Each season the El Clasico is built up as the ultimate footballing clash, two footballing titans locking horns to gain the bragging rights in La Liga and potentially assert their dominance on European football. In a fixture unusually played at 3.15pm (GMT) in order to attract the ever important Asian and Central American TV audiences, meaning it was not available on any British television packages, the match still had a meteoric build up across social media.
Prior to kick off Real Madrid were perhaps favourites to win the fixture given their successful start to the season, starting the game with a 6 point advantage over Catalan rivals Barca who have faltered in recent weeks since their Champions League defeat against Manchester City. Furthermore, Real’s derby victory over city rivals Atlético Madrid in a 0-3 battering away from home at the Vicente Calderón undoubtedly has made them the team to beat this season.
From the outset Real Madrid looked to be aiming to recreate their performance from the victory at Atlético, naming a side which heavily intended to catch Barca on the counter-attack, adopting a 4-3-3, but however were missing Gareth Bale who is out until January. On the other hand, on paper Barca had much the stronger side, featuring their strongest defence of Sergi Roberto, Mascherano, Pique and Alba who have individually missed much of the season through injury or suspension. Likewise, in attack the terrifying trio of Neymar, Suarez and Messi always pose a threat even to the best of defenders like Real’s Ramos and Varane.
Despite the spectacular built up prior to kick off, the first half can best be described as lack lustre and hardly a patch on the excitement of the Premier League’s marquee fixture of Chelsea’s victory over Manchester City. Despite the plethora of stars on show, there were few moments of brilliance or entertainment with the exception of two penalty opportunities, of which neither were given.
In the second minute of the game, a surging run into the box from Real youngster Lucas Vasquez was upended by a clattering challenge from former Liverpool defender Javier Mascherano, seemingly not winning any of the ball and clipping Vasquez’s standing leg. The referee Carlos Clos Gomez and his assistants had other ideas however and adjudged that Mascherano’s challenge didn’t merit a Real Madrid spot kick, much to the dismay of the Real players and the neutral viewers at home. Similarly Barca had their appeals for a penalty waved away on the 43rd minute mark when Dani Carvajal seemingly handled the ball from a Messi cross, again the referee not awarding a penalty.
Apart from the penalty decisions, little else happened in the opening half apart from a few sporadic attempts from Real Madrid, mainly Lucas and Ronaldo, but the duo’s efforts did not rattle Marc Andre Van ter Stegen in the Barca goal. The best goal scoring opportunity arose from a Ronaldo low cross from the left hand side of the penalty box, which was nearly turned into his own goal by Barcelona defender Gerard Pique.
Where the first half had been a midfield dual between the feisty Kovacic, Modrid and Isco against the maestro Sergio Busquets and his partners in crime André Gomes and Ivan Rakitic, the second half was all about the forwards. Six minutes into the second half a long ball aimed towards Neymar was latched onto by the Brazilian who rounded right back Dani Carvajal before tumbling to the ground from the slightest of touches earning Barca a free kick twenty yards to the left of Los Blancos goal. Neymar took the free kick, pounding a well driven cross into the far post and the ever mercurial Uruguayan Luis Suarez leapt over the tame jump of Varane to head Barca in front. Although Barcelona were lucky to gain a free kick in the first place, Real will feel equally aggrieved with Suarez’s goal after replays showed Suarez standing a yard offside before nodding home.
Suarez’s 9th La Liga goal of the season proved a major confidence boost for Barca, spurring them on to create countless more attacks and dominate possession. After Ivan Rakitic’s substitution for Andres Iniesta Barca appeared seemingly impossible to deal with and Real’s manager Zinedine Zidane was forced to bring on midfield terrier Casemiro in order to break up Barca’s midfield dominance. When Barca manager Luis Enrique looks back at the match he will be reeling at dropping two points, given the ascendancy of their second half display.
Barca’s two best opportunities came from two sublime pieces of individual skill. An Andres Iniesta pass fed Neymar down the left of Real’s box, before the Brazilian skipped inside onto his favoured right foot, passed Dani Carvajal, and unleased a strike over Keylor Navas’ crossbar with the goal gaping. The second chance was less rudimentary than Neymar’s opening, however when Lionel Messi is through on a 1v1 with Navas you would expect the net to bulge. Not this time however! A pin point, deliciously accurate Iniesta through ball took both Real centre half’s out the game leaving Messi with only the keeper to beat, but his scuffed shot wide left Real still with the chance of getting something out of the game.
With two minutes left of normal time, Madrid looked to have crafted the equaliser only for a Jordi Alba’s block preventing a Ronaldo header from trickling over the line. After clearing the ball from the subsequent corner, Barca conceded an innocuous foul providing a final opportunity for Real to equalise. On precisely the 90th minute, Luka Modric whipped in a deliciously weighted ball and Madrid Captain Sergio Ramos found himself in acres of space, leaping like a salmon powering the ball home, leaving the majority of the 98,000 supporters in the Camp Nou silent.
The final moment of drama came in the final minute of stoppage time after a Barcelona corner was punched out by Costa Rican Goalkeeper Keylor Navas. However, Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets, not renowned for his goal scoring prowess, dinked a looping header over the onrushing Navas from outside the box, only to be denied by a last gasp clearing header from Raphael Varane.
Real Madrid will undoubtedly be delighted with the point gained from this fixture, thus maintaining their 6 point lead over their Catalan rivals. On the other hand, Barcelona will no doubt feel down hearted by the result, seeing the fixture as a missed opportunity to gain ground on a very strong Real Madrid start to the season.
Final Score: Barcelona 1 – 1 Real Madrid.
Goal Scorers: Luis Suarez (53), Sergio Ramos (90).
Referee: Carlos Clos Gomez.
Max Chesterton’s Man of the Match: Sergio Busquets.