Luis Suarez opened the scoring before Cristiano Ronaldo restored parity in the first half. Just before the break though, Sergi Roberto was sent off for an altercation with Marcelo.
Lionel Messi then gave the La Liga campions the lead before Gareth Bale equalised in style, with an enthralling tactical battle between Ernesto Valverde and Zinedine Zidane finishing all square.
Goals – 2
Shots – 10
Possession – 51%
Tackles – 13
Dribbles – 11
Goals – 2
Shots – 16
Possession – 49%
Tackles – 20
Dribbles – 6
The Spaniard deployed his favoured 4-4-2 formation with Andres Iniesta and Philippe Coutinho tucking in from the flanks as they looked to take control of midfield. However, the more possession they had, the more vulnerable they were to the counter as their full-backs pushed high up the field.
After Roberto’s sending off, Madrid were the ones getting caught up field and Messi had plenty of space to run into on the break.
The Madrid boss set his side up in a 4-3-3 formation initially with Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Ronaldo all starting. That would morph into a 4-4-2 without the ball though as they countered the Catalans well.
However, in the second half, with Barcelona reduced to 10 men, the visitors reverted to the more conventional 4-3-3 system. Meanwhile, Ronaldo picked up a knock early on and was taken off at half-time with Asensio replacing him.
TACTICAL TALKING POINTS
Believe it or not, Barcelona were perhaps better in attack after being reduced to 10 men – in an El Clasico no less. Operating in a 4-3-2 formation, it forced them to play on the break and go from back to front a lot quicker.
That served to expose a Madrid defence that’s been suspect all season. While Valverde inadvertently stumbled upon the strategy, he did replace Andres Iniesta with the more energetic Paulinho to aid it.
BALE’S DOUBLE ROLE
Bale was integral to Zidane’s strategy. In the first half, he joined Ronaldo and Benzema up front but without possession, the Welshman noticeably dropped into midfield to make up a 4-4-2. The switch helped keep tabs on the dangerous Jordi Alba as Barca use their full-backs to provide width.
It also meant it created a two v two scenario between Madrid’s other forwards and Barcelona’s centre-backs in the transition, with Benzema usually showing for the ball and Ronaldo running in behind.
His initial set up was rather predictable but he adjusted well after the red card and was even able to encourage his side’s heroic attacking efforts in the second half.
Rating – 6/10
Devised a clever ploy to deal with and counter Barcelona but despite the man advantage later on, his side failed to take control of the game and instead were more exposed.
Rating – 6/10
With Ernesto Valverde having sealed a La Liga and Copa del Rey double, and Zinedine Zidane plotting a historic third straight Champions League triumph, both managers will be content heading into the latest instalment of El Clasico.
Barcelona‘s Valverde is attempting to create his own bit of history as his side are four games away from completing an unbeaten season, starting with Sunday’s clash.
Zidane will no doubt relish the chance of ending that dream, giving Real Madrid something to talk about at the end of a disappointing league campaign.
Here’s a look at the key decisions facing each manager.
TIME TO UNLEASH BALE?
Matching up against Barcelona left-back Jordi Alba could suit him perfectly, as the Spaniard’s propensity to attack will leave space down the right flank for Bale to run into.
Bale’s greatest moment as a Madrid player came against Barcelona, with that Copa del Rey final goal in 2014, and Sunday is a chance for an encore. Does Zidane trust him?
COUTINHO TO BENEFIT FROM MADRID’S MESSI FOCUS
From one former Premier League player to another. Philippe Coutinho is likely to get his first taste of this rivalry at the Camp Nou, and he’ll be motivated to get his first win against Madrid, having lost in three previous attempts with Liverpool and Espanyol.
His ability to slip the lines will be crucial to Barcelona’s attack, which has looked slow and short of ideas other than “give Lionel Messi the ball” since their 3-0 win over Madrid in December. Coutinho will benefit from the extra attention Madrid will pay Messi, giving him the chance to strut his stuff on the biggest stage.
ZIDANE’S KOVACIC CONUNDRUM
Speaking of the extra focus Messi will get, it’ll be interesting to see if Zidane opts for the same strategy as he did in December, deploying Mateo Kovacic to shadow the Barcelona playmaker.
It was a strategy that did partly neutralise Messi, with his influence only growing once Barcelona scored the opener in the second half and Madrid subsequently went down to 10 men. The fault in the tactic was exposed by that goal, with Ivan Rakitic afforded too much space as Madrid focused on Messi. Will the opening hour of that game influence Zidane more, or what happened after?
Just clocked Kovačić’s birthday is on El Clasico. Barca should give him a guard of honour to pay respect to the GOAT.— Ryan. (@Rygista) April 27, 2018
ROBERTO OR SEMEDO AGAINST RONALDO?
Other than midfield, right-back has been the source for Barcelona’s greatest selection dilemmas this season, with Sergio Roberto and Nelson Semedo both performing capably in the role when called upon.
Roberto had an excellent game at the Bernabeu, grabbing an assist when he set up his side’s opening goal. But Madrid will undoubtedly target him as a potential weakness considering he will be matched up against Ronaldo.
Is this game better suited for Semedo? The Portuguese full-back would do a better job defensively against his national-team captain, who will be determined to have an impact on this fixture.