LaLiga: Real Madrid twist the knife into Ronald Koeman's Barcelona in 3-1 Clasico win
Real Madrid won the first Clasico of 2020-21 LaLiga season 3-1 at an empty Camp Nou. It is Barcelona's second consecutive league defeat and a third straight winless game.
Real Madrid temporarily moved to the top of the LaLiga standings with a 3-1 win against arch-rivals Barcelona at Camp Nou. An empty 1,00,000-seater Camp Nou. Goals from Federico Valverde, Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric gave Real Madrid the victory with Ansu Fati providing the equaliser early in the first half.
With the win, Real moved two points clear of Real Sociedad who play Huesca on Sunday night. More importantly, Madrid won the first Clasico of the season which could play a role later in the campaign. Barcelona, meanwhile, occupy 10th spot in the standings with seven points from five games.
It is the first time Real Madrid have won at Camp Nou since 2016. For Barcelona, it is another setback and they've now collected just one point from possible nine in last three games with two straight defeats.
A look at the talking points from the first Clasico of the 2020-21 LaLiga season:
Zidane fixes line-up, youngsters create record for Barca
Zinedine Zidane had come under criticism for his starting lineups in the defeats against Cadiz and Shakhtar Donetsk. In opting to give everyone a chance, he allowed the opposition to take control early on and never really recovered. In the Clasico, the Real Madrid manager remedied that. Sergio Ramos returned after recovering from his knee trouble to partner Raphael Varane at centre back. On the right, Nacho Fernandez filled in for injured Dani Carvajal and Alvaro Odriozola. In midfield, Zidane preferred Federico Valverde over Luka Modric for a trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and the Uruguayan. In attack, Marco Asensio lined up with Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr.
For Barcelona, two 17-year-olds formed part of the starting XI — a historic occasion for a Clasico — with Ansu Fati and Pedri. Also creating history was Sergino Dest who became the first American to feature in a Clasico. It was always going to be intriguing if Antoine Griezmann would start and as it turned out, the Frenchman once again sat on the bench with Fati getting the nod. He would come on as a substitute with nine minutes to go but couldn't make any difference.
Statistically, the average age of Barcelona's playing XI was 26.2, while that of Real Madrid was 27.2. It was the turn of the youth to make a mark in the Clasico. And they did.
Real Madrid took the lead early with Valverde beating Neto in goal. In a counter-attack move, Benzema split the gap between Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet for an on-rushing Valverde to fire past the Barcelona goalkeeper.
The lead lasted all of three minutes. On the other side, Alba made the most of some ball watching from Asensio and Nacho to run past the Madrid defence. He then did what he does best — cut it back for a player in the middle. In this case it was Fati to beat Thibaut Courtois. In so doing, Fati became the youngest goal scorer in Clasico history. At 17 years and 359 days, he beat the previous record of 18 years and 95 days set by Real legend Raul Gonzalez.
If two goals in the first ten minutes weren't enough, Lionel Messi and Benzema had chances to take the lead. The first golden opportunity was created by Messi who turned Ramos inside out with a divine piece of skill but was thwarted by Courtois at the near post. Almost instantly, at the other end, Kroos played an inch-perfect cross for Benzema who should have done better with his shot. In the end, though, he only hit it straight at Neto.
Barcelona started better in the second half. They came on with a better plan, maintained their line in midfield and should have taken the lead. First Fati went close, beating Ramos with a little shift of the ball to the right, and then Coutinho had a glorious chance. Scooped up, Coutinho had the time and space to head the ball into the back of the net. The Brazilian, however, could only head it downward into the side netting.
As the game went on, Real Madrid also squandered some gilt-edged chances. Kroos was denied not once, but twice from close range by Neto. Moments later, Ramos had a fantastic opportunity to side foot the ball home but Neto, standing in for the injured Marc-Andre ter Stegen, was once again on the money to prevent another Real goal.
Real have cover issues at right back
Nacho's inclusion was always going to be touch-and-go. A yellow card didn't help him either. Allowing Alba to make one run too many into the box, a yellow card, and not providing much in attack either, the home-grown talent was withdrawn in favour of another: Lucas Vazquez. It proved to be a smart move with Vazquez more assured in defence and reading the game better. It helped that in the second half Asensio helped out in defence to keep the Barca attack at bay.
Penalty or no penalty?
Near the hour mark, Ramos had his shirt tugged while attempting to head the ball from a free kick. The on-field referee ruled it to not be a foul. But VAR urged the referee to have a second look on the monitor and the decision was overturned. Ramos stepped up and converted the spot kick for his 100th Real Madrid goal. A look at the decisive moment suggests the tug of the shirt isn't strong enough to warrant the Real Madrid captain going down. However, it doesn't or shouldn't matter how Ramos reacts to a tug of the shirt. What is contentious, though, is the inconsistency of the referees for same decisions. On many instances, such a foul would not be given. And yet, today, it was. The question and the debate should not be whether this one was a penalty or not, the debate should be over the consistency of the decision-making.
Koeman's substitutions come too late
Modric sealed the deal in stoppage time when Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman had made his substitutions and the game looked to have gone away from them. He twisted and turned inside the box to go past Neto and then dinked the ball in from outside his right foot. All the cards were played by Koeman by then. He sent in Griezmann, Trincao, Ousmane Dembele and Martin Brathwaite in place of Fati, Sergio Busquets, Pedri and Alba between 82nd and 87th minute.
With Real leading 2-1 and Barcelona unable to find a solution to Madrid's resolute defence, it would have made sense if the changes arrived ten minutes earlier. Once again, Barca were guilty of not extending the pitch and allowing the wingers to create space. Coutinho, Alba, Messi, Fati, Pedri and Busquets all were too condensed which made things easier for the Real Madrid defence.
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