Barça bid farewell to euphoria by drowning in the rain in Madrid (2-1)
Defensive errors in the first half condemn Koeman's side, who drop to third place
BarcelonaAfter a few weeks on a cloud, Barça woke up from the dream they were living in a crazy clásico where the reaction, more with the heart than the head, in the second half, was not enough to avoid the fall. On a dreary night under a downpour at Valdebebas, Real Madrid hit Koeman's team on the back (2-1), who still cannot find the key when it comes to facing the biggest rivals. The derby, which was supposed to be a chance to lift them on their way to the double, turned into a slap in the face for a team that was poorly organised in defence and will have a chance to regain their self-esteem in a few days' time in the cup final. The wound at Valdebebas, however, remains open. And the Liga is getting more complicated, despite the fact that the lead is not far away pending Atletico's game at Betis. But apart from losing the goal average against a Madrid side who have not lost to Barça for two years now, the worst thing was the first-half sensations of a team in which one of the best players was Mingueza, who made them dream of a second-half comeback with his goal.
It was a strange classic in a miniature stadium, with a Barça premiering a special shirt, with the colors of the senyera as if they wanted to make Puyol's spirit their own. It was not the case. In a match in which both teams had important casualties, without Sergio Ramos nor Piqué, Madrid played a role they know by heart. An opponent that has built its identity by focusing on winning no matter what, without getting their ears pricked up if they give up the ball at home. It doesn't matter to Madrid. Zidane, in fact, left on the bench a goldsmith, Marco Asensio, to put in his place a worker, Fede Valverde. The idea was to leave Benzema and Vinicius up front, to cause damage with space. And they succeeded, always finding cracks in the middle of the Barça half, who had the ball but didn't know quite what to do with it. Koeman had sacrificed Griezmann, a star-paid player destined for secondary roles, in favour of De Jong in midfield. But the three-centre defence, with Mingueza, Lenglet and Araujo, was a watering hole for Madrid's attacks, who had four shots on goal in the first half, scoring twice and sending one against the post. The first goal was one of those that hurt the most, when Zidane's team had done nothing. It was the kind that hurts because it was beautiful and not even a possible foul by Lucas on Messi could be protested, as it was a legal action. The Galician's cross was finished off with the spur of the foot by Benzema, who had beaten Araujo in the blink of an eye. If the first home goal was beautiful, the second was not. In this case it also hurt, but for other reasons. Firstly, because it came from a non-existent foul on Casemiro. And then, because luck smiled on Madrid, as Kroos' shot touched two Barça players before entering the goal.
Mingueza to the rescue
Beaten at the back by the home side's counter-attacks and with little success in an attack in which Dembélé was a soul in pain, Barça began to get nervous, protesting a penalty not called on Lenglet and seeing how every Vinicius run on the counter was a danger. Zidane, who doesn't need possession to succeed, had won the tactical game in the first half against Koeman, who changed his formation during the break, bringing back the back four and opting for Griezmann. Under a rainstorm and a strong wind that complicated the game in a stadium without high stands, the classic turned into a Russian roulette in which Madrid was fed up of missing chances to kill on the counter, but in which Barça raised their head when Mingueza, with a strange shot, beat Courtois. Koeman's side, without playing well, refused to accept defeat and were left to rue it as order disappeared from the pitch. Ilaix Moriba, who showed a lot of character, almost scored the goal of blaugrana redemption at the last second with a shot to the crossbar, while Messi, on the day that he tied with Sergio Ramos as the player with more clásicos played (45), crashed against the defensive barrier when he had three very clear fouls in the front. It just did not happen.
Punished by the attacks of a cold and calculating Madrid, carrying the backpack of a bad first half and claiming a possible penalty on Braithwaite at the end, Barça saw how the euphoria that had accompanied them during the last days got off their train to get on the Real Madrid one.