By Miguel Delaney
If Wednesday’s Clasico actually made the Spanish title race that little bit more uncertain, it in turn added a touch more certainty to the Champions League.
Nobody watching this 0-0 could have thought either of Barcelona or Real Madrid will have much chance of winning it by May’s final in Istanbul.
That isn’t to write them off completely. There’s still a lot of individual quality and it’s a cup competition where things can suddenly go your way – Madrid know that better than anyone. It’s just that both of these teams would need so much to go their way. And it points to two clubs who have slightly lost their way, or are at least trying to find it again.
So much of this match – a first 0-0 in 17 years – felt a distillation of what they have become. It was actually entertaining and had moments of quality, but there was still a softness to the teams and a lack of truly top-quality intensity. Whatever about the biggest fixture in the world, it no longer felt the most cutting edge, beyond Lionel Messi.
It certainly looked some way off the level of recent Manchester City-Liverpool games, which seem to have taken this match’s status as the highest quality in the world, where the best level of football takes place – and at the fastest speed. There just feels an inefficiency to these two Liga sides in contrast, and less of an idea of the football they want to play. That is a remarkable thing to say about Barcelona in particular.
Some of this perhaps an inevitable transition from periods of such triumph over the past decade. This was undeniably the Clasico with the least to talk about from the pitch, even beyond the total lack of goals. That itself is a reflection of the amount of metaphorical flab in these sides. They are essentially suffering hangovers from so much success. Players who have achieved so much are now so far into their careers that they are past their best, but earning huge wages. That creates a few problems because it makes them hard to get rid of, but then just as hard to hone the squad and bring in fresher blood.
This match screamed that, from Barca’s slower play to Madrid’s dependence on Toni Kroos and Gareth Bale. There are some good young players, of course – not least Federico Valverde and Frenkie de Jong – but they are exceptions within the squads rather than the type of profiles conditioning it. It does feel like both need a clearout, and maybe clear new mindsets.
A certain schism between old and new could be seen in some of the play, particularly from Barcelona. There was one moment in the second half when De Jong received a pass from Luis Suarez and surged towards goal, only to hit a fairly tame shot from distance at Thibaut Courtois. The Uruguayan proceeded to visibly berate him, having clearly expected the return ball. This has been something of a trend at Barcelona that Antoine Griezmann and even David Villa have suffered from. The existing side can be so in sync with each other, and so used to runs and passes coming at specific moments and speeds, that it can be difficult for new arrivals to get attuned. That can mean the established stars – in this case Messi and Suarez in particular – often refuse to give them the ball or get frustrated when they don’t get it back in the way they want.
Whatever the truth, it does mean the side isn’t as the complete collective it might, and that there are gaps in the overall structure. And that’s even before we get to the many complaints with manager Ernesto Valverde. The criticism remains that his passive tactics are at best getting this squad to perform to par.
We don’t really know Madrid’s true level, meanwhile, since we don’t really know Zinedine Zidane’s true level. The suspicion remains he is little more than a “facilitator” of talent as a manager, but then both he and Madrid have overcome what were difficulties at the start of the season.
One thing remains certain, though. Neither manager is exactly pushing the tactical limits of the game in the way Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp. And you might even say there is a band of sides between them and the Clasico two.
That was an unimaginable situation even two years ago. So, however, was a 0-0 in this game. They’re going to have to badly up their game for the Champions League.
Source: Economic Times