Ruthless Attacking, Superior Midfield Gives Real Madrid 3-1 Win Over Barcelona

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates his sides equalizer in the clasico


Hey guys Chief Siddharth here. This new post is going to be a tactical analysis on the recently concluded clasico between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu. Sit back and relax as the match is dissected and analysed to the smallest point.


As we all know, Real Madrid ran out as winners with a 3-1 scoreline in their favour. Neymar opened the scoring in the fourth minute with an accurate shot from the edge of the box. Real piled on the pressure from there, before Cristiano Ronaldo inevitably scored the penalty conceded by Gerard Pique in the 35th minute. Real then heaped pressure onto the Barcelona defense, until Pepe and Benzema converted chances in the 50th and 61st minute respectively, which confirmed the result. 

Starting Lineups

Carlo Ancelotti sprung no surprises. James Rodriguez played on the right of a midfield four in reality, as Real Madrid stocked up with a 4-4-2 shape.

Leaving Ivan Rakitic on the bench, and playing Jeremy Mathieu as a left back were unusual decisions by Luis Enrique.

Overview: The usual case in our modern clasicos is that Barcelona play their possession football, while Real Madrid look to counter attack. This was the trend for the majority of the game.

The first half was filled with Barcelona’s possession play but Real pressed harder in the second half.

While Barcelona had 58% possession, a notable fact is that this is less than they are accustomed to when they take on their arch-rivals. In fact, 60-65% possession is the norm in these matches. The reason for this? Under Carlo Ancelotti Real Madrid have become more of a possession based side. They still retain the world’s best counter attack developed by Jose Mourinho, but are not too reliant on it. This resulted in more time on the ball.

Barcelona’s midfield trio of Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Sergio Busquets still held possession in their usual manner. But Real Madrid’s younger midfielders including Isco, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and James Rodriguez simply pressed well, resulting in more possession for Real.

The picture below shows that in the second half Barcelona and Real Madrid shared possession almost evenly. Barcelona edged out Real, with 30 more passes, which is relatively less when compared to previous clashes.

Real Madrid’s midfielders outrunning the Barcelona midfielders is the reason for this, especially in the second half.

Barcelona were robbed of 5 minutes worth of the ball maybe, but this did not decide the game. In fact, the game was also decided by aerial duels.

Barcelona decided to play Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano and Jeremy Mathieu, effectively giving them more aerial support. But whether or not this changed the domination of aerial duels can be seen in the stats, with Barcelona players winning a mere 5 of 13 aerial duels against their counterparts.

Despite starting more center backs, Barcelona were inferior aerially due to the fact that Real boasted players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe, and Sergio Ramos. Others in midfield were also superior aerially when compared to their Barcelona counterparts.  

Real Madrid clearly dominated in the air, and had more possession than usual. But the team effort is not always what counts. Certain individuals turned the tide of this game.

James Rodriguez

The Real Madrid man was a serious problem for the Barcelona players. Interceptions, tackles, passes, shots, take-ons, he did everything. The Colombian star teleported around the pitch, albeit primarily on the right side. He didn’t ignore his defensive duties either.

It is worth noticing Rodriguez’s sublime work rate. He caused problems for the unusually deployed Jeremy Mathieu while occasionlly tormenting Dani Alves who had a nightmare of a game. Provided the deft set up for Karim Benzema’s goal as well.

Key Element: He was part of the midfield which outnumbered that of Barcelona. Neymar also did not help in pressing Rodriguez, which then resulted in more space and more time on the ball for James as he was not marked with much emphasis by Andres Iniesta.

To sum up Rodriguez’s performance, you only have to look at the build up to Karim Benzema’s goal. 

Barcelona wins a corner. A ground cross intercepted to James Rodriguez. He clears it. The ball goes in between Iniesta and Busquets. Isco challenges them, and gets the ball. He gives the ball to Ronaldo who then gives it to Rodriguez who had run from one box to another, who sets up Benzema for a goal.

His positioning was also excellent, proving to be exactly where Barcelona didn’t want him to be. Overall, Rodriguez proved to outrun his Barcelona counterparts. Barcelona failed to track his runs properly, and that was one of the reasons their defense was in shambles.

Haven’t seen the third goal? Check it out here

Karim Benzema

Plays second fiddle to the best player in the world, but boy did he put in a good performance. Benzema showed energy and persistence which reaped him his rewards. He hit the post with a solid backwards header, and then smashed the post again with a cracking volley. Unlucky to score then, but he eventually scored later.

Key Element: Javier Mascherano was one of Barcelona’s center backs. Pique was the other one, and had his hands more than full, quite literally, with Cristiano Ronaldo. This left Mascherano with the job of containing Karim Benzema. However, it is worth noting that Benzema is stronger and physically more complete than Mascherano. Benzema persistently utilized this, and Barcelona failed to change something when Benzema exploited Mascherano limitlessly. Add in Jeremy Mathieu at center back and perhaps Benzema may not have been able to so successfully dominate his zone.

Benzema’s header, volley and goal characterize how his chemistry with Ronaldo, and major size advantage over Mascherano impacted this match.

Lionel Messi

If Benzema was a beastly predator , Messi was a soul searching minnow. Failing to have much impact on the game, Messi had two distinct halves.

The big difference in his halves is visible. While in the first half, he dropped in to midfield, completed passes and made one run in which he missed a great chance, the second half was far different. He preferred to stay deep and was more of a target man, as Suarez’s influence waned and Barcelona’s midfield was outfought more consistently.

Key Element: He failed to beat the Ramos-Pepe combination, and lacked creativity throughout the night. This was despite less marking from Toni KroosMessi simply did not work hard enough to create chances.


Key Element: He worked tirelessly all night, and never gave up from seemingly dead situations. This culminated in the third goal, where he hounded Iniesta and Busqets, before teeing off to Cristiano Ronaldo. While not always, his opponent was usually Andres Iniesta. 

Compare Isco’s dashboard to Andres Iniesta. Iniesta completed more passes, but Isco dribbled more, made more tackles and took better shots. Efficient Isco summed up Real’s day as a whole.


Overall, it was clear that Real’s players outfought Barcelona by working harder on and off the ball. Lightning fast counters, and sweet possession play were on show. Barcelona’s midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta are simply not effective enough. Collective defending and a few moments of brilliance gave Real the win. Carlo Ancelotti’s side looks solid ahead of the business end of the season. The win was even better considering Gareth Bale’s absence.

Check out the highlights. Ciao