 7 Even more people will probably disagree with this, but I really do feel that Benzema, especially this season, is a little overrated and Higuain is more dependable and a bit more dangerous. After he came on, it seemed like there was more going on and there was more reason for Barcelona fans – at least this Barcelona fan – to be worried.
Well, I tried to be fair. Feel free to argue with me.