Barcelona’s 3-1 defeat at the hands of Real Madrid in the Camp Nou has raised numerous talking points about both club’s future trajectories and the fixture’s prestige in world football.
1. El Clásico maintains its reputation
Despite being lauded as one of the most important and watched football fixtures in the world, numerous pundits had already labelled Saturday’s match as ‘the worst El Clásico’ prior to kick-off. Barcelona and Real Madrid’s early exit from Europe last season and slow start to this year’s edition of La Liga left fans wondering whether the fixture could live up to expectations. Additionally, the loss of key players from both teams over the last few years, including Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid and Luis Suárez from Barcelona, increased uncertainty on whether El Clásico would still offer the same level of quality that supporters were used to seeing in the early 2010s. However, the fixture did not disappoint. Those who tuned in were rewarded with all the drama that is intrinsic to the biggest game in Spanish football: in addition to witnessing Messi’s individual brilliance, there were four goals and a controversial penalty decision. The game itself was close and exciting, nothing short of what we expect from El Clásico.
2. El Clásico’s new generation are making this fixture their own
Over the past decade, the contest has been overshadowed by the Ronaldo-Messi rivalry, which both increased viewership and also put the pressure on the fixture to entertain. However, Ronaldo’s departure from Real Madrid and Messi’s bust-up with the Barcelona board has allowed other players to take the limelight. Fede Valverde’s early goal was swiftly answered by 17-year-old Ansu Fati’s close range finish. While Messi’s phenomenal talent was on display and Gerard Piqué played a crucial role in thwarting Real Madrid’s attacks, it was 19-year-old Sergiño Dest’s ability to stop Vinícius from making a significant contribution to the game that caught the eye of analysts. While the old guard have once again proven why they play for these two teams, the next generation of El Clásico players have already started developing their rivalries on the pitch (the Vinícius-Dest battle is certainly looking interesting). The young players we saw on display over the weekend will no doubt continue to define this fixture over the next few years and thus help maintain El Clásico’s reputation for the decade to come.
3. Barcelona are onto something special, but it may take years to reap the rewards
Barcelona displayed moments of team intelligence and excellence on the edge of Real Madrid’s box that were reminiscent of years past. The possessive tactics and the reliance on quick short passing to find an opening in the opposition’s defence were akin to Guardiola’s tiki-taka style that brought the club so much success between 2008 and 2012. However, the availability of Ansu Fati upfront provides an added dimension of speed into this style of play, which Guardiola did not have at his disposal during his tenure. However, while Ronald Koeman’s tactical thinking was visible, the team lacked the ability to execute it. Barcelona struggled to assert their dominance over Real Madrid for significant periods of time, while the synergy between players was lacking. It could take months or even years to develop this form of football, which may involve acquiring specific players that Barcelona are not in the position to do so financially. Yet in the long term interest of the club, a few alterations are needed to be made. Throughout the game Sergio Busquets looked like a shadow of his former self; he was off the pace as Real Madrid quickly went through the phases in the middle of the park. While Frenkie de Jong is one for the future, the uncertainty over Messi’s future will also raise question marks whether Koeman will be able to implement his philosophy.
4. Real Madrid are becoming more reliant on Sergio Ramos year-on-year
Since his arrival at the club in 2005, Sergio Ramos has been a crucial tenet of Real Madrid, both on and off the pitch. The Andalusian leads the team from the back, directing the defence and thus helping the team maintain its concentration and shape. His vocal presence inspires the team to push for results. The Madrid captain’s absence could not have been more obvious against Shakhtar Donetsk. Just like in their Champions League fixture against Manchester City in February, Éder Militão failed to fill the void left by Sergio Ramos as Real Madrid practically collapsed defensively in the first half of the game against the Ukrainian outfit, conceding three goals in the process. During El Clásico number 245, he made vital blocks and won a penalty – which he duly converted – all the while helping the team maintain its structure. Sergio Ramos’ importance both as a player and captain raises questions whether Real Madrid will be able to find a worthy successor in the coming years, as previous attempts to replace him when he is not available have been futile.