Opening day fixtures do not come bigger than a Clásico and with Fernando Redondo making his managerial debut in this fixture all eyes were on the Real Madrid Manager.
In the build up to the game there had been speculation that Gareth Bale might not make the game which was confirmed when he took part in a Castilla game earlier in the day ruling him out of joining the match-day squad. Redondo later commented that he (Bale) had been struggling for fitness and would not rush him back, even for a Clásico.
Barcelona lined up in a predictable 4-3-3 system, the only omission from the starting eleven that caught the eye was new signing Sergej Milinkovic-Savic who was out with a twisted ankle picked up in training yesterday.
The Madrid lineup, refreshed with the additions of Eden Hazard & Christian Eriksen, told us that the photos taken in Redondo’s office last week were likely to be true when they named four central midfielders in the starting eleven.
With Madrid looking to start well and dominate possession, Barcelona sat back and soaked up the pressure and in the 7th minute Karim Benzema’s half volley was blocked by Jordi Alba which launched a counter attack. Messi ran from halfway, playing the ball out to the left hand side to Coutinho who crossed for Suarez to volley only to be blocked by Courtois but the rebound was pounced on by Arturo Vidal. A classic clinical counter attack that we’ve come to expect from the Champions.
Barcelona defended well up to the break, sitting back and restricting Madrid to long shots & half chances. After the break you could see the changes Madrid had made, the defensive line dropped giving the midfielders more space to operate which saw the possession stats rise as the half went on.
In the 60th minute Isco was replaced by James Rodriguez & it was clear to see that Madrid upped their attacking intent. Amazingly Barcelona were still able to keep Madrid out, shot after shot being blocked by the impressive Ter Stegen.
Then came the breakthrough. In true Barcelona fashion the team are most comfortable when they are playing out of tight positions and as Jordi Alba and Samuel Umtiti were playing the ball around the defence Alba decided to play the ball back to Ter Stegen but the under-hit pass was pounced on by Eden Hazard who had an open goal to aim at.
As the game ended a draw there were plenty of positives for Madrid to take, Hazard sparkled, they out possessed the possessors & Messi, for the most part, was nullified. After two defeats last season against Barca there is already an obvious improvement from Los Blancos & with more time on the training pitch they are certain to be challenging los Culés towards the business end of the season.