Real Madrid won their fourth straight game against Barcelona, 2-1 at Camp Nou, for their best streak in a Clasico in 56 years.
If one streak ended in Dubai with Pakistan beating India in the T20 World Cup, another continued in Spain with Real Madrid beating Barcelona in LaLiga. A 2-1 win at Camp Nou ensured Real Madrid edged Barcelona for a fourth straight time, the longest such streak in 56 years. What was similar to both high-profile contests, that got underway 15 minutes apart, was the one-sidedness of it all.
David Alaba gave Real Madrid the lead and Lucas Vazquez added to it late on with Sergio Aguero getting a consolation goal moments later. Not a ‘classic’ by any stretch with Carlo Ancelotti’s men playing a strategically perfect game to deny Barcelona clear opportunities. Former Real Madrid player and director Pedja Mijatovic told Cadena SER, “I really liked that at no point in the game did I feel that Madrid were not going to win. Madrid were very comfortable and compact.”
The only clear chance that Barcelona created arrived in the 24th minute when Sergino Dest had a glorious opportunity but blazed over after some great individual play by Memphis Depay. And that was probably the only time in the match when Alaba was easily brushed off.
The Austrian, making his Clasico debut, put the visitors ahead after half hour by stealing the ball from Depay, striding forward and finding Vinicius Jr. The Brazilian would spot the run of Rodrygo, goes for a long ball who would in turn bring in an on-running Alaba to his left. The centre back would take a couple of steps, consider his options – with none arriving, and whack a fierce left footed shot past Marc Andre Ter Stegen.
The half would labour to a close without much of a push from either. Barcelona’s recent performances, including on Sunday, would explain the hesitance of the fans in venturing out with only 86,422 in attendance – lowest for a Clasico in the city since 1993.
Real Madrid would create the bigger chances in the second half and take away any momentum Barcelona had. Vinicius had a chance to score after a Dest error, but the defender would recover with a desperate lunging tackle. Luka Modric set Karim Benzema for a volley inside the box, only for the Frenchman to shoot straight at Ter Stegen.
Late on, Koeman would throw on Aguero to salvage an equaliser but things would only get worse. Depay had an opportunity to shoot but opted to play a fellow Barcelona player on, much to Gerard Pique’s frustration, and the turnover fell to Marco Asensio. On the counter, he would run on and take a shot which would be parried by the Barcelona keeper. Vazquez outran Eric Garcia in the goalmouth to slide the ball home.
Aguero would get his name on the scoresheet for a consolation goal and the three points would take Real five clear of their arch-rivals. The win would also end another streak for Ancelotti’s first win at Barcelona in six attempts.
The Italian employed Vazquez at right back, in a 4-3-3 formation, to take on the speedy Jordi Alba and Depay and the Spaniard would do a spectacular job at keeping both quiet. Madrid weren’t much better than Barcelona, or even pretended to be, but had the sense to play on the counter and hoped Barcelona, with their flaky defence, would fall. And it did.
For Real, Alaba and Eder Militao were solid at the back and Vinicius once again made an impact. The Brazilian has turned a page this season not just with his goals but his maturity. The 21-year-old has time and again been criticised for taking the wrong decision, for fluffing his opportunities but not this season. On Sunday, he would run at Oscar Mingueza and Dest on occasions and hold his position on other instances. Such was his ability to outrun Mingueza that Koeman would be required to take him off at half time.
With Benzema having an off day, Vinicius would shine by opening the pitch up. The youngster has already shown he doesn’t shy from taking players on and it continued. He looks to create chances, to go at players, to dazzle, and smile even when he is jeered by thousands inside the Camp Nou.
Coming into it with first consecutive wins of the season, the defeat reinstates the pressure on Koeman, though not as much as before, who didn’t get his strategy right. Ansu Fati played centrally with Depay on the wing to attack Vazquez. Had the young Barcelona player been allowed to play with more freedom, it might have created more opportunities for the hosts. Alas, he went off without much of an impact amid injury concerns.
Late throw of the dice in Aguero and Luuk de Jong, as a substitute for Gavi, expectedly resulted in boos for the Dutch manager. Outside the Camp Nou, his car was surrounded by angry Barcelona fans who yelled for him to resign (something that was, rightly, condemned by the club).
In the post-match press conference, Koeman said, “Slowly but surely, we’re improving. We’re coming close to winning a big game” while admitting that when you go down in a Clasico, “you lose more than three points.” The numbers paint a sorry picture at this moment. Real Madrid have lost just one in their last nine games at the Camp Nou. Koeman’s record against Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid doesn’t help his case: one point from 6 matches.
Joan Laporta had extended Koeman a rope and has publicly backed the manager – at least, ideally, until the summer. Technical secretary Ramon Planes insists it is a “Barcelona undergoing reconstruction” with the club well and truly a step behind a not-so-great Real Madrid which won’t bode well with the fans for long.