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Even before Sergio Ramos was embarrassing himself in stoppage time, José Mourinho's thoughts had to start venturing to April. That's the next time Real Madrid faces Barcelona. While Madridistras' annual call to look toward Champions League will try to overshadow the next Clasico, five straight losses to Barcelona means only one thing: Real Madrid success is defined in terms of Barcelona.
Real Madrid could win Champions League, but unless they eliminate Barcelona along the way, there will always be caveats. They could pass Barcelona to win La Liga, but unless they defeat Barça while doing so, their title will be seen as Barcelona hitting a bad patch. That's the upshot to the two club world Real Madrid occupies with Barça. Unless you can compete against your rival, it doesn't matter how you do against everybody else. As illogical as that sounds, that's the reality of Mourinho's Tuesday morning, where one loss in Catalonia has rendered an undefeated fall meaningless.
The other side of that coin: One win in April will turn all this around. All the doubts, negativity, and criticism his team will see over the next five months will disappear with a win over Barcelona at the Bernabeu. Now all he has to do is figure out how to do it, not an easy task considering the four or five best players on the Nou Camp's pitch were wearing red and blue.
Mesut Ozil had been a success to this point for Real Madrid, but after a disappointing performance in Monday's Clasico, the attacking midfielder has quickly become part of the problem. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
Sometimes, Their Players Are Just That Much Better
This is where discussion of Monday's tactics will break down. There will be questions as to why Mesut Ozil started, why Mourinho didn't handle Messi the same way he did in last year's Champions League, and why Ángel Di Maria was turned into Dirk Kuyt, but this match wasn't about how Real Madrid and Barcelona were deployed. Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi and David Villa were just better thank their counterparts. The only thing Mourinho could have possibly done is prepare his players better, and it's always debatable how much a manager can affect a player's mindset. Sometimes, players just don't perform well.
That was clearly the case in the midfield, the place of Madrid's biggest failing. I can't remember the last time a match approaching this magnitude featured such an imbalance in the middle of the pitch. True, Barcelona got great performances from Andrés Iniesta and Xavi, but Real Madrid's midfielders were shockingly bad. I was literally shocked at what I wasn't seeing. Their performance created the type of mismatch usually reversed for when league leaders take on relegation battlers (see Barcelona versus Almeria). You don't expect that disparity when the supposed two best clubs in the world are playing.
Dividing Blame, Midfield Versus Defense
The trio of Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso were collectively, perhaps conspiratorially bad. No, I don't really believe they planned that performance, though that would be the most reasonable explanation for why each decided to have their worst performance of the season on the same day. Where Barcelona was destined to hog possession, those three were going to have to be tenacious, yet they were anything but. At points in the first half, they seemed frozen, standing on their toes looking down at their counterparts' feet, waiting to see where the ball would go (rather than trying to stop it). That's not the best defensive posture to have when the Iniesta and Xavi are sprinting through holes your defense's channels. No pressure on the ball combined with no tracking of runners leads a defense to be picked apart.
That's why I have a hard time indicting Real Madrid's defense. Clearly, the back line had a poor match, particularly Marcelo. But if you give Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi too much time on the ball, they'll pick apart any defense. See goals one, three, and four, and to a certain extent, the extended built-up to goal number two. The defenders could very well be a problem, but when the midfield is that poor, it's very difficult to tell.
Last May, Jose Mourinho had a wealth of options in central midfield, a collection of players that provided a needed edge in the middle of the pitch. On Monday, Mourinho's midfield provided no obstacles for Barcelona. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
Asking the Obvious Questions
After Monday, it has to be asked: Does Real Madrid have the right players midfield? At least, the right players to compete with Barcelona?
It seems to early to pass judgment on Mesut Ozil and Semi Khedira, but the way the soccer world works, José Mourinho now has five weeks until the winter transfer window opens. By then, he needs to know whether his midfield needs reinforcements. If Mourinho is trying to replicate the success he had with Internazionale, he should ask whether Real Madrid has an Esteban Cambiasso. Where are the Thiago Mottas and Dejan Stankovics? Are there Javier Zanettis or Cristian Chivus in this team? Who amongst the squad can provide some iron in the middle of the park?
Solutions Forgotten, Never Considered, Which Might Not Work
There are some options within the current squad, fortunate because against Barcelona, it doesn't seem like playing both Mesut Ozil and Xabi Alonso can work. Alonso was invisible today, and a ball winner's role really doesn't suit him. He's a deep-sitting distributor, but against Barcelona, you need players at that level to be destroyers. If Mourinho wants to keep Alonso in the team, he needs to sit Ozil can start a better ball winner. He tried that in the second half with Lassana Diarra, but the player that needs to come back in the team is Fernando Gago. Today, Madrid was missing somebody with the Argentine's edge.
Against Barça, Mourinho should considering moving Pepe into the same role he's played for Portugal - a deep midfielder that protects the defense. If the team isn't going to sign anybody in January and Mourinho determines he can't count on Ozil, Khedira and Alonso to play aggressively come April, bringing Pepe into midfield (and starting Raul Albiol or Ezequiel Garay) will provide some needed bite. Where Mourinho's main problem on Monday was a midfield trio that gave no resistance to Xavi and Iniesta, Pepe and Gago might be a needed piece of overcompensation.
Oh, Then There's This
Regardless of what happens in midfield, Mourinho needs to find a left back that will keep him from having to take Ángel Di Maria out of an attacking role. That's what happened today, with Di Maria doing a Dirk Kuyt, Park Ji-Sung impression against Daniel Alves. Such was the lack of confidence Mourinho had in Marcelo's defending (begging the question of why he's being started over Alvaro Arbeloa). If Real Madrid had a Zanetti or Chivu at the back, Di Maria could have stayed in an advanced role. With Ozil having a bad day and Gonzalo Higuain hurt, this was one day Madrid couldn't afford to sacrifice an attacker.
But occupying Ángel Di Maria is down on Real Madrid's list of problems. Top of that inventory: Solving the midfield problem. Come Tuesday morning, José Mourinho has to start his evaluation of Ozil, Khedira and (to a lesser extent) Alonso. Are those three viable for April? If not, does the team buy in January? Because if they don't, internal options like Fernando Gago, Pepe, perhaps even Mahamadou Diarra have to be considered.
In truth, little has changed since the end of the first half. Yes, Barcelona added three goals, making this the most lopsided Clasico win Barça's ever enjoyed, but the match was over once we saw Real Madrid set up their line of three midfielders in front of the defense. A halftime adjustment from Pep Guardiola to start exploiting Madrid's high line was the last chapter. We already knew the ending.
Now, some post-mortem. As with all player ratings, many of these will be outright wrong - evaluations which, once I watch the match again, I'll admit were way off-base. So, if you feel something's missing, let us know in the comments.
Victor Valdes, 7 - Good work in the first half will be forgotten after he had nothing to do in the second. While I'm sure he took one, I barely remember him having to take a goal kick in the second period. Barcelona was dominant, giving Valdes the day off.
Daniel Alves, 6 - Some crosses came in from his side in the first half, but over the course of 90 minutes, things evened out. A good effort from Ángel Di Maria kept him quiet, but Alves deserves some credit for being a player Mourinho had to devote one of his stars to.
Carles Puyol, 7 - Another solid day for the man Sid Lowe calls Captain Caveman, though his intensity was such that he would have been able to respond had more been asked of him.
Gerard Pique, 6 - Little to go for the young center back, though was in decent position on the few crosses that tested the defense in the first half.
Eric Abidal, 6 - A good return for the left back, who fits the same profile as his teammates. They kept the play in front of them and made it an easy day for their goalkeeper.
Sergio Busquets, 6 - And this is how you know that Real Madrid was off their game. Busquets gets a similar description and rating as the defenders behind him. Xavi and Andrés Iniesta controlled the middle of the pitch such that Busquets had vey little to do. Madrid's possessions usually involved attacking wide, leaving Busquets a quite Clasico.
Andres Iniesta, 8 - The midfielder was the driving force in the first half, and it's a shame his name isn't on the scoresheet. People will remember Messi picking apart the Madrid line in the second half, but they should also remember the laser pass to Xavi for the first goal.
Xavi, 8 - Another stellar performance stoking the flames for the Blaugrana, though like Iniesta, he was most needed in the first half. Then, he helped carry the team, scoring the first goal and providing a crucial ball in the build-up to the second.
Pedro, 6 - Aside from his goal, Pedro had little impact, and the goal was a large part David Villa's doing. Ultimately a decent match. Getting a goal in a Clasico certainly overshadows any rating some shmuck's gonna give ya'.
Lionel Messi, 8 - Was more decoy than distributor in the first half, but was the best player on the pitch in the second, vital to the changes Guardiola made to exploit Madrid's high back line. Within the second half's first ten minutes he had created four chances, two of which lead to Villa's goals.
David Villa, 9 - Robbie Mustoe, on the commentary, said (at one point) Villa was having a quiet game. I suppose I disagreed then, and in fairness to Mustoe, he certainly wouldn't repeat that evaluation after Villa's brace. But even in the first half, Villa was active. His run opened up the center of the box for Xavi's goal, while he broke down Sergio Ramos to assist on Pedro's.
Substitutes: Bojan Krkic (76') N/A, Jeffren (87') N/A, Seydou Keita (87') N/A
Iker Casillas, 5 - I feel like this is generous. He could have done better on the second goal. Perhaps he should have been more decisive on the first, and maybe the last two another goalkeeper could have stopped. I don't know, though. It sure didn't seem like Casillas was the problem. At the same time, there are some goalkeepers that would have done better, and ultimately he's on the wrong end of a 5-0.
Sergio Ramos, 2 - Horrible second half. Was lazy on the last goal, saw Villa run through the channel to his left on the fourth. Spent most of the half chopping down Barça players, and thanks to his red card, he'll miss at least the next match. Represented his team poorly today.
Pepe, 5 - Of all the players hurt by José Mourinho's insistence on playing a high line, Pepe seemed to be singled out. That's not exactly his preferred way to play, and while he made a couple of nice tackles recovering in the first half, he - like his partners - were part of the problem.
Ricardo Carvalho, 4 - Before the game we identified decisions made by Carvalho and Pepe as a key part of the match. The pair obviously didn't do well, and it was Carvalho and Marcelo on the left side that were most readily exploited in the second half, when Guardiola moved Messi back out right to receive the ball and cut-back across the face of the defense. For a 10 minute stretch, Messi was constantly able to find space to the left, right, and behind Carvalho.
Marcelo, 2 - Poor "weak side" defense in the first half got worse after intermission, when he was ineffectual against the flood Guardiola through at him on the attack's right flank. Eventually had to be subbed-off for Álvaro Arbeloa. Two might be a bit harsh upon examination, but just minutes removed from the match, it feels like Marcelo was both targeted and exploited.
Sami Khedira, 3 - Halfway through the first period, we asked where the Madrid midfield had gone. We never found out because they never really showed up. Khedira, in a left-central midfield role in the second half, provided no resistance after Barcelona adjusted and started cutting in from the right flank.
Xabi Alonso, 4 - Similar to Khedira bit less culpable in the second half. It was disappointing to see him crashing into Messi once the score got lopsided. None of his passing prowess was evident today, but unlike some of his teammates, he had the "virtue" of being anonymous.
Mesut Ozil, 3 - Same as the first half. Before the breakdowns at the back, he was the most disappointing Merengue. He looked completely overwhelmed. Had he played that way again in the second half, he would have gotten a 2.
Ángel Di Maria, 7 - Did a very good job defensively today in a non-critical defending role. Had the back line given an equivalent performance, they may have kept Barcelona to one or two goals. But, that's not how soccer matches work. As such, Di Maria was one of two Real Madrid players that gave a decent shift.
Karim Benzema, 5 - All of the work José Mourinho has done to reclaim Karim Benzema - work that was paying-off in the weeks leading to this match - may have been undone today. Benzema was in the vicinity of a couple of first half crosses, but he was a non-factor in the second half. Madrid missed Gonzalo Higuain.
Cristiano Ronaldo, 6 - The effort dipped in the second half, but who could blame him. The guy worked hard in the first half and created a number of half-chances, but Madrid just wasn't seeing enough of the ball, and after they gave up two goals early in the second, he understandably got discouraged.
Substitutes: Lassana Diarra (46') 4, Alvaro Arbeloa (60') 6
Earlier today we had speculated Real Madrid was destined for a red card. Half way through the second half, when it became apparent Real Madrid was not coming back, the cheep fouls started to pile up, and players like Sergio Ramos, Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso were seen inflicting message-sending tackles on their counterparts.
That red card finally came in stoppage time, and as if playing to script written years ago, it was Ramos that volunteered to go. Of all the players who dressed today for Pep Guardiola, he's the one you would have circled at the beginning of the match were you asked to fine the Merengue most likely to be sent of. "It's either him or Pepe," you would have reasoned, "and unless somebody from Barcelona picks a fight with Pepe, Ramos is going."
Nobody picked a fight with Pepe, and Ramos went in stoppage time, sliding through Lionel Messi in what appeared to be a deliberate foul. If there was any doubt as to whether that would earn a sending-off, Ramos open hand shoved Carles Puyol in the face as he was walking to the sideline, before his dismissal had become official.
For a long time, Real Madrid has has a reputation for being immature and petulant in these kind of situations. How much that reputation reflects real life is impossible to say, as the accusation becomes more vehement the farther from Madrid you get. Today, however, the most ardent Barcelona supporter, with his rehearsed speech about referee bias and financial irregularities, would be right to call Madrid players immature.
Even if it's only for one day, a few Real Madrid players became the immature players they're accused of being. Leading the bunch, Sergio Ramos.
Two players from the next generation of Barcelona products combined for the Blaugrana's fifth goal, with Jeffren's 91st minute goal giving the reigning Spanish champions a 5-0 lead at the Nou Camp. The late substitute attacker ran past Sergio Ramos and onto a Bojan Krkic cross, allowing Barcelona tie the record for most lopsided result in a Clasico.
Bojan did his work on the right flank against Pepe, out with to defend against the speedy attacker. Krkic put a ball past Pepe toward the line, eventually firing a low cross into the box, 12 yards from goal. Sergio Ramos appeared in position to play the ball, but lax defending allowed Jeffren to come for ten yard out of the play and one-time a shot past Iker Casillas.
Barcelona immediately celebrated as if conscious of the record they were tying. It was 26 years ago, when Johan Cruyff was coaching the team, that Barcelona set the record for their most lopsided win in a Clasico, defeating Madrid 5-0. Jeffren's goal, equalling that result, created a team-wide celebration in front of Barcelona's bench.
Minutes later, the referee blew the final whistle, but not until one Real Madrid player finally made sure red was shone.
José Mourinho came to Spain to make history. He wanted to win league titles in England, Italy and Spain, and he wanted to win his third Champions League. Today, though, Mourinho's team is about to make a different kind of history if they can't find a goal in the last ten minutes.
Admittedly, I find it annoying when "make history" is used too liberally, but given the expectations on Real Madrid coming into this match, this factoid posted by ESPN adds a bit of irony to its information:
Per the broadcast, those were back in the days of Johan Cruyff, the Dutch icon who cemented his Rinus Michels' footballing philosophies during this coaching stint with Barcelona. Cruyff remains very close to both club and adopted country, serving as head coach of the Catalonia national team. To potentially achieve a mark matching something from the Cruyff era provides more significance than the 26 year time span. Though that would be enough.
One question we posed during the work-up to this match: How does Madrid reform if they come away with another loss? One answer to that question could have been "try against in the spring, in Madrid," but with this type of lopsided result, Madrid must reexamine the drawing board. This has been too lopsided a performance to suggest it's merely a bad day at the office.
Anytime a team is behind you would like to see them push for goals. Today in Barcelona, Real Madrid has had to take a first things first approach. It does Madrid no good to try and go for goals if they can't prevent them, and seeing allowing another goals is much more likely than scoring, José Mourinho has gone to a three man line in fron of defense.
With the substitution of Lassana Diarra in for Mesut Ozil, Madrid is playing three deep lying midfielders. The formation we're seeing is Sami Khedira in front of the left channel, Diarra between central defenders, while Xabi Alonso protects the right channel. This second defensive line steps up about 8 yards in front of the real defensive line, giving Real Madrid seven defenders.
In addition, Real Madrid has become cheat in their tackles. Sami Khedira picked up a yellow card in the 75th minute for running through a Barça man. Sergio Ramos had previously swept through David Villa's ankles, earning a card. Xabi Alonso, as the play moved away from Lionel Messi, body charged Barça's star.
It's been a frustrating day for Madrid's defense, so these changes aren't surprising. With Barcelona up 4-0 through 76 minutes, Los Blancos look like they have a red card in them.
Flashback to a year-and-a-half ago are starting to enter the heads of Spanish soccer fans. Then, Barcelona went to the Santiago Bernabeu and posted a 6-2 win on a Real Madrid team that hadn't lost in five months. Now, a Madrid side that's yet to lose under José Mourinho are destined to fall, now trailing 4-0 after 58 minutes thanks to David Villa's second goal.
The latest was similar to the third in that Lionel Messi created the tally, feeding Villa through and past Real Madrid's high line. The difference on this goal was the channel exploited, with Messi feeding Villa as the strike ran between Pepe and Sergio Ramos.
Villa came onto the ball at the edge of the area. With the outside of his right foot, the Clasico debutant poked the ball between Iker Casillas's legs and into goal, giving Barcelona a 4-0 lead.
Since, José Mourinho has made an adjustment, bringing on Álvaro Arbeloa at left back for Marcelo. That change is on top of a defensive substitution made at intermission, taking off Mesut Ozil in favor of Lassana Diarra.
Now into the 65th minute, Barcelona has a shocking 4-0 lead over Real Madrid.
Lionel Messi's spent the first 10 minutes of the second half threading balls through the Real Madrid defense, cutting in from the right side and rolling passes into the box from the edge of the area. In the 55th minute, one of those passes finally brought a result, leading to David Villa's first goal in El Clasico.
Messi had already created a second half chance for Xavi Hernández that the midfielder, forced wide by Iker Casillas, put into the side netting. This time Messi's ball was weighted slightly lighter and, fed through the channel between Ricardo Carvalho and Marcelo, allowed Villa to pull-up from 16 yards out. By that time, Casillas was coming off his line, giving Villa the chance to pick-out the far post for Barcelona's third goal.
As dominant as Barcelona was in the first half, they have been better in the second. Lionel Messi seems more determined, and having determined a way to consistently exploit Madrid's high line, Barcelona is in complete control.
It's hard to get too much content on El Clasico, right? No, I'm not being sarcastic. I know a lot of people out there are complaining about overhype, but I'm not buying it. There are people out there who only follow soccer as a whim, and if the hype surrounding this match tells them that this is one of the three or four matches per year they should devote time to, then it will be their time well spent.
It isn't often you get the clear, agreed, two best teams in the world playing each other. Consider last year's Champions League final.
So, with that out of the way, one man's first half player ratings. Let me know if you see different.
Victor Valdes, 7 - The most difficult task was putting an early Ángel Di Maria chance over the bar. Has done to come cover a couple of dangerous crosses, but he's mostly been on onlooker. Barcelona ended the half with 61 percent of the possession.
Eric Abidal, 6 - Has done his job, kept everything in front of him, but like much of the Barcelona defense, has had little to do.
Gerard Pique, 6 - Like Abidal, has done well with the questions he's been asked, but ultimately was not asked any difficult ones.
Carles Puyol, 7 - At one point was driving into the ground by Ronaldo step-overs, but what came of that play? Nothing. Against Puyol is put in the places where your best defender is expected to succeed, and again on the biggest stage he's coming through.
Daniel Alves, 5 - Has been kept very quiet by the conscious marking of Di Maria, and twice Real Madrid have been able to get dangerous crosses in from his side.
Sergio Busquets, 6 - He been quiet in both defense and attack but has been smart about his positioning and distribution, which is pretty much exactly what you'd want him to do.
Andres Iniesta, 8 - A great half. Active, creative, and taking advantage of an absent Real Madrid midfield. He has been the spark for the Blaugrana, providing the ball that led to the initial goal.
Xavi, 8 - Scored the opener and had one of the last passes on the second goal.
Lionel Messi, 7 - Hit the post early on and has provided some moments of danger, but has otherwise been uninfluential. Earned that uncharacteristic card before half.
David Villa, 8 - Provided the ball for Pedro's goal, made the run that opened up the box for Xavi's goal, and has been close to exploiting Real Madrid's high line.
Pedro, 7 - Right place, right time for the second goal. Like Busquets, that's his job.
Iker Casillas, 5 - Not that every goalkeeper would have done better, but on Barcelona's two guys, he was just another guy. Could have done better on the Villa cross that created Pedro's goal.
Sergio Ramos, 5 - Exploited on the Villa cross and has seen the channel between himself and Pepe nearly exploited a couple of times.
Pepe, 6 - Made a very nice tackle on Messi half way through the match that's distinguished him from Ramos.
Ricardo Carvalho, 6 - Also made a nice play no Messi half way through the first period but is playing closer to five than a seven.
Marcelo, 3 - Made a nice effort to try and stop the first goal, but he ultimately came up short. We beaten badly on the second.
Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso, 4 - This duo has done nothing to try and contain Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta, the players who have dominated today's match.
Mesut Ozil, 3 - In addition to doing a lot of walking when Barcelona's in possession, has been the late jumping into attack. Seems overwhelmed by the occasion.
Cristiano Ronaldo, 7 - He been the most active of the Real Madrid players, putting in a couple of nice crosses for Karim Benzema.
Karim Benzema, 5 - You would like to see him doing more to find space when Ronaldo is in possession.
Angel Di Maria, 8 - Have Madrid's best chance early in the match and did great work defensively.
Lionel Messi provided a glimpse of his trademark magic in the 44th minute, cutting in from the right wing, splitting two Real Madrid defenders before a strong midfield challenge from Ricardo Carvalho won the ball. Messi's momentum carried him through the man, to ground, earning a word of admonition from the veteran defender. And that's where the real fun started.
Messie quickly popped-up to have a word with Carvalho, screaming up and into the ear of the Portuguese defender. When Carvalho raised his arm outward as if to shield Messi away, Messi embellished contact between his face and the defender's shoulder, falling to ground as if he'd been punched.
With memories from ten minutes before still near the surface, the teams were quick to spark more confrontation. The referee, however, had everything under control. After hearing appeals from each side, the referee showed Lionel Messi a yellow card, and play continued.
With the game now at halftime, Barcelona continue to lead Real Madrid, 2-0.
Cristiano Ronaldo has never been thought of as the most mature player, and having given a strong effort over the first half hour only to see his team down 2-0, some frustration seems to be coming through. That may be why the Real Madrid star shoves Pep Guardiola.
It's not as if Ronaldo went over to the Barcelona bench and attacked their coach. The incident came about when a ball went into touch and was picked up by Guardiola. When Ronaldo came to take the ball for the throw-in, Guardiola held the ball away from the player with this right hand. After Ronaldo spend a moment reaching for the ball, Guardiola flicked the ball away, along the sideline. As Ronaldo turned toward the ball, right outstretched right hand gave Guardiola a small shove.
The Barcelona players immediately reacted. Andrés Iniesta came over from midfield to shoved Ronaldo. From there, each player converted on the tussle, with Real Madrid defender Pepe sprinting into the fray from 50 yards away. Pepe, who was once suspended for 10 Liga matches for violent conduct, surprisingly played a peace keeper's role, talking to goalkeeper Victor Valdes when the Barça player looked ready to escalate the confrontation.
Cooler heads prevailed, as they say, with only one yellow card show. Congratulations, Victor Valdes, on winning the caution.
Now through 41 minutes, Barcelona continues to lead Real Madrid, 2-0.
As Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández continue to dominate early in Barcelona, it's worth asking where what's happened Real Madrid midfield. As the attackers work to make the most of the little possession they have and the defenders deal with the rush of Iniesta and Xavi making for their line, we see Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil standing stunned, occasionally feigning pressure on their counterpart, but mostly staring with their heads down, following the ball as it's quickly moved from player to player.
For Khedira and Ozil, this is not only their first Clasico but arguably the most anticipated match they've ever been a part of. Both players had key roles in Germany's World Cup run and were major parts of successful Bundesliga teams. But with every cheer from the 97,000 strong a the Nou Camp the duo is reminded of the different world their careers have entered into.
Barcelona's possession figure remains well above 70 percent. The few attacking chances Madrid have had are a result of sudden transitions, not sustained build-up. Madrid's back-line has seen Iniesta and Xavi allowed to take aim at the channels from 20 yards out. All of these developments point to an absent midfield.
After 32 minutes, Barcelona maintains their 2-0 lead.
Barcelona has Real Madrid on their heels after 18 minutes, with Pedro seeing the Blaugrana to an early 2-0 lead. The Spanish international's goal came after Iker Casillas was unable to stop a low David Villa cross, giving Pedro an easy finish into an undefended Real Madrid net.
The play started with Xavi Hernández in possession 24 years from goal, even with the right post. The midfielder played a diagonal ball out to David Villa on the left flank. There the Barcelona striker took on Sergio Ramos, the Real Madrid right back clutching his hands behind his back to eliminate a hand ball chance.
Villa dribbled at Ramos before getting the defender to shift his weight to his left foot, a sign to make for the byline. From there, Villa drove a ball across the six yard box, through goalkeeper Iker Casillas's hands to an oncoming Pedro, who ran onto the ball for an easy finish into the middle of the net.
Up 2-0 after 18 minutes, Barcelona nearly had a third when Andrés Iniesta perfectly weighted a ball past a high Madrid line, putting Villa in on goal from 30 yards out. The assistant referee's flag raised, the play was called for offside.
Now in the 24th minute, the match remains 2-0, Barcelona.
Four minutes after Lionel Messi tested the woodwork, Xavi Hernández has put Barcelona in front, finishing a deflected Andrés Iniesta pass to give the reigning Spanish champions a 1-0 lead in the 10th minute. The conversion came as a sprawling Marcelo seemed to block the Iniesta pass, with a clever piece of control from Xavi settling the ball enough for him to chip it over the oncoming Iker Casillas.
The movement started with Andres Iniesta bursting down the left flank, cutting in at 22 yards. David Villa bad a near post run, drawing both central defenders as Xavi ran today the middle of goal. A hard right-footed pass was headed right for Xavi near the spot when Marcelo slid in from his left back position, getting an outstretched right foot to the ball. The pass deflected up off the defenders leg, seemingly giving Casillas enough time to come for the ball. But at the last moment Xavi flicked the ball over the `keeper, into the open net, giving Barcelona an early lead.
Now in the 15th minute, the match remains scoreless. Up and down play has seen a chance for Ángel Di Maria and a near-opportunity for Karim Benzema despite Barcelona holding 75 percent of the possession.
Here's something to read into: Cristiano Ronaldo is starting at right wing, opposite Eric Abidal in the first minutes of El Clasico.
Though he's played left wing most often in recent seasons, the acquisition of Ángel Di Maria has meant Ronaldo's spent more time on the right side. Not that Mourinho won't invert his wingers, something that makes this starting deployment something far short of a shock.
Still, let's consider the implications. On the right wing, Ronaldo will be coming onto his weaker left foot when he comes toward the middle of the park. He will also be matched up against the better defender amongst Barcelona's outside backs, leaving Dani Alves paired with Di Maria.
But in the first moments of possession for Barcelona, we can see José Mourinho's intention. Ángle Di Maria is playing very deep on the left side. In the first moments of the match he was closely tracking Alves as the Brazilian jogged forward into attack. Moments later he was even with left back Marcelo even as Barcelona possessed near the center circle. Just now, Di Maria was near his own byline defending against Lionel Messi.
This is a chance from the deployment we saw Mourinho used against Barcelona while with Internazionale. Then, Mourinho used three high attackers to try an pin back Alves, but today he has Di Maria serving as much as a left-sided midfielder as the wing he's used to playing.
As we mentioned in the update Barcelona's starting XI, Gonzalo Higuain is set to miss El Clasico after failing a late fitness test. Real Madrid will start Karim Benzema in his place, though aside from that, José Mourinho's lineup is as expected:
This will deploy as a more 4-2-1-3 version of the current formacion du jour, with the hope being that whomever is on Dani Alves's side will help to pin the advancing Barcelona wing back. If you want an early indication of how this match might turn, look and see how Barcelona's back line adjusts to this. Will they persist in playing Alves in an advanced position when in possession, or will Alves be restrained?
In other news, Ricardo Carvalho and Sami Khedira are both cleared to play, a huge boost of Real Madrid. Those two will be crucial to how Madrid handles David Villa and Xavi Hernández.
Substitutes have also been announced. Here are the benches, courtesy of FourFourTwo:
Higuain is on the bench for Mourinho. He and Pedro Leon are the only attacking players at the coach's disposal. Barcelona's bench is as you'd expect, with Javier Mascherano starting on the sidelines after being bypassed in favor of Sergio Busquets.
We are about 25 minutes from kick-off at the Nou Camp. Stay with SB Nation Soccer as we provide you live updates throughout the course of the season's first Clasico.
We've been waiting for a reliable source to starting confirming starting XIs for today's Clasico, and while we still await word on Real Madrid's lineup, Barcelona's has been revealed. That's if you consider FourFourTwo a reliable source.
No real surprises as much as answers. Throughout the season we've wondered whether Javier Mascherano, signed from Liverpool at the season's onset, would take over Sergio Busquets' role. Today was the first test of Pep Guardiola's depth chart, and the Spanish international remains entrenched. It's little surprise that Busquets is starting, being somebody Guardiola has personally seen through the Barça system. Now it's a question of whether Mascherano will ever unseat Busquets.
Other things to now: It appears Alves will start at his normal right back position, noteworthy only because he started at right wing the last time these two teams met. Eric Abidal returns to the team, starting a left back. But more interesting and of greater joy to us: No injury concerns for Barcelona.
The same can not be said for Real Madrid. While nicked players Gonzalo Higuain, Sami Khedira and Ricardo Carvalho were thought probable for today's match, latest rumors are Higuain is out. Karim Benzema is expected to start as Madrid's number nine.
At 9pm Monday evening, the footballing world will stop in its tracks and focus on events at the Camp Nou as Barcelona and Real Madrid embark on the 161st Clasico. The match is being labeled the match of the millennium in these parts, as the Spanish press live up to their reputation as sensationalists of the highest order. What's certain is that it is without doubt one of the most eagerly anticipated Clasicos in years.
It will be Jose Mourinho first experience of the greatest match in club football, and his first visit back to the Camp Nou since knocking Barcelona out of the Champions League last season as he lead his Inter Milan side to European glory. Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi enter the match in the form of their lives and there is only one point separating the two at this early stage of the season, which only serves to highlight the importance of tomorrows encounter.
The results in the season's two clasicos will inevitably be decisive in the title race as the top two pull away from the rest. Naturally with two teams of this calibre, there are match-winners all over the park and a million different factors that are capable of deciding this monster of a fixture. So as both sides prepare for battle, here is where I believe the match will be won or lost:
Messi v Ronaldo: . We all know what they are both capable of, and neither will phased by a match of this magnitude. With seven goals already to his name in Clasicos, Messi will go into the match with the greater record to his name but on recent form you get the feeling that Cristiano Ronaldo is ready to end his dismal record against Barcelona. In what is likely to be an extremely tight match, one moment of magic from either could settle it.
Defence: On Monday night both defences will be facing two of club footballs most potent attacking forces. Pepe and Ricardo Carvalho have forged a fruitful partnership at the back for Real Madrid this season, while Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol already have nearly three years experience playing together and are widely regarded as one of the top centre-back pairings in the world. Looking at both back fours you would have to say Real Madrid just about come out on top, but there's nothing in it. A momentary lapse in concentration will be costly. It's down to who imposes their rule best on the night.
Stop Xavi: It is no secret that if you can stop Xavi, you can stop Barcelona. Perhaps a little harsh to say when you look at the other players at Barca's disposal, but in many respects true. Cut the supply line to Barca's front three and you nullify a huge amount of their threat. Mourinho will surely give instructions to Sami Khedira to follow Xavi closely. If the German succeeds, and allows Xavi Alonso to enjoy plenty of time and space on the ball, Madrid will be in the money. Fail, and Xavi is more than capable of picking Real Madrid off at will.
The Mourinho Factor: The man is a born winner. Aside from a couple of Champions League semi-final defeats at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho has a near-perfect record in big matches. He did the business when he came to the Camp Nou with Inter Milan last season, so he knows exactly what it takes to defeat Barcelona on their own turf. If he gets his team fired up for the occasion and employs the same defensive tactics that worked so well with Inter, Barcelona could be in for a frustrating evening.
Pedro: I believe that little Pedro could well be decisive tomorrow night. It's natural that all the focus is on players like Messi, Ronaldo, Iniesta, Villa and Higuain. Yet many forget the influence Pedro is capable of exerting on proceedings. With pace to burn and an eye for goal, Pedro scored the all-important second goal for Barca in last seasons clasico at the Bernabeu and with two goals in the midweek win over Panathanaikos, he will enter the match on a high. Real Madrid beware.
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