LaLiga: Lionel Messi, rest of Barcelona, run into a door called Casemiro at the Bernabeu
Casemiro's performance in the Clasico, to contain Lionel Messi, suggests the showing against Manchester City was only a blip for the remarkable player.
Real Madrid overturned a meek first half performance against Barcelona to win the Clasico 2-0
Casemiro played a crucial role in keeping Barcelona talisman Lionel Messi quiet
The Brazilian was able to dispossess Messi on multiple instances and didn't allow much time to weave his magic
Real Madrid players posed for a photo inside the Bernabeu locker room after the 2-0 win over Barcelona with commemorative jerseys. Isco for his 300th game, Lucas Vazquez for his 200th and Karim Benzema for his 500th. Isco shared it on his Instagram with the caption, "The Squad." The picture captured the joyous night in Madrid after a tough week in which they lost to Levante and Manchester City.
Pocos jugadores viven el fútbol como él,
pocos sienten la camiseta como Casemiro. pic.twitter.com/R0WiPSWM8j
— Fútbol en Movistar+ (@MovistarFutbol) March 1, 2020
But it couldn't match the raw emotions left on the field by Casemiro. As referee Mateu Lahoz blew the full-time whistle, the Brazilian went down on his knees, pushed his head on to the pitch, in prayer as much in relief, punched the ground in delirious euphoria as Lionel Messi, Jordi Alba, and Sergio Busquets walked by in the background.
Vinicius Jr and Mariano Diaz have grabbed the headlines and expectedly so in a sport that lauds the goalscorers and attackers more than those who do the dirty work. More than the defensive midfielders who have to do the dogged business of trying to dominate the area between attacking midfield and the backline. Casemiro did this job splendidly in the Clasico, a far cry from a horror show against City in mid-week, and he won't mind not getting the headlines.
Prior to kickoff, a Barcelona-based Mundo Deportivo journalist shared an image of the Bernabeu pitch with the caption: "Lionel Messi's garden, ready for the Clasico." And he wasn't entirely wrong in calling it that. In the last 21 games at the home of their fierce rivals, Messi had scored 15 goals including in five straight matches.
But on Sunday night, the Argentinian had a largely silent time. For someone who is capable of drifting into the smallest of spaces, creating something out of absolutely nothing and in splitting open gaps that seemingly don't exist, Messi had no real contribution. In the first half, he dropped deep to see plenty of the ball and exchanged passes with the rest of the midfield. In the 38th minute, he found some space and moved in to a lob pass by Busquets but the snap shot was saved by Thibaut Courtois.
From then on, wherever Messi seemed to have found himself in a decent position, a Real Madrid shirt — mostly Casemiro — was there to close things down. In the 73rd minute, as Messi received a short pass from Busquets, it presented an opportunity to let fly from outside the box but it was immediately shut down with a sublime sliding tackle from the Brazilian.
thaaat tackle maaaan Casemiro kinda raped Messi's soul with it pic.twitter.com/Z7B4pdCPMX
— mohamed (@iMzv90) March 1, 2020
Seconds later, Frenkie de Jong halted a Real Madrid move and played Messi through for a glorious chance. On another day, with a more confident Messi, without the shadow of Casemiro around him, he would have scored. But on the night, his hesitance allowed Marcelo to catch up and Raphael Varane to team up to deny the opportunity.
Marcelo with the masterclass
— Ab Richard (@IfrekeRichard) March 1, 2020
As per Whoscored, Messi had just 86 touches in the match, was dispossessed three times, more than his average in league and Champions League this season. Of the seven tackles that Casemiro attempted on Leo, he was successful thrice and intercepted three balls meant for the Argentine.
As the Barcelona bus made its way out of Madrid, it is with the knowledge that Messi hadn't scored against Real Madrid since 2018, at the Bernabeu since 2017 and most jarringly for Barcelona, they had been unable to score in either leg of the Clasico in a league season for the first time since 1975. A good 45 years ago. But most importantly, with the knowledge that Real Madrid had wrestled back the league leaders tag from two-time consecutive champions and Casemiro had played a blinder in ensuring that.
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Atletico Madrid's win was a significant psychological boost on the back of slipping up for the first time in nine games at home to Celta Vigo earlier this week.
What to watch in European football this weekend: Lionel Messi-led Barcelona at Sevilla; Porto hope to stop runaway leaders Sporting and an 'Olympico'
Sevilla and Barcelona clash at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on Saturday, with fourth-placed Julen Lopetegui side two points behind third-placed Barca while boasting a game in hand.
Barca, who are third and 11 points behind the leaders, face Alaves at home later on Saturday before Real Madrid host Valencia on Sunday.