A lot of smart people will have three, maybe five things we learned from today’s Clásico, but sometimes, particularly with teams as talked about as Barcelona and Real Madrid, it’s better to measure new information in terms of what we unlearned.
After all, the discovery of both of these teams being amazing didn’t just surface on Sunday. And the brilliance of players like Luis Suárez, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo? Not exactly news. Given how much attention we pay to these two teams, there isn’t much we’re going to learn over the course of a match.
There were, however, a few narratives that were dispelled — tropes that were proven false over the course of two hours in Barcelona. A waning Piqué? Suárez as redundant? Spain as the best title race in Europe? These are all things we’ve heard at some point over the last 10 months. After Barcelona’s 2-1 win today at the Nou Camp, though, those larks have been put to rest, either by disproving something that was never true or by changing the landscape of the La Liga season.
Here’s what we unlearned during today’s Clásico:
1. Gerard Piqué is terrible – This was always a convenient if exaggerated piece of analysis. As Piqué struggled over the last few years, his play became defined by his aberrations instead of his overall contributions. Today, however, Piqué offered a stellar performance, one that built on a new narrative: that after some early run-ins with Luis Enrique, the Spanish international is slowly rediscovering his form
Particularly in the first half, when Real Madrid was at its most dangerous, Piqué was great, making a series of successful challenges, frequently with only himself between El Real’s highest attacker and Claudio Bravo’s goal.
2. Jeremy Mathieu has no place on one of Spain’s top two – That was the refrain at the beginning of the season. As Barcelona’s transfer troubles were confirmed, those concerns became “at least [Barça] bought somebody.” Until today, though, Mathieu was still the utility man from Valencia, but with a goal and a few standout stops of his own, Mathieu now has a starring role in a Clásico.
3. All goals, on some level, are stoppable – This is still true, but is it reasonable to expect most defenses to stop this level of execution?
Perhaps Piqué could have gotten some help from his midfield or right back. On this one, however, give credit to Barcelona, because Pepe actually does a decent job staying with Suárez:
If Suárez’s touch isn’t perfect, if he doesn’t hit that ball as quickly as possible, Barcelona doesn’t score. While Pepe could have conceivably done more, it’s probably not reasonable for us to expect him to.
4. Suárez was a luxury buy – By transfer fee, Suárez is the third-most expensive player in soccer history, and according to some, Barcelona didn’t even need him. It had Messi. It had Neymar. What did it need with Suárez?
Take a look at that second goal. For whatever reason — not a number nine, not right-footed, not that fast — neither of Barcelona’s other stars could have done that.
That luxury buy Barcelona made this summer? It was the difference in today’s Clásico.
5. Real Madrid can do better than Karim Benzema – Perhaps, but how many players would have created that goal for Ronaldo. Does that make the French international the best number nine in the world? No, and in that sense, sure, Real Madrid can do better. But with detractor after detractor having fallen by the wayside during Benzema’s six years at the Bernabéu, it may be time for the final doubter to fade away. As evidenced today, Real Madrid is clearly fine with Karim Benzema.
6. Iker Casillas is done – For every irrational person on your timeline that insists San Iker is still a world class keeper, there are three more who think he should go to MLS. The truth, as evidenced on Sunday, was in between. Perhaps a world class goalkeeper would have had lighter feet on Suárez’s game-winner, but a slew of lesser keepers wouldn’t have gotten into the right position to stop Jordi Alba late in the second half:
And speaking of great positioning, so many oohed and aahed at this miss by Cristiano Ronaldo, but look at Claudio Bravo’s positioning. Even if this shot was four inches lower, it was not going in:
But back to Iker. Is he great anymore? No, but he’s not as terrible as some (guilty) try to depict. With the exception of the occasional, perhaps increasingly frequent hiccup, Casillas is fine. He did, after all, help a team to two trophies last season.
7. Lionel Messi is unstoppable – Messi did have his moments of imperious brilliance, and from a dead ball, he assisted on the first goal. But for large parts of the first half, he was silent, and in the second, his presence only started to have its usual impact once Real Madrid started chasing the game. Messi can’t be superhuman every game, but when he’s not, it’s nice to know Barcelona can still beat one of the top three teams in the world.
8. Xavi can be replaced – Who has been saying this, exactly? For the sake of this section, let’s pretend somebody is, because for large parts of this game, particularly in the first half, Barcelona missed a person to dictate play in the middle. When the team tried to recirculate the ball around Real Madrid’s defensive third, there was nobody popping into spaces in the midfield to ensure the team could string passes together, and during those times the game seemed too back-and-forth, Barcelona lacked a player who could assume control.
Of course, replacing Xavi is easier said than done, but his absence continues to be felt, even when Barcelona’s beating El Real.
9. Javier Mascherano is better in defense – Again, this is something few people say, especially after the Argentine’s performance at this summer’s World Cup, but every time he steps out of defense and into Barça’s midfield, it’s hard not to wonder why a midfield with both he and Sergio Busquets couldn’t work.
Too similar, too defensive, maybe, but Mascherano is one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, and while Busquets can make the same claim, it’s also possible he can develop more facets to his game. No, he’s probably not destined to be Yaya Touré, but he may be to impact a game higher up the field.
It might not work. When it comes to Busquets as a holder, it’s difficult to justify messing with a good thing. But when you see Mascherano in the middle, you’re reminded that’s a good thing, too. And this doesn’t have to be the case of two rights making a wrong.
10. Neymar is ready to be a leading man – Not with this haircut:
11. Spain has the best title race in Europe – Not anymore. Barcelona not only has a four-point lead, but it’s arguably the best team in Europe. Dropped points are going to be few as long as La Blaugrana maintains this level.
You want a title race? You’d going to have to go to France …
… because just like England, Germany, and Italy, Spain’s is close to over.