The El Clasico Trilogy - Part 3: Real Madrid's La Liga Hopes Come to an End
Barcelona won the final El Clasico of the season by a score of 1-0. This victory was a massive step for Barcelona towards the La Liga title as they now find themselves 12 points ahead of 3rd place Real Madrid and 7 points ahead of 2nd place Atletico Madrid. With only 12 games remaining it is very difficult to see anyone catching up to Barcelona. For Real Madrid any hopes they may have had of winning La Liga are now gone as this was a must win game for them.
In my opinion Barcelona played much better in this El Clasico then in the previous one despite winning the previous one 3-0. They were able to create many more chances this game and controlled the game for longer periods of time. Messi played much better and his impact was felt. He had a couple of good goal scoring opportunities and also created several for the players around him. Rakitic got the only goal of the game in the 26th minute with an excellent finish from a tight angle. It must be said that from Real Madrid’s point of view he got in too easily and Ramos should have done a better job of tracking the run and not letting Rakitic get goal side of him. Ter Stegen was once again solid when called upon and Pique had a very good game at the back. Getting clean sheets in back to back away games against Real Madrid will give Barcelona’s back line plenty of confidence, especially having accomplished this in the absence of Umtiti who has been a key part of their defense over the past 2 seasons.
Lack of finishing was once again the culprit of Real Madrid’s downfall this game. They managed to create a total of 17 shots, which is not bad, but were only able to put 3 on target and inevitably once again failed to find the back of the net. Real Madrid’s inability to replace even a portion of Ronaldo’s goals through summer acquisitions has severely hurt them this season. Their forwards have also failed to step up to cumulatively compensate for some of the goals. Benzema has been better and has improved his scoring output, but the same cannot be said for Bale and Asensio, and Isco has barely even had an opportunity under Solari. A quick scan of their results this season will show they were held scoreless a disproportionately large number of times by Real Madrid standards, and let us not forget that they experienced the longest goal drought in the club’s history earlier this season.
A major talking point for Real Madrid surrounding this game was Bale. Bale has had a poor season filled with injuries and disappointing performances. In the summer he threatened to leave if he was not given more playing time, but he has failed to back such statements with good performances. In this El Clasico he had another game to forget. He failed to make any major contribution to the game and his involvement was minimal in the hour that he played before being substituted off. Bale was booed by the Real Madrid fans both when his name was announced before the game and when he was substituted. In recent weeks Bale has also not done much to help his case. A couple weeks ago he refused to celebrate a goal with the team and brushed Vazquez aside when Vazquez wanted to hug him. Two days after the El Clasico his agent also called Real Madrid fans a disgrace. Whether he stays at Real Madrid next season remains to be seen but Real Madrid will have a difficult time finding a club willing to pay his enormous wages if they do want to sell him.
After this win Barcelona are very likely to complete another domestic double. They will be favorites going into the Copa Del Rey final against Valencia, and only a major collapse will stop them from winning La Liga. They are also still in the Champions League where they play Lyon up next in the round of 16 return leg. The breathing room they now have in La Liga will also give them more of an opportunity to rotate players to ensure they are as fresh as possible in the later stages of the Champions League.
After also getting eliminated from the Champions League this week Real Madrid’s season is basically over. In the span of a week Real Madrid got knocked out of the Copa Del Rey and Champions League, and they got eliminated from the La Liga title race. All that is left for them now is to ensure they finish in the top 4 in La Liga so that they qualify for next season’s Champions League. This past week also certainly marks the end of Solari’s time as Real Madrid manager, as it is only a matter of time before he gets sacked. To make matters even worse, Vinicius who has been one of Real Madrid’s few bright spots in this disastrous season will miss the next 2 months after the injury he sustained in this El Clasico.
Barcelona come out as the undisputed victors in this trilogy of El Clasicos that we have experienced over the past month. They knocked Real Madrid out of the cup with a 4-1 aggregate win and have put themselves in a very good position to win La Liga with this 1-0 victory. Their overall head to head in El Clasicos this season is very impressive, having won 3 and drawn 1, including major 3-0 and 5-1 wins. To rub salt in Real Madrid’s wounds they also won both of the El Clasicos played at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium. This trilogy has proven decisive in shaping the outcome of both team’s seasons as Barcelona are on the verge of making this an outstanding season and Real Madrid are now certain to have their worst season in recent years.