For one last time this season – concretely for the 5th time during the 2022/23 campaign – the eternal rivals, Barcelona and Real Madrid face each other in the greatest battle of football. It may feel too much for many, but let’s just sit back and witness this majestic battle as it should.
But before doing so, let’s take a look back at the Clásicos of the recent past because it still augurs excitement for today’s game.
This special spring dump of the Clásicos – despite the initial worry that it will depreciate the value of such a magnificent duel between the greatest of Spain – brought different stances, and approaches from the two opposing rivals, and accordingly, depict different images, unfolding different matches before our very eyes. Just one thing was common: Barcelona won.
But, Xavi’s men did fantastically to deal with the different problems they had to face. If we take one more step back, during the winter, there was another encounter between the two in the final of the Supercopa, which brought the smooth, sublime victory of the Blaugranas, after which the Catalans lifted their first trophy since Xavi Hernández took over.
On March 2nd, the Catalans had to deal with a much more difficult task. Unlike in January, when they had their gala XI available, giving the whole world a taste of the perfect Xaviball, Barcelona missed some of their main protagonists, key players whose absence was palpable in their play. Without Pedri González, Robert Lewandowski, and Ousmane Dembélé, their options became much more limited, but they managed to adapt well.
Putting the questionable importance of an Arabic Supercup aside, it’s true that Real Madrid really played at a much higher level in that game than they did back in January. They had intensity, pressure, and control for most parts of the game, but the resilient Blaugrana defense stood their ground well against the predominant waves of attack, and as they managed to slip out of this pressure a few times, they posed a greater danger for Courtois’s goal, and eventually, sealed the win through one such counterattack (and an unlucky touch from Militão).
The second game was probably the most important one as it could potentially decide the fate of the league title, whether the Blaugranas can build up a 12-point lead atop, virtually impossible to catch, or can Real come back and make the title race open again, putting pressure on their leading rivals. Thankfully for us, the first scenario materialized.
The start wasn’t easy for the Catalans, conceding an unlucky own goal from a deflection off Araújo’s head, but it was clear from the start that they want to take the initiative and dominate with the ball, playing in their familiar, proactive style. The available personnel made it easier to do so as they had Christensen and Lewandowski back, but still, Pedri and Dembélé were missing from the key cogs of the Blaugrana machine.
And their relentless attempts bore fruit in the dying seconds of the first half as Sergi Roberto found the equalizer just before going to the lockers. This probably added a big positive push for the second half, which was very much needed as Ancelotti’s substitutions changed the picture of the game.
Real became increasingly dangerous in the final third, and besides ter Stegen’s impeccable saves, a few centimeters, and some luck was also needed to survive without conceding. And again, Kessié came clutch with a last-minute winner to seal the deal for the Blaugrana.
But what now? begs the question. We have seen Barcelona performing at either extremities, be it with a rather uncharacteristic, reactive approach based on a solid defensive display or a typical, proactive game that we are used to seeing from the Catalan giants.
The importance of the game can also affect the stance of the team as well as the advantage coming from the victorious first leg from the Bernabéu. Moreover, the list of injuries didn’t shorten, as now Frenkie de Jong and Andreas Christensen are also out of availability aside from the long-injured Pedri-Dembélé duo.
These signs could mean that deploying a more conservative plan again is justified, but based on the example of the league game, where the Catalans also had a 9-point advantage over the Blancos, Xavi’s team didn’t stay back and played their own game, with success. So, nothing can be taken for granted, but all these aspects should be taken into consideration when making the decision about the plan one will follow. Hopefully, ours will prove to be the winning one.