First, let us all put our heads together and make an effort to forget (or rather delete) what some biased media outlets have tried to perpetrate i.e that Real Madrid got humiliated by Barcelona. Some news sites especially those like goal.com tend to relish in some very specific scenarios, some of those are:
- when Real Madrid loses.
- when Real Madrid wins but shows some cracks
- when Ronaldo is frustrated.
- when Messi fans try to taunt Ronaldo buy showing up at his training site and start to chant Messi’s name.
- when Ronaldo doesn’t score and Real Madrid wins.
- when Ronaldo does score and Real Madrid lose.
- when Ronaldo doesn’t score and Real Madrid doesn’t win.
And before I forget, let’s all try, this time very hard, to remember the fact that Real Madrid could have actually leveled the game with Barcelona had:
- Varane, who otherwise kept Messi, Suarez and Neymar in his grip all night long, scored from a free header from six yards out.
- Benzema scored from a simple volley inside the six yards from his right foot in the first half.
- Ronaldo could have scored a one vs one against Barcelona keeper from a perfectly weighted pass from Bale.
- Benzema scored from a simple one vs one, this time from a squared ball from Bale in the second half which was brutally called as an offside by the referee. It was a very tight decision which could have gone either way. Sadly, this time it went to Barcelona.
- Marcelo, after some brilliant dribbling on the left wing, taken a shot on target or passed it to either Benzema or Ronaldo for an open goal tap in.
- the referee been as strict with Suarez’s fourth goal as he was with Benzema’s offside chance from Bale’s square ball at the other end. Not saying the referee deliberately handed Barcelona the fourth goal but just that, all key decisions went in Barcelona’s favor this time around.
- the referee called a clear penalty when Bale’s cross hit Pique on his arm. It doesn’t matter it was intentional or not, though Pique for some bizarre reason has always been involved in hand balls like this one from the beginning of his career, because Pique’s hand was interfering with the play and when that happens, it is a foul with or without intent of a hand ball.
Even if we don’t consider the difficult ones Real Madrid could have scored like the two chances James had in the first half, Real Madrid had enough opportunities to at least make the scoreline seem more competitive. And let’s ignore the fact that Barcelona’s youth system is actually in shambles as Munir missed a sitter of a chance to put Barcelona 5-0 up at the Bernabeu.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s turn our attention to reasons why Real Madrid really lost the game. No prizes for guessing that it wasn’t the brilliance of Barcelona, it was Benitez’s poor decision making skills for the game from the beginning.
The in game blunders, like playing Danilo on the left by taking Marcelo off for Carvajal, are pale in comparison to the howlers Benitez made even before the game started. Five of the most prominent ones were:
- Gareth Bale should not have played from the start. In fact, he would have been better off if he had stayed in his hotel for the night.
Because, even though Bale, with his massive pace advantage over every Barcelona player, was able to set up some great chances for Ronaldo and Benzema, he wasn’t as sharp in his vision, touch and shoot to have had a reasonably impactful game.
Coming back from injury, having played little top flight football, it was unbelievable as to why Benitez would put Bale in from the start against a Barcelona side who closes you down quickly instead of Jese or Lucas, who both are better at defending and putting the pressure back on the opposition from the front.
Not to take away anything from Bale, as he managed to muster up a strong performance against the best club side in the world at half his potential, but he just wasn’t up to the intensity level that is required to play in El Clasico.
Benitez should have started with players who had minutes under their belt and were fully fit and match sharp.
Players like Jese, Lucas, even Cheryshev or Kovacic would have been the better choice. Did I forget to mention Isco? Let’s add his name on the list of players Benitez magically neglected for the El Clasico, too.
With Bale not being a 100 percent, it allowed the likes of Alves and Alba to bomb forward to attack Real Madrid whenever they felt like it. With a fully fit Bale or Lucas or Jese, Real Madrid would have defended much better from the front and would have defended as a single unit then a bunch of kids running all over the field to get the back ball from the big boys.
Bale even with all his contributions cut a lonely figure and rarely was able to string more than three passes without giving the ball away while moving forward.
- Paying Benzema in as intense a game as El Clasico, was Benitez’s biggest mistake of the night. Benzema, even when fully fit, tends to take some good amount of time on the ball before he is able to do much with it. A Benzema with no match practise cut a lazy figure on the field.
His touches, movement and passing ability was a level below everyone else playing on the field. Benitez should have only used Benzema in the latter stages of the game had Real Madrid been cruising or as a super substitute to come off the bench and try to make something happen in ten or fifteen minutes.
Benzema didn’t close down Barcelona defenders quick enough which allowed Barcelona to have long stretches of possession by just playing the ball between the goalkeeper and the central defender.
A fully fit Benzema would have definitely scored from the two chances he had and from the third chance the referee cruelly called as an offside.
Why did Benitez take such a massive gamble by giving Benzema his first comeback game when Real Madrid were due to play Barcelona, is something I would never understand.
Again, Jese or Lucas would have been the wiser choice given that Benzema had just come back from injury.
With Benzema and Bale, both not match sharp, Ronaldo didn’t have the supply he so desperately needs to perform against elite teams.
And even when Bale unexpectedly put Ronaldo through on goal , he couldn’t compose himself to put away an easy chance and hence gave sites like goal.com a perfect reason to call Barcelona’s performance against The Whites, as complete demolition.
It wasn’t a demolition. It was far from it. It was Benitez’s bad man management combined with inaccurate passing by Real Madrid players who had little match practise which lead to the majority of the chances Barcelona had on goal against Real Madrid in El Clasico.
- Benitez third blunder, just like the previous two, was playing barely fit James Rodriguez in the midfield against a Barcelona side that tends to hog possession even against sides that defend with 10 men.
Not once did Real Madrid defend with ten or even nine men when Barcelona had possession and that, in the modern game, is a recipe for disaster.
Why Bale, Benzema and James couldn’t support the back four against Barcelona? Yes, it was because none of these three had any match practise and had just come back from long layoffs due to injuries.
Benitez should have known better that you just do not bring back injured players in a as high intensity game as the one against Barcelona (or any other team that plays high intensity football like Atletico Madrid, Sevilla or Athletic Bilbao).
James did manage to get two shots away on goal against Barcelona and that must have upped the morale of other players because before James’s efforts, Barcelona looked invulnerable against a half-fit Real Madrid attack.
But that was only because James is probably the most gifted left back player since Lionel Messi of Argentina.
James also didn’t showcase his dribbling ability which was desperately needed as Barcelona players closed down Real Madrid attackers too quickly to form any sort of passing move either in the middle or on the wings.
- Benitez should have stuck with the front trio of Ronaldo, Jese and Lucas. Now, let’s not be hasty here. Even though Jese and Lucas don’t offer the same attacking threat as Bale and Benzema, the problem here was that Bale and Benzema were out of shape and out of form for this specific match.
Besides, playing Jese and Lucas upfront always gives Real Madrid the added advantage of two players who help out in defense and close down opposing central defenders which leads to clearances and enables Real Madrid to steal possession back quickly.
With Benzema and Bale upfront along with Ronaldo, Barcelona had virtually, at max, six players in front of them who were ready to defend against their attacks.
At the other end where Pique, Mascherano and Alves played useless tiki taka between them, the front three of Real Madrid chased shadows all night long because they couldn’t close them down in a cohesive manner.
Benitez should have made decisions that were better for Real Madrid, not for Florentino Perez.
- Perhaps his most vital blunder from a tactical point of view was not having faith in the three man midfield of Modric, Kroos and Casemiro.
Without Casemiro, Real Madrid did not defend well enough to stop Barcelona from exploiting the holes in Real Madrid’s defense. Real Madrid’s defense leaked tons of water against a predatory Barcelona front three of Neymar, Messi and Suarez.
With James, Modric and Kroos in the middle, there was hardly a player on the field for Real Madrid who was an established ball winner in the midfield.
Modric and Kroos are great when they have the ball at their feet but when it comes to the donkey work of getting the ball back from the opposition, they are pretty mediocre.
That is one area where Casemiro could have proven to be the match winner against Barcelona.
Even if we ignore the selection mistakes, how much dope Benitez must have had to not recognize the fact that he was playing two half fit players in the form of James and Modric (who did have a couple of matches on him but nothing that would have given him the fitness required to compete against a side like Barcelona) with another player, Kroos, who has been complaining about fatigue for the past twelve months.
How did he not see Barcelona starting line up and notice the likes of Neymar and Suarez who can destroy you with a single swing of their sword if you allow them to go at your full backs without any support from the midfield?
It is indeed bewildering to see Benitez give in to the pressure of playing star players rather than the players who get go out there and get the job done for Real Madrid.
It would be pertinent to mention that Real Madrid, even without Benitez’s massive mistakes, were in the worst shape possible for a Barcelona side that was at the peak of its powers.
Don’t know if it’s Benitez’s medical staff or what but apart from Ronaldo, Kroos and Varane, everyone had been injured once this season before the Barcelona game.
At a top club like Real Madrid where trophies are expected every season that it just not acceptable.
May be Navas could have stopped one of Suarez’s goals and may be he could have managed to get a stronger hand onto Neymar’s weak left foot low shot for the second goal.
And just maybe, Modric and Marcelo might have been able to close down Iniesta quicker had they been a hundred percent match fit.
Benitez has admitted that he chose the wrong line up for the Barcelona game but it is way too late now.
May he be sacked and Mourinho be brought back to the White Capital.