The fourth game of this 7 match streak saw Barcelona go to the capital, Madrid, in the first leg of the El Clasico for the 2009/10 season. It should be stated that Barcelona just edged past this Real side in their 1-0 win in the first game back in November and had to put up a commanding performance here in Madrid to win the game and go on to clinch their second consecutive title.
Pep Guardiola’s side had already won the same fixture last year with a massive performance of a 6-2 scoreline and many would’ve expected them to put a similar performance. Pep’s team did not fail to meet the expectations of the fans as they beat Real Madrid 2-0 in the Bernabeu dominating the game with Xavi in the centre of things.
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Real Madrid (4-4-2 Diamond) | Manager: Manuel Pellegrini
1.Casillas // 4.Ramos, 18.Albiol, 19.Garay, 2.Arbeloa // 22.Xabi Alonso, 5.Gago, 12.Marcelo, 23.van der Vaart // 9.Ronaldo, 20.Higuain
Barcelona (4-3-3) | Pep Guardiola
1.Valdes // 5.Puyol, 3.Pique, 18.Milito, 19.Maxwell // 16.Busquets, 15.Keita, 6.Xavi // 2.Dani Alves, 10.Messi, 17.Pedro
The home manager Manuel Pellegrini fielded a side which had no Kaka in the starting XI. Real Madrid were set up in a 4-4-2 Diamond with Cristiano Ronaldo and Higuain at the top as the former played off the Argentine. The back four of Ramos, Albiol, Garay and Arbeloa guarded the goal of Iker Casillas. In the centre, the diamond was constituted by Marcelo, Gago, Alonso and van der Vaart. Marcelo played as the left midfielder up the pitch with Xabi Alonso holding the things in the middle.
Gago being a defensive midfielder played a bit lower than the line of Marcelo and this made the diamond marginally lopsided. van der Vaart played as the no.10 of the team as the hosts looked to beat the champions.
Pep Guardiola being in amazing form, sprung a surprise by fielding his team in a lopsided 4-3-3. Dani Alves played alongside of Messi and Pedro high up the pitch while Puyol played as the right back. Milito was brought into the centre back partnership with Pique while Maxwell was deployed as the left back. In the midfield, the trio of Xavi, Keita and Busquets started for Barcelona.
The Initial Tempo
In the opening stages, the game started with a high tempo as both the sides looked to run at each other through long balls and quick passes. Real Madrid especially started the game well with their high pressing. The forwards made sure that they closed down the defenders to Victor Valdes so that they couldn’t play out from the back.
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As seen from the image above, both the forwards occupied the two central defenders while the playmaker of the team pressed the pivot, Sergio Busquets. In the midfield, both the midfielders would press the player to whom the ball is being played to and this is how the Madrid press worked.
However as the game settled, it was Barcelona who started building their attack better and created good chances. They were deployed in a lopsided 4-3-3 and it can be seen in the image below. Keita, Xavi and Busquets formed the midfield triangle. Keita was given more of an attacking role and was seen moving to left flank in instances where there was only Maxwell to make the forward runs.
Barcelona’s left sided approach influences the central play
As the game wore on, Barcelona started to dominate the ball and created more chances especially through the left. Given that Barcelona were deployed in a lopsided structure, the highest point of attack was that of Pedro’s position in most cases. In the right Dani Alves would shuttle back down when needed. But in the left Maxwell had more space to run into with the ball and he became the outlet from defence to carry the ball forward.
As this happened, Real Madrid were often confused as to who should mark him. Both the forwards marked the CBs while Gago was in the middle of the pitch. Ramos on the other hand had the duty of playing alongside Pedro and this helped Maxwell to thrive with the ball.
Consequently, to mark him, Gago would have to come all the way from the middle of the pitch and this disrupted the diamond. This often left a 2v1 situation in the most important place of the field, the central midfield. Xavi and Keita played against a lone Xabi Alonso in the centre and when Keita occupied Alonso, Xavi, the chief dictator in the side, was given more space in the middle and left unmarked.
The image above shows how Ronaldo has come all the way from his zone to mark Maxwell. Here we can see as Keita has occupied the central midfield, Gago, Xavi still finds some space so that he can have more time on the ball to play a long ball through the top. It is also visible how Xavi has positioned himself in the same axis as that of Messi to provide him the service easily.
As seen from the video above, when Messi receives the ball from Maxwell Gago marks him in the right flank moving from the center. As Messi has dropped down from his position, his central defensive marker is attracted below and also Xavi in the centre is unmarked. This is an ideal situation to play one-two with Xavi and carry his run into the box into the space created by the central defender.
These movements disrupted the Madrid defence as Messi with the assistance of Xavi ran into heart of the defence and scored Barcelona’s opener.
Pep Guardiola’s tactical switches
At the half time mark, Pep Guardiola made some tactical switches as Dani Alves was moved to his full back role while Puyol moved to the position of the left back. Maxwell was pushed further up the pitch and this paved way for Pedro to switch to the opposite side. These changes didn’t ring any bell at first sight however Pedro started to win the 1v1s out wide against Arbeloa.
As it can be seen from the above image, Pedro is in a very good position to race Arbeloa should Xavi play the ball into his path. This proved to be a major switch from Pep when Pedro scored Barcelona’s second goal on the night and settled the proceeding for the visitors. Once again Xavi became the big player much needed in big games.
Xavi – The Key
Of all the players Barcelona fielded on the day, it was once again the Spanish wizard who recreated a master class of a performance for Pep Guardiola. In the same fixture in the previous year, Xavi ended the game with a massive four assists to his name and in this game he completed the 90 minutes with two assists. Xavi was often seen stationed in the centre of the pitch unmarked and this was a huge factor in bringing out such a good performance.
This was set right by Pep Guardiola’s tactics to free Xavi in the middle by making other players around him to attract the opponents. Real definitely paid for leaving Xavi free but Pep’s tactics should be given more credits rather than identifying the mistakes that were done by the home side.
Final Changes in the game
In the second half, Pep brought on Iniesta for Maxwell and it was the only change made by him. For Real Madrid, Pellegrini ringed in changes in search of goals as all the three substitutions were used. Guti, Raul and Benzema were brought in to do the needed for Real Madrid however they failed to materialise anything because of Barcelona’s dominance on the ball. In the whole season, once Barcelona get the lead they were known to keep the ball and rotate to see off the game without providing any chances for the opposition.
Once again the El Clasico proved to be a very decisive game for both the teams. Before the start of the game, both teams were on 78 points from respective number of games with Barcelona at first place thanks to their home win in the El Clasico. This win gave them the 3 points that would eventually send them towards their consecutive title.
At the end of the season Real Madrid ended up with a massive 91 points, a record created by Manuel Pellegrini’s men however it was not enough to win the title as Barcelona finished the season with 99 points and a second league title in two years.
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