Real Madrid may have beaten FC Barcelona in the ‘Clasico’ but it is Real Sociedad who sit at the top top of LaLiga. Here are the footballing lessons gleaned from the league this past weekend.
1. Clasico shows where Real Madrid and Barca are right now
Nobody who watched the game could argue with Real Madrid’s win over a Barcelona team that was high on effort, but which struggled to create chances and lacked the tactical discipline to deal with their rival’s attacks. It was enough for Real Madrid to keep their shape in midfield and defense because they knew that sooner or later, Vinicius Jr or Karim Benzema would find the space to launch a counter-attack. That is exactly what happened as Madrid exploited the room Barca left them and Carlo Ancelotti’s men took the points without doing anything really special other than tactically being better than Barca and not making mistakes.
2. Ancelotti wins tactical battle with Koeman
The biggest worry for Barca fans is that Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti won the tactical battle with Ronald Koeman, by sending out a well-balanced side that had pace in attack. Ancelotti relied on the experience of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro in midfield and they kept their shape throughout the game, forcing Barca to look to attack using the flanks. Koeman made the mistake of using the solid but awkward Oscar Mingueza at right back where Vinicius Jr found space throughout the first half, while Sergino Dest, who dropped deep to replace Mingueza after the break offered less than Coutinho going forward. It was only when Kun Aguero came on late in the game that Barca had a focal point in attack. Koeman must also worry about the form of midfielder Frenkie de Jong, who was poor all game.
3. Atletico and Real Sociedad serve up a thriller
Two and a half hours after the game between Barca and Real Madrid finished, Atletico and Real Sociedad served up 90 minutes of football that was probably higher in quality than the spectacle at the Camp Nou. Real Sociedad showed why they are top of the table as Alexander Isak and Alexander Sorloth led a display of attacking football that tore Atletico to shreds, but once Joao Tomas set up Luis Suarez to pull a goal back in the 61st minute, Atletico were on the front foot and equalized with a Suarez penalty to set up a frantic last 15 minutes. After watching the ‘Clasico’ it was the sort of match that makes you think that this year’s title could also be destined for a side other than the ‘big two.’
4. The VAR shows its worth
The VAR has been much criticized since it was brought into use, but this weekend showed that it can correct bad decisions. In the first instance, the VAR called the referee’s attention to Alberto Moreno’s foul on Unai Vencedor (one nobody saw in the moment it happened) and the resulting penalty gave Athletic Club Bilbao a 2-1 win over Villarreal. Villarreal coach Unai Emery wasn’t happy about the decision, but there is no doubt that it was a foul and therefore a penalty. The second decision saw the VAR advise that Mikel Merino had caught Luis Suarez with a late challenge in the Wanda Metropolitano and Suarez’s spot-kick earned his side a point. Sometimes the VAR is only discussed if there are mistakes, correct decisions also need highlighting.