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Barcelona and Real Madrid gave us our first truly watchable Clasico in years on Sunday. The match ended in a 2-2 draw with a brace apiece from Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, but was there anything else of note going on at the Camp Nou?
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi put on a show at Camp Nou on Sunday. Both scored twice as Real Madrid and Barcelona were virtually inseparable in a 2-2 draw.
Barcelona unleashed an absurd series of passes in the 88th minute, culminating in a rocket from Martín Montoya that slammed off the crossbar. The 21-year-old unexpected sub came within inches of giving Barca the potential match winner, much to the disappointment of the Camp Nou crowd.
I can't even begin to describe the passes that setup up Montoya's chance, but it was beautiful. His strike almost matched it.
Madrid again conceded a dangerous free kick as the match went to stoppage time, this one slight to the left of the center of goal, about 25 yards away. Xavi's shot went off the wall for a corner kick that was taken short by Barca. They passed the ball around again, patiently waiting for an opening that never came as Madrid held firm defensively.
Pedro had a late chance in the final minute of stoppage time, getting inside on the defense but his shot went well wide of the goal.
Kaka, admit it you probably forget he was on Madrid's roster, replaced Mesut Özil with 10 minutes to play. Kaka looked good in Madrid's win over Ajax in the midweek so he's late appearance wasn't a complete surprise. It didn't immediately seem to change anything on the pitch though as Barca continued to be patience and totally dominate possession as Madrid defended, waiting for a chance to counter and try to get a winner.
Barcelona earned a corner in the 82nd minute but with no real big threats in the box, it was quickly cleared by Madrid...right back in to the control of Barcelona's midfield. The final minutes of the match reverted back to the type of Clasico's we've been seeing over the past few years, rather than the more open ended football match we were being treated to for most of the day.
Ronaldo earned a free kick to the far left side of the Barcelona box in the 85th minute, but Xabi Alonso's cross went towards the far post and was wasted by Angel di Maria, giving Barca a goal kick.
Less than five minutes left to go, can someone find a winner?
Great chance for Barcelona in the 74th minute. Lionel Messi slid a great pass in to Andres Iniesta who'd broke in to the left side of the penalty area. Iniesta sent a worm burner across the box, but there was no one there to meet it and it curled away for a corner. No immediate gain from the corner, but Barca did earn another dangerous free kick, nearly in the same place as Messi's wonder goal earlier in the half.
The hat trick was not to be, at least not yet, as Messi's shot cleared the wall, but failed to sink down enough and went harmlessly over the cross bar. A sigh of relief for Madrid and a look of annoyance on Messi's face for the miss. Hey, you can't be brilliant every time.
With less than 15 minutes left though, Barcelona are looking like the better side putting good pressure on Madrid and starting to connect more with their passes in the attacking third. Madrid will have to be careful has Barca have been downright lethal in the final minutes of matches this season.
Pepe picked up his required yellow card for a high boot on Alexis Sanchez. The ensuing free kick by Xavi was played short and cleared by Madrid.
Cristiano Ronaldo tried to unleash his own bit of brilliance in the 65th minute, going for a bicycle kick strike in the Barcelona box. He missed and momentarily injured himself, coming down awkwardly on his arm and shoulder. He got back up after a minute and continued. Good thing for Madrid he did.
A minute later, Ronaldo tore the Barcelona defense apart making a perfect run right through the middle of the defense receiving a perfectly place pass from Mesut Özil. Ronaldo just abused Adriano and once he was one-on-one with Victor Valdes, you just knew he'd score...and he did.
Nothing fancy, just a solid strike that Valdes had no hope to deal with and Madrid just like that equalized the match again at 2-2.
At this point, it's turning in to a "anything you can do, I can do better" contest between Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Ronaldo was back on the ground again a couple minutes after the goal, appearing to struggle with the shoulder that he fell on with his bicycle attempt. He's still in the match, but he's still grabbing at his shoulder trying to work out whatever is bothering him.
Xabi Alonso, already on a yellow card, took down Lionel Messi with a slide tackle about 25-yards from goal. Alonso got none of the ball, but the referee only awarded the foul and free kick, keeping the card in his pocket.
Lionel Messi made Madrid pay uncorking a magnificent free kick that Iker Casillas had no chance in hell of stopping, putting Barcelona ahead 2-1 in the 61st minute. The ball had a wonderful curl away towards the corner of the goal and cleared the wall my millimeters, appearing to actually go between the heads of two Madrid players. Just a sublime strike.
Jose Mourinho immediately responded by switching his strikers, removing Karim Benzima who did not have a great day and inserting Gonzalo Higuaín. We'll have to see if it makes any difference.
Barcelona are able to gain possession and move the ball around efficiently around the center circle, but it's on their foray in the attacking third that things being to fall apart. Yes Madrid's defense is playing well in terms of positioning, but it's really strange to see Barca making so many misguided passes. Their ability to move the ball around with accuracy is their calling card and it's letting then down today.
Andres Iniesta was apparently taken down just inside the box by Pepe but the referee waved off both the penalty shout and the foul. There appeared to be some contact, but it was most likely somewhere between a foul and dive. Barca were awarded a corner kick instead but nothing came from it as Madrid quickly cleared the ball away.
Real Madrid finally broke the pressure and on Cristiano Ronaldo forced Sergio Busquets to make a tackle to prevent an odd-man break. Busquets saw yellow and Ronaldo got a chance to unleash a free kick towards the Barcelona goal. The free kick smashed against the wall, actually going off his teammate Pepe was who was trying to affect the wall.
The first 45 minutes and halftime are done so it's time to finish this first league El Clasico of the season. Just in case you missed the first half, there's a full recap here, but the key things you need to know are Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi scored, and 21-year old Martín Montoya replaced Dani Alves at right back just before the 30 minute mark of the first half.
No changes for either side, but it didn't take long for a the referee to have to make a key call. Javier Mascherano and Mesut Özil collided just inside the Barcelona box, but the referee felt there was nothing wrong with the challenge and allowed play to continue. Nervy moment for Barca players and fans though as that would have been a horrible way to begin the half.
Great start overall for Madrid though to the half, excellent possession, better passing and early pressure. Barca will want to find a way to attack and take some of the pressure off again.
It's been a wildly entertaining and eventful half of football at the Camp Nou, with goals for both sides and an injury-related substitution. The game's two biggest stars, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, have each netted a goal to lock Real Madrid and Barcelona in a 1-1 draw after 45 minutes of play.
Barcelona are without both Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, and were expected to start Alex Song in defense. Instead, they've stuck fullback Adriano in next to Javier Mascherano. He was tested frequently in the early going, and though he's looked a tad shaky at times, he has mostly filled the role well.
Madrid had the game's first big chance after 13 minutes, and Karim Benzema committed the first of what would be two very bad misses in the first half. Ronaldo set him up with a cross to the back post and he had time to control, but instead opted to hit a half-volley wide of the far post.
The next 10 minutes were a bit wild, and featured a lot of face time for Madrid's central defenders on both ends of the pitch. Pepe got a bit bailed out of an awful mis-control in his own half when Cesc Fabregas caught him, causing him to go down in pain. If Fabregas hadn't fouled, he would have had a clear breakaway.
Madrid's second big chance came after 19 minutes on a set piece, through Sergio Ramos. He made a brilliant run from deep and was completely unmarked, but made poor contact with his free header. Los Blancos' next surge forward came on a great counter which featured Pepe on a surprising run forward, but Mascherano did well to cut out the long ball up to the defender.
One minute after that run, Madrid found a deserved goal. Ronaldo was the scorer, capitalizing on a nifty bit of play by Benzema. With his back to goal, the Madrid center forward turned and played Ronaldo through on goal. Daniel Alves was slow to react and Ronaldo stepped into a composed finish. Two minutes later, Madrid nearly doubled their lead when Angel di Maria supplied Benzema with a chance on a silver platter, but he was caught a bit off balance and his stretching effort hit the post.
Daniel Alves picked up a knock in the 27th minute, and was forced out of the match. His replacement, Martin Montoya, played well for the rest of the half, but there's certainly a drop-off in attacking ability on Barcelona's right flank at the moment. He's played disciplined, which might actually be a slightly welcome change for Tito Vilanova.
A bit of good fortune led to Barcelona's equalizer three minutes later. Messi was the one who capitalized, though the only skill his goal required was some good timing. Pedro created the chance with a cross into the box, which was poorly dealt with. Pepe over-committed himself and made a terrible clearance that went behind him and fell to Messi at the center of the box. He could hardly believe his luck and poked the ball past Iker Casillas.
The final 15 minutes of the half were much more calm than the first 30, with both teams slowing down the pace a bit. Neither side had more than a half chance for the rest of the half and both looked like they were satisfied heading to halftime tied up at 1-1.
Pedro received the match's first yellow card after a bit of a reckless challenge, leaving a high boot in on Sergio Ramos as the two players tried to control a high ball. Pedro's eyes were locked in on the ball, but it was not a good play by the Barcelona forward and the referee agreed with the protestations from Jose Mourinho on the sidelines.
The Barca goal definitely slowed the match tempo down, but it also upped the physicality as the challenges started to increase in both frequency and "meatiness"
The story of the first half was definitely missed opportunities due to less than perfect passing in the attacking third and off-target finished. Both teams fell victim to their own errors and considering the two misses from Karim Benzima, Madrid might be a little bummed to now be in the lead after 45 minutes. That however is the game and if you're not clincial and don't take advantage of your chances, you often find yourself on the end of a unfavorable result.
Pedro made a run down the right side and sent a ball in to the box that got deflected up in the air. Madrid defender Pepe over committed in the air, trying to head the ball away and left a huge hole in the middle of the defense that Lionel Messi came roaring in to like a sports car, blasting the bouncing ball past Iker Casillas to even the match at 1-1.
It certainly was not the usual majestic Barcelona build-up that we've grown accustomed due, but when your trailing by a goal and just lost your starting right back, you'll take any goals and/or momentum any way you can get them. Pepe will be shooting himself in the foot for making a poor decision to go out of position to try to play the loose ball, but emotions can often override good sense in massive derbies like this one.
Barcelona seemed settled by the goal and were able to regain control of possession in the midfield, allowing them to slow things down and end the steady stream of pressure Madrid had been pouring on for the last 20 minutes.
21-year old defender Martín Montoya has been thrust in the biggest moment of his young career after he replaced Dani Alves in the 28th minute. Not sure exactly on the nature of the injury, but it's possible Alves was carrying a knock and managed to re-aggravate it at some point. He certainly looked poor on Ronaldo's goal.
Speaking of Ronaldo, the Portuguese midfielder will now begin sharpening his knives and licking his chops at the prospect of attacking a young and inexperienced defender. If Montoya struggles, this could get ugly quick. In addition, without Gerard Pique or Carles Puyol to help back him up, it's a big ask for the young kid.
An early goal and now an inury to a key defender, this are looking rough for Barcelona at the moment.
Madrid earned the first corner kick of the match in the 19th minute. Mesut Özil sent the free kick in as Sergio Ramos came roaring in on a great run and got a free header on the ball. Ramos was off target though, sending the shot over the crossbar. You could almost hear an audible sigh of relief from the Camp Nou crowd.
After a solid opening few minutes from Barca, Madrid have definitely taken over control of the game. That doesn't mean Barca haven't been challenging, but a excellent combination of poor passing and pinpoint defending from Los Blancos have kept Barcelona at bay so far.
In the 23rd minute, Cristiano Ronaldo got free on the right hand side, and sent a lovely low shot between a diving Victor Valdes and the post. Nothing fancy, just great build-up work, terrible defending from Dani Alves and a textbook finish from Ronaldo. Valdes won't want to see tape on the goal either as he allowed himself to be beaten at the near post, something you never want to have happen.
Madrid should have scored minutes later after another defensive breakdown allowed Karim Benzima to get a shot on an open goal, but again he was off target.
Action began to pick up as the match the 10 minute mark. Possession evened out a bit and there were flashes of a wild back and forth style that threatened to send any neutral watching this one in to a fit of joy.
Barca had a great chance in the 11th minute when Cesc Fabregas got free on the left, but his attempt to cross to Lionel Messi who was lurking in front of goal was blocked. Minutes later, Madrid had their first real dangerous chance of the match after Karim Benzima got a chance to unleash a volley shot, off a lovely cross from Cristiano Ronaldo, from 10-yards out. Unfortunately for the French striker, his shot was hit poorly and sailed well wide of goal. That was a fantastic early chance.
Pepe earned the ire of the home fans in the 15th minute after staying down in the wake of an innocuous 50/50 challenge.
You get the feeling something is coming, but so far, neither side has looked sharp with their final passes or chances.
Madrid looked content to absorb pressure and try to break-up a pass and launch a counter attack, but as things settled they began to pressure more and move forward. They were able to make a foray in the attacking third about six minutes in, but Angel di Maria's shot sailed high over the cross bar. Madrid also made some probing long balls, testing the unusual central defense alignment. Mesut Özil got behind the defense in the 7th minute, but the pass was just a touch too far and was collected by Victor Valdes.
Adrian is indeed playing alongside Javier Mascherano in the central defense, which is confusing at the very least. I'm sure Tito Vilanova has a reason for the move, but I have no idea what is it. Of course, if Barca dominate and keep clean sheet, he'll look like a genius.
We're underway at the Camp Nou between Barcelona and Real Madrid. This is the first "real" meeting of the season between this old rivals and there's already a lot on the line. A Barca wins opens a potentially insurmountable points gap between them and Madrid. A win by Los Blancos and Jose Mourinho's team is right by in the title hunt.
Tito Vilanova appears to have decided to play Adriano in central defense alongside Javier Mascherano, but you should never trust TV formations. However, with Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets also in the starting lineup, until Barca actually lineups for the kickoff ,we may not know exactly what they're up to.
Standard lineup for Madrid with Karim Benzema leading the attack, supported by the usual suspects of Angel di Maria, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Özil. Given Barca's questionable defensive efforts at time this season, you can bet this group is looking forward to the chance to run at the Blaugrana.
Check out both side's full lineups here.
Will Madrid take the game to Barca or will we sill yet another match in which the Catalan side controls the ball and Madrid patiently look for a chance to counter attack? We're about to find out!
Barcelona is down two central defenders, and they don't think that either Alex Song or Marc Bartra is the answer. Instead, the man brought into the team is Adriano. There are some grumblings that he'll play in defense, but it's more likely that he plays left back while Sergio Busquets plays in defense, Jordi Alba moves up front and Cesc Fabregas moves into midfield. The Real Madrid team features no surprises, with Luka Modric left out in favor of Madrid's normal starting XI.
FC Barcelona starting lineups (4-3-3): Victor Valdes; Adriano, Sergio Busquets, Javier Mascherano, Daniel Alves; Cesc Fabregas, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta; Jordi Alba, Lionel Messi, Pedro Rodriguez
Kickoff is at 7:50 p.m. local, 1:50 p.m. ET from Camp Nou in Barcelona. You can catch the game on beIN Sport in the U.S., Sky Sports 1 in the U.K., and Canal+ in Spain.
Check out our video preview of the match.
Carles Puyol dislocated his elbow mid-week, while Gerard Pique is suffering from a foot injury and was not able to get fit in time for El Clasico. While Barcelona have incredible talent in their first XI and some solid depth in most areas, their depth at central defense is not impressive. With Pique and Puyol unavailable, Tito Vilanova's options in defense are very limited for the first league Clasico against Real Madrid.
Javier Mascherano will occupy one spot for sure, and he has experience playing central defense in big games for the Blaugrana. The options alongside him aren't great. Barcelona will either go with Marc Bartra, the Barcelona B standout, or more likely new purchase Alex Song, who has spent more time at defensive midfield than central defense. He struggled in the position last week against Sevilla, and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes is skeptical about his readiness for a game of this magnitude.
Make no mistake that I am definitely giving Song the time he needs to improve. Unfortunately for Tito and Barca, our 2 starting centre backs are out injured and therefore the coach will be forced to choose between Song and Bartra ... It is safe to say that Song will start in defense. Like Cristian Tello, Song just might find Real Madrid a little too much to handle so early into his Barca career. Tello was terrible in last season's Clasico but Pep had little choice as far as a winger was concerned. The good news is that Barca have had time to prepare. Moreover, Song and Mascherano have had time to build some chemistry and we can hope that they have a good day.
Song played some central defense at Arsenal and certainly has the physical talent to hang with Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema, but he's yet to show that he can put together a complete performance at that position against elite opposition.
Jose Mourinho switched his formation to a 4-3-3 that is very defensive when compared to his normal setup for multiple Clasicos two seasons ago, but he stuck with his normal lineup for both of last season's league Clasicos. For the most part, it worked. Bad misses in front of goal were the biggest reason why Real Madrid failed to beat Barcelona in the first Clasico of the season, and they were clearly the better side in their late-season victory.
Luka Modric has been brought in to the Madrid squad, presumably for what he can bring to a team in a match like the Clasico, but that doesn't mean that he's going to start. Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid doesn't see Mourinho adding a deep midfielder, and sees Modric as being in competition with two other players for one spot.
Mesut Özil, Kaká and Luka Modric are competing for just one spot. Real Madrid's number 10 is always one of Real Madrid's best players against Barcelona. Luka Modric is still a long way from being the reinforcement Mourinho was hoping for, but he's had his good moments as well. The Croatian playmaker should be chosen if Real Madrid wants to have a higher possession percentage, since Özil is a little bit best suited for playing with a counterattacking style. Kaká played some good minutes in Madrid's win at the Amsterdam Arena, but that's probably not enough to leave both Özil and Modric on the bench.
Mourinho could also opt to leave Angel di Maria on the bench and narrow things up, but it doesn't sound like he'll be reverting to the trivot.
Real Madrid might not play Luka Modric from the start in El Clasico, but he's certain to play a crucial role.
Real Madrid are in need of a result against Barcelona on Sunday in El Clasico. They trail the Blaugrana by eight points in the league, and injuries have hurt the Barcelona defense.
Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has not been included in the squad for El Clasico against Real Madrid tonight.
Barcelona have fitness doubts over Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta, while Real Madrid must decide who will take the role of playmaker and striker.
Last season, José Mourinho guided Real Madrid to a title victory over Barcelona by grinding them out over the course of the season. This time, he has no choice but to take them on face-to-face.
To understand the pressure on Tito Vilanova, you must understand the accomplishments of Pep Guardiola, the man who held the Barcelona job before him. Will Vilanova take a step out of Pep's shadow on Sunday, or begin to be consumed by it?
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