At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that Real Madrid had enjoyed a relatively fortuitous win over Barcelona in the 250th El Clasico at the Bernabéu Stadium.
However, while Real saw much less of the ball and had considerably fewer attempts on goal, their gameplan revolved around launching rapid counterattacks and capitalising on Barcelona’s high and vulnerable defensive line.
So, let’s take a closer look at what turned out to be an impressive 3-1 win and try to gauge what impact it will have on the La Liga season.
The Latest El Clasico – The Headline Numbers
Madrid swept into a 2-0 lead inside 35 minutes at the Bernabéu, with goals from recent Balon d’Or winner Karim Benzema and Federico Valverde delivering effective counter punches that floored Xavi’s Barcelona.
While substitute Ferran Torres pulled a goal back with seven minutes remaining, Rodrygo sealed the points in stoppage time with a cool penalty.
Over the course of the 90 minutes, Madrid saw approximately 44% of the ball, while Barcelona’s figure was obviously higher at 56%. Interestingly, however, Los Blancos managed to control the game well in the second half, with their possession statistic increasing to nearly 50% (we’ll touch more on this a little later in the piece).
Real’s three goals also came from four shots on target, as they showcased clinical finishing and superseded their recorded xG rate of 1.42.
Conversely, Barca’s single goal fell well short of their comparative xG rate of 2.72, with Robert Lewandowski and Raphina both missing excellent chances to score their first ever El Clasico goals.
The Numbers in Context
Ultimately, Madrid’s tactics were shaped by both their UCL run last season and chastening 4-0 home defeat to Barcelona in March.
Certainly, Los Blancos’ 14th Champions League win was built on an organised and relatively defensive low block and willingness to counterattack high pressing teams.
At the same time, Carlo Ancelotti’s bizarre tactics in last year’s Bernabéu El Clasico thrashing (he deployed Luka Modric as a false nine in the absence of Benzema), left Madrid exposed and overrun in midfield, so he was determined to return to a simple 4-3-3 formation this time around.
By also anchoring his midfield with the dynamic Aurélien Tchouaméni, Ancelotti was able to ensure that Barca’s midfield runners and ball carriers (especially Pedri) were tracked and counter-pressed effectively before launching counterattacks.
In this respect, Real were happy to yield possession to Barcelona, while using this as a primarily defensive tactic for periods in the second half. They also prioritised the quality rather than the quantity of their attacks, relying on the ruthlessness of players like Benzema to make their chances count.
While also Barca also attempted more than twice as many passes to the final third (84 to 33), the accuracy of these passes was only slightly superior. The Catalan side’s pass completion rate in the final third was just under 75%, while Madrid completed over 66% of their passes (22).
Ultimately, Madrid were able to play more incisive final third passes by exploting the space vacated by Barca players on the counterattack, with Xavi’s side particularly vulnerable to Luka Modric’s probing passing and the energetic running of Valverde and Vinicius Junior.
The Last Word
Statistics can be misleading, and while Barca controlled much of the ball and created far more chances and attempts on goal, Madrid were able to dominate the space and generate openings through aggressive counterattacking.
This is now a classic blueprint for Ancelotti’s most recent Madrid side, which is incredibly well-organised in defence and boasts a superb blend of technical ability and direct running in attack.
This enabled them to absorb pressure from Barca while drawing the Catalan side forward, before targeting space in behind and in the wide areas to create chances (especially in the first half).
But how important was this win? Well, it took Madrid three points clear of their rivals, making them favourites to win La Liga among most sportsbooks. Of course, you may prefer to use the NEWBONUS bonus code for GGpoker rather than betting on Madrid to retain their title, especially at relatively short odds.
However, the clinical nature of Madrid’s performance will have alarmed Barcelona and their head coach Xavi, particularly as his team continues to grapple with defensive issues and an inability to sustain attacks against high-quality teams.