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article imageReal Madrid succumb to Barcelona's pressing in Clasico drubbing

By Tyrrell Meertins     Nov 22, 2015 in Sports
Rafa Benitez has been heavily scrutinized over a defensive-minded Real Madrid in recent weeks, but his attempt to play an expansive game backfired against Barcelona.
Injuries to several star players enabled Benitez — renowned for his organization and attention to detail — to transition from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3, adding Casemiro, a natural defensive midfielder alongside Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. But with Karim Benzema and James Rodriguez returning to the XI, Benitez accommodated his star players and boldly reverted to the former.
However, here, Real’s approach was peculiar from both an attacking and defensive perspective.
The hosts attempted to press higher up the pitch when Barcelona played out the back, but lacked the dynamism to force mistakes. Likewise, with the front six stepping forward, Barcelona’s attacking trio simply drifted centrally into space behind the Modric and Kroos to bypass the pressure and force the Real back-line into cynical fouls and mistakes.
Real risked being overrun in the midfield zone without a natural holding midfielder, and were simply overloaded when Sergi Roberto drifted into pockets of space to serve as an additional passing option — it’s key to note that Dani Alves also maintained a narrow position. Kroos and Modric focused on pressing the Barcelona midfielders, but with James caught in advanced positions — initially he helped the duo maintain a narrow trio in midfield — Madrid’s centre backs were forced to step forward to apply pressure on the player drifting between the lines.
Barca’s opener stemmed from a simple Sergi Roberto run from the right flank into a central position, as Kroos and Modric failed to acknowledge the movement behind them when they pressed Busquets. As the game continued, it was essentially a 4v2 in midfield as neither Cristiano Ronaldo or James tracked back to aid the duo, and Barca freely passed their way into the final third.
The other issue Real encountered involved their disjointed attack that often appeared to be a 4-2-4 — at times a 3-2-5 when Marcelo pushed forward. Rakitic and Iniesta’s pressing prevented Modric and Kroos from dictating the game from deep, and with Madrid’s front four nearly aligned in the same zone, the hosts rarely circulated the ball into Barca’s third.
This equally affected Madrid centre-backs Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos, who were both guilty of conceding possession with poor passes out of the back. Likewise, Barcelona’s pressing combined with Real’s non-existent cohesion served as the catalyst for Neymar’s goal. Modric dropped deep to receive possession and was quickly harried by Suarez, which forced the Croatian to concede possession to Sergio Busquets in the buildup to a superb Neymar goal.
The stagnant movement from the Madrid attackers meant the hosts relied heavily on quick transitions to create chances, whilst Gareth Bale played some clever balls into the box that Ronaldo failed to convert. Still, Benitez had no intention on fixing Madrid’s issue in midfield, and both the third and fourth goal witnessed unmarked midfield runners darting towards goal, and ball-carriers receiving ample time to complete passes.
“This victory is glorious, especially in the way that it came about,” said Enrique.
“We were the better team and the win is down to us. There is a long way to go but it is always important to win here. This has been a very complete performance. It will go down in history as a memorable game for Barcelona.”
Benitez’s attempt to rescue a point saw Isco replace James, whereas Luis Enrique turned to the returning Lionel Messi as Barcelona transitioned in a 4-3-1-2, with the Argentine predominantly floating around in central areas. Barca now dropped into two banks of four without the ball with Sergi Roberto tracking Danilo’s movement. Benzema and Ronaldo both squandered opportunities to decrease their deficit via crosses from the right, but the final 20 minutes of the match was fairly drab.
"It has not gone as we wanted. We wanted to push, attack, get the ball fast,” said Benitez.
“We have made some mistakes and we have paid for it. We wanted players of quality and experience. After the game, I must say I chose the wrong XI.”
This was an atypical Benitez team selection and approach to a big match, and though Madrid welcomed back star players to the XI, they may have been better off persisting with a rigid 4-3-3 as they were outnumbered, and out-pressed in midfield.
More about Barcelona, Benitez, Luis enrique, Messi, Real madrid
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