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Real Madrid had multiple problems with key defenders missing. Marcelo and Pepe were injured while Sergio Ramos was suspended. Jose Mourinho picked Michael Essien at right back, moving Alvaro Arbeloa over to the left. Two holding defenders kept close, not counter attacking, and keep defensive and get away with it, even at home, due to their selections.
Stand-in Barcelona boss Jordi Roura had much less problems to deal with, recalling the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba who were all rested at the weekend.
- This was a fantastic game of football. Being out of the title race and being forced to play a makeshift back four, I expected Jose Mourinho to tighten things up in this game but the match played out in the exact opposite way.
- Played at a breathtaking pace, it was stretched for the entire first half with both teams taking it in turns to attack their opponents.
- Finding space in wide areas was the key. Michael Essien vs Jordi Alba was a fascinating battle and neither full back was ready to give in and stay deep. It was no surprise that the Spanish left back worked hard to bring width to his side but Essien’s ambition countered some of what his opponent could bring and played a large part of Madrid’s best attacks.
- Madrid, typically, pressed high and quick immediately. Barcelona were dispossessed inside their own third four times in the first half, including 30 seconds in when Cristiano Ronaldo got in behind Dani Alves and was chopped down by Gerard Pique.
- Barcelona were guilty of this charge once again after 27 minutes, allowing Jose Callejon to supply Karim Benzema with their best chance of the half.
- It is practically impossible to put Barcelona’s system into a formation (they did start the way the graphic shows above) due to their movement and Cesc Fabregas started to play a key role in the change of momentum late in the first half. The former Arsenal man covered for Sergio Busquets as the deep man in midfield between the two centre backs early but would soon move forward, often running on past Lionel Messi, something Messi’s false nine required.
- To counter the runs from deep positions, Madrid’s back four played much higher up the pitch to stop the opponents playing close to the box. Barcelona responded by pressing much higher than they did previously and it was that which led to their opening goal on 50 minutes.
- Messi pressed Xabi Alonso, won the ball back and supplied Fabregas with a great pass before the Spaniard slotted the ball past new man Diego Lopez.
- Barcelona were now in control and should have scored another when Andres Iniesta sent Fabregas in, only for the exceptional Raphael Varane to intercept. The 19-year-old defender was marvellous from start to finish and would later get a goal to cap a complete performance.
- Entering the final third of the match and still down 1-0, Jose Mourinho had seen enough. Callejon paid the price with Luka Modric coming on in his place to played in the Ozil role with the German immediately going over to the right.
- The change forced Alba to stay deeper a little but on 67 minutes he advanced too far forward and left his team vulnerable. Sami Khedira broke forward, played a great ball to Ozil who then crossed for Ronaldo in the six yard box to do the rest. It looked a certain goal until Pique swept in on his magic carpet and performed a true goal-saving tackle.
- Six minutes later the visitors should have doubled their advantage when Pedro was sent in all alone but shot just wide after Lopez never left his line. It was the second time the goalkeeper stayed very deep in his goal by not cutting down the angles and the second time he wasn’t punished for it.
- Madrid took advantage of Pedro’s poor finish when Ozil – again on the right – sent in a precise cross for Varane to head home with eight minutes left. It was quite fitting that the defender got the goal as he was their best player even before he scored. His pace in the backline allowed Real to play higher up the pitch, he never lost concentration against arguably the hardest team to defend against or and kept his composure throughout, which is something that can rarely be said about Ramos and Pepe.
- On a night when many top players excelled, Varane was the best, leading a makeshift back four that never looked out of sorts. Their strategy of a higher line forced Barcelona into playing more on the counter than they usually do and for this Mourinho’s men probably just about deserved a draw, despite Barcelona missing key chances.
- The draw sets up an intriguing second leg at the Nou Camp in three weeks time to see who gets to the final of the Copa del Rey. If it is anything like this one it will be a real treat and Varane has left his manager with a decision to make.