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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gerard Pique delivered Barcelona’s match winner over Real Madrid on Saturday as El Clasico Miami lived up to the hype.
The Spanish international steered in a Neymar free-kick in the 50th minute to seal a 3-2 win for the Catalan giants in front of 66,014 at the Hard Rock Stadium.
Lionel Messi, who put in a superb 64-minute performance, opened the scoring after just three minutes and when Ivan Rakitic doubled the lead soon after, the writing appeared to be on the wall for a sluggish Real Madrid side.
Yet Zinedine Zidane’s side quickly woke from their slumber and by the end of the first half, goals from Mateo Kovacic and Marco Asensio had pulled them level.
What followed was entertaining, often breathless friendly fare before Pique struck that decisive goal.
This was nothing more than a pre-season match and obviously wasn’t going to affect the overall record between these two old rivals, which stands at 93 wins for Real, 91 for Barcelona – who had won their most recent meeting with Messi’s last-gasp winner – his 500th for the club.
Madrid had the last laugh in May, winning La Liga and the Champions League, but actually arrived in Miami off the back of two exhibition defeats – a penalty shoot-out defeat to Manchester United before Manchester City also did a number on them in Los Angeles, running out 4-1 winners.
Barca, meanwhile, had beaten United and Juventus in International Champions Cup friendly competition, but the ongoing uncertainty surrounding Neymar — and Paris Saint-Germain’s reported readiness to make a 218 million-euro move for him — has cast a serious cloud over their two-week stay in North America.
The Brazilian started for Ernesto Valverde’s side and while the rest of his team-mates head home he will fly to China to perform commercial obligations on behalf of the club.
Valverde put off post-match questions about Neymar.
“I always try to talk about things that happen rather than things that might happen,” he said. “We are going to wait. From my perspective, we have Neymar in our team, we count on him and we have to see.”
On Saturday it was Neymar starting alongside Messi and Luis Suarez while Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema were all unleashed by Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane.
Neymar’s first involvement was to fall to the ground and clutch his ankle.
For a moment it looked like his evening would be over before it began, though he was back on the pitch in time to see Messi open the scoring with just three minutes on the clock.
The Argentine ace waltzed into the box and lifted a shot past Keylor Navas via a deflection off Raphael Varane.
And it wasn’t long before Navas was picking the ball out of the back of the net once again.
Last game in the USA, thank you for your support! Tomorrow we head home preparing next season! pic.twitter.com/aJdPnWLeRk— Andrés Iniesta (@andresiniesta8) July 30, 2017
On six minutes, Neymar, gradually moving more freely, squared the ball and it found Rakitic, whose finish was clinically struck in the seventh minute.
Real had barely escaped their own half and were lucky not to fall further behind on 13 minutes when Suarez fired over from close range.
Yet with Madrid’s first effort on goal, Zidane’s side pulled one back.
Croatian Kovacic evaded a challenge just outside the box before arrowing the ball past the outstretched hand of Jasper Cillessen.
Suddenly, the game was on. Benzema, who’d barely had a sniff, dragged just wide on 19 minutes with Cillessen beaten.
Navas remained the busier keeper, however, and was on hand to repel Messi once again on 31 minutes.
It was a key save because in the 36th Asensio levelled for Madrid.
Los Blancos were counter-attacking dangerously and it was left to Modric who squared for the Spaniard who took full advantage of Jordi Alba missing the ball to rifle past a horribly exposed Cillessen.
Although they came back from the early goals, Zidane was downbeat about his team’s performance. But he said there was plenty of time to get things right before Madrid take on Manchester United in the UEFA Super Cup on August 8.
“Today was a game of two faces for us, one bad, one better,” he said. “Ultimately we are preparing for the eighth – we will be ready.”
Both teams retained their star men after the restart and it was Neymar whose pinpoint free-kick was steered home by Pique in the 50th.
“We made a good start, generated some good opportunities,” Valverde said. “Overall, we did well trying to dominate the match.
“I expect the best from Messi and all the players but he is extraordinary and we are aiming to win all the titles this season.”
While the clash of the Spanish rivals was supposedly a friendly, Rakitic was lucky to escape a red card just after the hour mark when he appeared to push referee Jair Marrufo.
Neymar departed on 72 minutes in what could have been his final performance in Barcelona colors.
“I don’t want to speculate about Neymar,” Valverde said. “I see him in the same place I have seen him recently: on the pitch with us.”
Paris Saint-Germain full-back Dani Alves has urged his fellow Brazilian Neymar to “be brave” when it comes to considering a potential world-record transfer to the Ligue 1 giants.
Barcelona striker Neymar has been linked with a €222million move to PSG, a deal which would see him become the most expensive player in the world, but neither club has spoken on the matter.
Former Barca man Alves, who moved to Paris from Juventus earlier this month, scored in PSG’s Trophee des Champions victory over Monaco on Saturday and afterwards he discussed Neymar’s situation.
Quoted in Marca, he said: “It’s an important decision for him and it’s the kind of decision men have to make. He’s one of my best friends and I’ll always want him by my side, but I can not interfere.
“I helped him come to Barcelona, I did not make the decision for him, but I told him what Barcelona was like and he decided to move there. Decisions are for the brave and I am the bravest of all.
“I just want my friend to be happy wherever he is, although obviously if he were here that would be much better.
“It’s a decision you have to make carefully but you have to be selfish. If I could advise one thing it would be: be brave, the world belongs to the brave.”
Neymar, 25, was heavily involved in Barca’s 3-2 friendly victory over LaLiga arch-rivals Real Madrid in Miami on Saturday but speculation over his future has continued to intensify in recent days.
He was pictured storming out of training following an angry confrontation with new team-mate Nelson Semedo while another Brazilian playing for PSG, Thiago Silva, said details of a switch might emerge “soon”.
Barca defender Gerard Pique, who last week posted a picture of himself with Neymar on Instagram with the caption “se queda”, meaning “he stays” has admitted he is unsure whether the forward will remain at Nou Camp heading into the 2017-18 season, claiming his online post was a “gut thing”.
Provided by Press Association Sport