By Teo Icliyurek
The 170th Clasico, played out on Sunday, was a thriller for the ages. Not only was it one of the biggest games considering the sides that participated in it, but it was also, most likely, the defining moment of the 2014-15 La Liga BBVA season. In first place with 65 points, the Blaugranas were only 1 point ahead of historic rivals Real Madrid. This game would thus decide whether Real Madrid took back their position on top or whether Barcelona would go 4 points clear, continuing their run of incredible form with 9 wins out of the last 10 played (this includes a 6 game win streak since a loss against Malaga in late February). Real, on the other hand, came into the game in poor form, including losses to Schalke and Athletic, and a draw against Villarreal.
The game started off quite interestingly with the away side (Real Madrid) having an early opportunity in the 11th minute by means of a Karim Benzema cross to Cristiano Ronaldo. The prolific portuguese superstar volleyed the ball towards the goal from less than 3 yards out but hit the crossbar, an accurate summary of Carlo Ancelotti and his side’s recent form. Barcelona responded quickly with Messi’s left-footed cross that Jeremy Mathieu sent to the back of the net. The first half continued with a very Real Madrid-esque goal by Ronaldo (off a majestic back-heel assist by Benzema), and a tap-in miss by Neymar who miss-hit the ball and gave it directly to Casillas.
The second half is where the difference between a championship team and a weak challenger was truly made clear. Real Madrid looked like they were a sunday league side with some pretty good individual talent (not even), but absolutely no structure. First of all, Gareth Bale had a dismal 14 touches on the ball in the second 45. Furthermore, the midfield maestro that is Toni Kroos, despite completing a decent number of his passes, continued his poor form. He looked uncomfortable on the ball, seeming to have to think about every step in the middle of the pitch. More than once he was dispossessed in a vulnerable position for his team. Ronaldo also disappeared in the second half, making any chance of a comeback nearly impossible. The only positives for Real Madrid seemed to come from Iker Casillas and Karim Benzema. The former played what will probably be his last Clasico. His saves against Neymar in the first half and Jordi Alba in the second kept a very active Barcelona attack at bay. Even the Spain captain couldn’t contain the “magisterial” (shout-out to Ray Hudson) goal scored by Luis Suarez. The French striker, on the other hand, was hard at work in creating chances with 2 goal-scoring opportunities, the pass to Ronaldo’s (embarrassing) miss, and the assist. His sublime touch beyond the defense off Dani Alves’ long ball and consequent shot were timed to perfection, essentially taking Real Madrid out back and shooting them in the face. There was also another crack in Real Madrid’s game: the defense. The veteran duo of Sergio Ramos and Pepe looked weak at best. Ramos’ half-a-yard lag on Mathieu led to the first goal while both central defenders were to blame for the second goal as Luis Suarez made a run behind both of them to receive Dani Alves’ assist.
The score could have realistically gone either way from the start. Both Ronaldo and Neymar missed almost guaranteed goals. Nevertheless, Barcelona controlled the midfield throughout and had more clear-cut opportunities squandered (*cough* Neymar *cough*) than did the Madrid side. Despite the wasted chances, the Catalan side had that extra umph needed in a true championship side. Despite not performing very well in what was, overall, a very exciting, yet mediocre, game, Barcelona finished the deal and left Real Madrid trailing by 4 points. Real Madrid finally let their incredible form (which at one point included a 12 game win-streak in all comps) fade away. Toni Kroos and Gareth Bale are not performing well while Ronaldo is having a relatively harder time finding the back of the net than at the beginning of the season. At this pace, Carlo Ancelotti should start looking behind his back hoping that Florentino Perez doesn’t find the Galacticos a new super-manager.