Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona: El Clasico exposes classic errors


The current Barcelona side managed by Tito Vilanova doesn’t show much improvement than that managed by Pep Guardiola. It’s a squad still plagued with problems from the previous era. It’s a team that needs a manager to reinvent new tactics for players and fix the problems inherited from the previous manager. Neither of which Tito has done.

The latest Clasico only exposes Barcelona’s continued shortcomings. Barcelona has a squad capable of winning the domestic league, as demonstrated by its resounding position in La Liga, but unless its continued problems in other areas are fixed, success in elimination-style competitions will not follow.

The squad lacks tactics and manpower; it hasn’t been tweaked to perform optimally against top opposition. The latest Clasico only serves to further highlight Barcelona’s shortcomings.

FC Barcelona, first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions that name is possession football, rhythmic passing, and Lionel Messi. But believe it or not it can all be stopped, even La Pulga. The Argentine’s lackluster performance in the latest Clasico is down to tactics.

Looking at El Clasico that we just witnessed on 1/30/12, Messi was completely shackled by Real Madrid’s defense. The reason is simple – Lionel Messi is an unorthodox striker playing a very orthodox position.

Back in the era of Guardiola, he discovered that shifting Lionel Messi to a “false nine position” produced goals, from January 2012 through December 2012 La Pulga bagged 91 goals in all competitions for club and country.

But his attacking prowess can be stopped, at least for a single game. The reason is Messi needs space, without space he is drowned out. He is neither tall nor very physical like most center forwards.

Real Madrid has taken notice of his weakness. They also took notice of the fact that he is always playing in a central role and therefore, can expect their marking to always be effective for the duration of a match.

They never worry about Messi not being in his usual spot because Barcelona doesn’t switch him around.

Los Merengues make Messi predictable by keeping him in place. Real Madrid marked Messi close, and in numbers. At all times Messi was surrounded by Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira, Raphael Varane and Carvalho the second he received the ball.


The purpose is simple, deny space and force an unorthodox center forward to play orthodox, which he can’t because he doesn’t have the strength or the height. FC Barcelona’s no. 10 was forced to receive the ball with his back to the goal, feeling this pressure, he would turn and attempt to run to or pass to the flank, away from the goal.

Lionel Messi is magic, but running away from goal won’t help him score. His play was effectively nullified by Real Madrid by either being instantly hackled and chased or forced to offload the ball.

Since Messi is not physical he can’t go body to body with any defender, he’ll be pushed aside without much of a challenge, which happened during El Clasico.

He also cannot hold up the ball for long because he’ll lose it, which also happened. If Messi doesn’t pass back he’ll concede possession because his opponents defend in numbers, to the point that he cannot deliver an effective pass forward.

The four time Ballon D’Or recipient attempted numerous passes forward and almost all where intercepted because the marking was too tight and rigid. Real Madrid showed that shutting out the most lethal player in the game is possible.

It’s paramount to Barcelona’s success that Lionel Messi thrives in any given match. Without Messi Barcelona are half defeated. Barcelona should look at Jose Mourinho’s set up and take a cue or two out his playbook.

Cristiano Ronaldo is a physically superior player than Lionel Messi, however, he rarely occupies the center-forward role. The reason is simple, his talent, pace, and strength would be wasted in a too congested area where space comes at a premium.

Even the most physical of strikers cannot beat a defense in Real Madrid’s mold. At best they can hold up the ball or offload it to teammates as Lewandowski would do when Dortmund faced Real Madrid in the Champions League.

The fact that Barcelona are asking Lionel Messi to attempt to play orthodox is a waste of his talents in these matches. They need a center forward to be a center forward, and Tito Vilanova needs to switch up Messi to a less congested area such as the wings, where he has proven be an outstanding goalscorer too.

Down the wings he has space to thrive and can cause damage by pulling markers or attempting shots from angles. As the best player in the world it’s doubtful that it would have a detriment on him, at least not for the odd game or two.

Lionel Messi’s performance wouldn’t be so shocking if Barcelona didn’t depend on him so much for goals. Barcelona’s other weakness that Tito Vilanova never addressed post-Guardiola is, who would score goals besides Messi?

Even if Barcelona has 80% of the possession, just seeding the ball to them doesn’t mean a team is losing the match. It also doesn’t mean a team is playing terrible. One needs the ball to play and since one doesn’t have it there is no way to know how well you are playing.

Conversely, monopolizing possession doesn’t translate to an automatic victory. Some things are clear though. Goals win games, not possession.

If you can shackle Lionel Messi, chances are the other players on Barcelona’s books can score at most a goal in between them. Pedro, David Villa, Alexis Sanchez are almost a non-issue for any team playing Barcelona.

The reason is simple. Who is going to fear strikers who can’t score or don’t play? David Villa hardly plays, so obviously he can’t score if he doesn’t play. Yet David Villa has scored the most goals for Barcelona this season than any other player besides La Pulga.

El Guaje has 12 goals thus far even though he doesn’t play as regularly as Alexis (3 goals) or Pedro (8 goals). It is ridiculous to not put in the top scorer of the Copa Del Rey, David Villa, in a Copa match. It is a must, to face every match with the best squad.

To go into a match against Real Madrid without the man with most goals in a competition is Inept! It is unforgivable.

Even if one dislikes a player for whatever reason, if he can increase ones chances of victory then he should be selected by default. If one lets feelings or opinion dictates the starting XI one is not fit to be a manager.

This game is about results, not pride, ego, in short: feelings. The fact Tito and his assistant deemed David Villa not worth of playing time is a blatant disregard to achieving victory.

If one doesn’t play to win then stay at home or don’t play at all. If one wants to win it’s only logical to incorporate as much firepower as possible without tinkering with the balance of the squad. Shifting Andres Iniesta to left-wing might add creativity but he certainly is no natural goalscorer, David Villa, however, is.

Cesc Fabregas, although he got on the score sheet demonstrated he is no forward. On a one-on-one with Real Madrid keeper Diego Lopez he took too long to execute his shot inviting Raphael Varane to tackle him. He also demonstrated his lack of striker instinct by not fending off Varane and allowing him to get beside him.


Any center forward would of given the young defender no chance by simply extending their arm over Varane’s chest, thus blocking him from a slide tackle, or forcing him to stay behind and attempt a risky lunge from behind which could result in a penalty or would allowing the shot to go on.

It’s simple, but it makes a world of difference between a goal, a game won, and no goal and a game draw, a cup tie wide open.

Pedro who has struggled in the ongoing season was also uncharacteristically forgiving. Arguably squandering the best chance Barcelona had at victory. Completely left alone with Lopez, instead of opting to shoot from range, he closed in on the Madrid custodian only to shoot wide.

These are split-second decisions that can ultimately cost silverware. One is disinclined to believe that had David Villa been afforded even one of these chances he wouldn’t of buried it. El Guaje has scored more goals than these men with less playing time, which only means he’s more effective in front of goal.

As for Alexis Sanchez, his late introduction was a waste of a substitution, producing no positive effect for Barcelona and its target of returning to the Camp Nou victorious.

Frankly, Alexis has nothing to offer to Barcelona this season. He has been added to the squad to lessen the goal-scoring burden on Lionel Messi which he has not.

To select him ahead of David Villa is stupidity at its finest. Tito doesn’t see it that way so he can be satisfied with his draw and hope for the best at home. But, with this defense, the home tie will be anything but a stroll.

Last but not least, there’s another fatal flaw in FC Barcelona’s tactical scheme. Tito Vilanova knew very well that Barcelona had a defensive problem when he inherited the team from Pep Guardiola. Tito Vilanova’s decision to buy a defensive midfielder, Alex Song, instead of a genuine center-back has been nothing short of horrendous.

Thus far he prefers to let his €19m singing warm the bench than to afford him any meaningful match experience. The other defensive midfielder turned makeshift center-back, Javier Mascherano, has also not been trusted to play in the Clasico, and for good reason. He lacks defensive abilities, and has scored plenty own goals to not be entrusted with playing time.

For crucial ties such as this Clasico, Tito has trusted Carles Puyol, a reliable but aging center-back to marshal the defense alongside a resurgent Gerard Pique. The two formed a compact and more reliable partnership than any of the various incarnations fielded by Tito Vilanova this season.

The duo saved Barcelona throughout the match from almost certain goals. But even so, the defense is not impregnable as a goal was still allowed. This leaves the tie between Barcelona and Real Madrid wide open. But had the defense managed a clean sheet this tie would be much easier for Barcelona to take on home soil.

From the time of this writing till the next Clasico one can only hope that Gerad Pique and Carles Puyol maintain good health. It only takes the memory of last year’s injury crisis to see how aversely this squad can be affected by even a singly injury.

Any injury to FC Barcelona’s defense can easily shift the balance of power in this tie in Real Madrid’s favor.

As it stands the Blaugrana’s defense struggles to contain any opponent, let alone Real Madrid, at bay for 90 minutes. Losing any genuine defender at this time could cost FC Barcelona the Copa del Rey Final appearance.

Tito Vilanova really should have prepared better for this situation but he didn’t. He didn’t even consider any player during the winter transfer window. This could prove costly as the season wears on and the challenges become greater.

The only hope that Tito Vilanova and FC Barcelona have going for them in terms of defensive reinforcements at the moment is Eric Abidal’s speedy recovery. But who knows if he is able to play at his pre-transplant level?

As things stand Real Madrid is one goal closer to victory than FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou, even if the Blaugrana secured the all-important away goal.

Tito Vilanova needs to reinvent the wheel with his assistant, get the results they need, and start managing this squad in the correct fashion. Instead they’re just making classic errors which have never turned out well for FC Barcelona.

It’s time to think originally, to make this the Tito Vilanova era, it’s time to step out of Pep Guardiola’s shadow (and errors) and fine-tune this squad to perfection. Tito needs to put his own imprint on FC Barcelona but he seems content to maintain the squad as he inherited it from Guardiola, which is an error.

Follow the author of this article, Jose, on Twitter @BlaugranaJ

Arrow to top