Real Madrid 2-2 Barcelona: What can Liverpool learn from El Clasico?
Sunday’s highly eventful Clasico, which finished as a 2-2 draw, showed Real Madrid at their best and worst, giving Liverpool fans reason for both optimism and concern for the Champions League final in Kiev on Saturday, 26 May.
The chief hallmarks of this strange season for the Bernabeu giants have been inconsistency and unpredictability – in terms of team selection, tactics and overall quality of performance, and all those ingredients were on display in a frantic night at the Nou Camp. At times Los Blancos were simply excellent, especially in the final half hour of the opening period when they deservedly equalised through the always dangerous Cristiano Ronaldo, having taken complete control of the game as Barca were unable to keep hold of possession or mount threatening attacks.
But Real ended up having to settle for a share of the spoils after also showing their flaws both individually and collectively, littering their performance with mistakes and occasionally allowing their team shape to become very ragged – despite playing with an extra man for 45 minutes after Sergi Roberto’s sending off just before the break.
Zidane was missing his first-choice right-back Dani Carvajal, but that gave him an opportunity to welcome back the versatile and underrated Nacho after injury. Nacho’s importance is often overlooked – he can play anywhere across the backline and Zidane would have no hesitation in starting him against Liverpool if any of the first-choice back four are injured. However, on this occasion Nacho looked understandably rusty in his first start for more than a month, and he was replaced for the final stages by Lucas Vazquez – usually a winger – after getting a yellow card and becoming a dismissal risk. Carvajal, who has a hamstring injury, would significantly improve the team if he returns for the Liverpool meeting.
The established trio of enforcer Casemiro behind ball players Luka Modric and Toni Kroos was selected by Zidane for this game, with versatile Isco injured and wingers Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez on the bench along with energetic Croat Mateo Kovacic. This was a return to the midfield system used by Zidane for the majority of games during his first season in charge, but less often employed recently as Casemiro has found himself overlooked in favour of Kovacic in several big games, including the second leg against Bayern Munich.
Sunday’s Clasico was a rare outing – perhaps even the last – for the ‘BBC’ forward line, which has been seen with increasing infrequency since Gareth Bale dropped down the pecking order to spark speculation that he will leave Madrid in the summer. This game was a return to that formation but with a tweak, as Karim Benzema operated from a starting position on the left of the front three to allow Ronaldo to maintain his new role through the middle – although there was plenty of fluidity so their positions were largely interchangeable.
How can Liverpool make use of all this intel in the final?