Gerard Pique hit the second-half winner as Barcelona made it three wins from three on their tour of the United States with a 3-2 El Clasico win over Real Madrid in Miami.
Ernesto Valverde’s men deserved victory in an open and entertaining friendly that could signal the end of Neymar’s career in a Barcelona shirt as Paris St Germain chase his signature.
What did you make of the contest?
VALVERDE’S PRESSING PRIORITIES
There were two keys to Barcelona’s outstanding start to the game: firstly their crisp and confident use of possession, and secondly their intense pressing whenever they lost the ball.
Real Madrid were simply smothered, unable to escape their own half, as Barca defended high up the pitch and ensured their outstanding technical skills were matched by their work rate without the ball.
This encouraging sight has been a recurrent theme of the pre-season, with new manager Ernesto Valverde clearly keen to recuperate the commitment to high pressing which was a cornerstone of Pep Guardiola’s era but has since been rather lost.
However, the approach carries inherent risks and Madrid were occasionally exposed Barca’s high starting position through counter-attacks. Karim Benzema and Luka Modric both shot off target after catching Barca short in numbers at the back, and Marco Asensio eventually scored in a similar manner.
Valverde’s balance is complicated by exonerating Lionel Messi from defensive duties, with Ivan Rakitic instead expected to cover the right flank. It’s a defensive system which requires more work but Valverde has started well.
MESSI STILL KING OF NOU CAMP
In a summer dominated by Neymar, one message was trumpeted loud and clear from Miami: don’t forget Lionel Messi.
The Argentine star only needed three minutes to open the scoring and proceeded to deliver a masterclass before, to Madrid’s relief, being substituted with half an hour remaining.
Some of Messi’s footwork was dazzling, and his evolution from goalscoring machine to ultimate playmaker was confirmed with a series of brilliant through balls – one of which could have led to a goal or penalty for Neymar.
None of this is news. We already know how good Messi is, but in case anyone had forgotten following a few weeks away from the limelight this was a reminder that Barca can always win any game, anywhere, as long as they have Messi.
True, his defensive contribution leaves a lot to be desired, and the space he vacates down the right flank is a tricky puzzle to solve. But if coach Valverde can succeed in fitting Messi’s magic into a coherent team structure rather than resting everything on his shoulders, his team will take some stopping.
MADRID MUST ADDRESS DEFENSIVE MALAISE
It’s just as well this was a friendly, because Real Madrid’s first half defensive performance was nothing short of diabolical.
This was Zinedine Zidane’s first-choice back four, but they could have easily conceded five or six goals before the interval as Barca carved out chance after chance.
Two of those were converted inside the opening six minutes, with individual errors contributing heavily: the first goal came when Sergio Ramos lost the ball, Marcelo failed to win it back and Raphael Varane couldn’t block Messi’s shot, and it was 2-0 when Dani Carvajal squandered possession and Rakitic fired home.
Los Blancos weren’t only afflicted by mistakes though – their overall defensive structure was also a shambles, with Messi given an incredible amount of time and space to wreak his merry havoc.
They were only spared further damage by wayward finishing, and if Madrid don’t sharpen up sharpish they will be in serious trouble when the teams meet again for the Spanish Super Cup in a fortnight.
At the moment, Madrid have the excuse of being in pre-season, but that won’t last for long.
BALE FUTURE REMAINS UNCERTAIN
If it wasn’t for the ongoing saga of Neymar’s potential move away from Barca, Gareth Bale’s troubled plight at Madrid would be La Liga’s main summer talking point.
The Welshman has endured an exceptionally underwhelming pre-season and that continued in Miami as he failed to make a meaningful impact despite the open and attacking nature of the game.
Starting on the right wing, Bale didn’t manage to do anything of note until the 25th minute, when he turned away from a challenge on the halfway line and sped towards goal before the move ended with an offside flag raised against Asensio was offside.
His anonymous evening continued after he was switched to the left wing in the second half, before he finally offered a goal threat after 65 minutes when he ran onto a long ball and forced Jasper Cillessen into a decent near-post save.
That’s nowhere near a big enough contribution and although it’s by no means certain that Bale’s Bernabeu days are numbered by the likely arrival of Kylian Mbappe, he did nothing to advance his cause in this game.