Real Madrid – Barcelona: Advantage Barcelona In Low Quality Clásico (0-1)

Barcelona were able to take the lead against the run of play after Real Madrid’s early attempts at pressing. After this point, Xavi’s side mostly played in a deep defense and allowed Madrid’s ill-prepared possession structure to take the ball and try to break them down. They were unable to do so, and Barcelona were able to take a win from this Clásico in which neither team impressed.

Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.

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After their eye-catching 5-2 win at Anfield, Real Madrid needed a late equalizer from youngster Álvaro Rodríguez to rescue a draw in the Madrid derby at the weekend. They now faced another big game, as they prepared for the latest edition of El Clásico in the semi-finals of the Copa Del Rey. Carlo Ancelotti lined his side up in a 4-2-3-1 shape here, with Dani Carvajal, Éder Militão, Antonio Rüdiger, and Nacho as the back four. Luka Modrić was the number ten with Eduardo Camavinga and Toni Kroos behind him, while Federico Valverde joined Karim Benzema and Vinícius Júnior in attack.

Barcelona have endured a tough week, being knocked out of the Europa League by Manchester United before falling to a 1-0 defeat at Almería on Sunday. Xavi’s side lined up in their usual 4-3-3 system, with a back four of Ronald Araújo, Jules Koundé, Marcos Alonso, and Alejandro Balde. Sergio Busquets was the number six with Franck Kessié and Frenkie de Jong either side of him, while Gavi started on the left of a front three alongside Raphinha and Ferran Torres.

Madrid press, Barcelona lead

In their 4-2-3-1 shape, Madrid attempted to impose themselves on the game by pressing Barcelona’s deep buildup. The press was not outstandingly constructed, but it did have some moderate successes, and kept most of the game in Barcelona’s half.

Barcelona were building up in their usual 4-3-3 shape which turns into a midfield box with Gavi moving into the left halfspace and the right central midfielder pushing up alongside him, while the left central midfielder remains deep alongside Busquets.

Usually, De Jong is the one to play this deeper role. However, in this game, De Jong was the right central midfielder pushing forward in the halfspace, and it was actually Kessié remaining deeper. Balde looked to push forward on the right, while Araújo at right back was more reserved and Raphinha held the width on that side.

Madrid attempted to press Barcelona early on. 

Much of Barcelona’s buildup ended up going to their left side when they built up from deep. Alonso was more often the free center half who ended up starting the moves, and Valverde would often invert from the right side to pressure him diagonally. Carvajal would then look to engage by pushing up onto Balde to lock Barcelona in on this side.

In midfield, Madrid were fairly man-oriented. Modrić picked up Busquets in his advanced role, while Camavinga would also end up quite advanced due to the deeper position of Kessié. This then left Kroos further back as he tracked De Jong.

Despite Madrid’s efforts in pressing, which made them the slightly better team in the opening stages, it was Barcelona who ended up taking the lead. Camavinga’s wayward pass in his own half allowed Barcelona to attack in transition, and Kessié’s eventual shot ended up being bundled into his own net by Militão, putting Barcelona 1-0 up against the run of play.

Madrid run out of ideas

For most of the rest of the match, Barcelona would be content to play quite a passive game, spending increasing amounts of their time defending in a low block. Madrid had plenty of the ball, but their weak possession game proved costly.

Earlier in the game, Barcelona had also operated with quite a man-oriented press. This led to some interesting permutations in midfield due to Madrid’s midfield movements. For example, De Jong was assigned the marking of Kroos, but due to the German’s propensity to drop back deep into the left halfspace, De Jong found himself needing to move very far away from his midfield teammates. Eventually, De Jong began passing Kroos over to Raphinha in certain situations, so that the midfield could stay more compact.

Kessié’s tracking of Camavinga could also lead to him being pulled away from the left central midfield slot and into Madrid’s number six zone where Camavinga often positioned himself. Meanwhile Busquets was often very deep to mark Modrić who took up quite advanced positions.

These marking duties could disrupt Barcelona’s midfield compactness during the early stages, although Madrid’s possession was not quite incisive enough to exploit this. Once Barcelona were ahead, especially going into the second half, these man-orientations became less strong though, and they instead played in a more zonal 4-1-4-1 shape with a deeper defensive line.

It was against this deeper defending that the long standing issues in Madrid’s possession game became prominent. The lack of clear principles in terms of occupying the space between lines and maintaining width meant that Madrid’s structure was not set up for playing against a strong deep defending scheme.

There were no clear mechanisms for Madrid to get runs into depth or set up combination play. Modrić was often the best at getting between the lines, but also began to drop deeper to try and generate tempo as Madrid’s possession lacked intensity.

Ancelotti’s first change saw Rodrygo replacing Nacho. This meant a move to left back for Camavinga and Valverde going into midfield, so that Rodrygo could play on the right. This change made sense in terms of introducing another attacking option, but of course could never solve the structural issues. The later substitutes of Aurélien Tchouaméni for Kroos and Rodríguez for Modrić are a similar story.

Barcelona continued to defend resolutely for the remainder of the game, with their deep block more than enough of a match for Madrid’s possession game. The game would eventually end without Madrid landing a shot on target, as Barcelona take a 1-0 lead into the second leg.


This was a poor performance from Madrid on the day. Their possession game once they went behind in the match was extremely uninspiring, with tactical weaknesses and a lack of intensity making it difficult for them to find an equalizer.

Barcelona’s low block was good enough, but they did not do a huge amount in this game otherwise. Their goal came from a Madrid mistake against the run of play after Barcelona had been second best for the opening stages. In truth, neither team was very impressive here.

Match plots to be added shortly. 

Josh Manley (21) is a student and aspiring coach. Heavily interested in tactics and strategy in football. Watching teams from all top European leagues, but especially Manchester United and Barcelona. [ View all posts ]


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