Advertisement
Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Andres Kudacki/AP/Press Association Images The Barcelona players applaud fans at the final whistle tonight.
# Analysis
Five things we learned from tonight's El Clasico
Barcelona and Real Madrid played out an entertaining draw at the Nou Camp.

1. Barcelona are in need of defensive cover

Yes, they held their main competition to the domestic title to a draw despite being without their first choice central defensive pairing but Barcelona’s makeshift backline is far from a reliable one.

After Carles Puyol sustained a dislocated elbow on Champions League duty during the week, he joined Gerard Pique, who was ruled out with a foot injury, and Eric Abidal (liver transplant) on the list mark ‘unavailable’.

Alex Song was brought in from Arsenal partly for his versatile qualities which would allow him to step back into defence if necessary but Tito Vilanova clearly doesn’t trust the Cameroon international yet as he opted for Javier Mascherano and Brazilian full-back Adriano at the heart of his defence.

Matters were made worse when Dani Alves, who admittedly was at fault for the opening goal, exited early on to be replaced by 21-year-old Martin Montoya. Thereafter, Madrid’s forward players Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria had little trouble creating numerous chances in the first half and will have been kicking themselves that they had only scored a single goal at half-time.

2. No matter how much you try play it down, it’s still the Messi and Ronaldo show

To look at El Clasico as Lionel Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo is to be ignorantly simplistic about the great fixture. The historical rivalry between the two clubs, the other top class players on show and the fact that the football world is watching are all reasons why we love it but tonight emphasised how big a role the pair play in the latest chapters. Both had been relatively quiet before they decided to grab the game by the horns and show why they are out on their own by bagging two goals each.

We are truly spoilt to be able to witness the duo face off several times a year and, instead of arguing over who is the more complete player, should just enjoy watching their mastery.

3. Handbags not essential

A couple of the recent clashes between La Liga’s top two have been marred by bully tactics, cynical play-acting and  cheating from both sides but tonight we were afforded a game that in the most part was fiercely competitive, full-blooded but overall, was an honest affair.

There were six yellow cards handed out after a total of 32 fouls and usual suspects Pepe and Sergio Busquets were never far away from the minor spats which did take place but as a whole it was refreshing not to list red cards, blatant diving and eye-poking as the main talking points.

4. The title race is far from over

Talk going into the first El Clasico of the season (barring the Spanish Super Cup) was that it was a must-win for Real Madrid considering the poor start they’ve had to the current campaign. Eight points adrift and it’s not even Hallowe’en? You might as well hand the title back to Barca now. That simply isn’t the case.

From a results point of view, Vilanova’s transition has been near seamless – six games, six wins (before tonight) and maximum points in their first two Champions League outings. Performance-wise, however, they have stuttered as he new man attempts to seek continuity while, at the same time, putting his own stamp on the team.

Exclusive Six
Nations Analysis

Get Murray Kinsella’s exclusive analysis of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign this spring

Become a Member

The Bernabeu hosts Barcelona on March 3 and I would bet that Jose Mourinho succeeds in narrowing the gap significantly by the time that game comes around.

5. So little to choose from in the Ballon D’Or

There are three months to go until FIFA announce the winner of their coveted Ballon D’Or prize in Zurich and there is little doubt that the player stepping up to collect the trophy on January 7 was on show at the Nou Camp this evening.

Last year’s winner Messi and Ronaldo, who was awarded it in 2008, are the clear front-runners but two of Spain’s all-conquering squad are also in the reckoning. Madrid are believed to be backing their goalkeeper Iker Casillas for the prize while current UEFA Best Player in Europe Andres Iniesta could also be adding to his trophy cabinet.

Who is your money on?

As it happened: Barcelona v Real Madrid, La Liga

Five things we learned from today’s FAI Cup semi-finals