“We came to the home of the league leaders who’d won all 15 games here so far this season. I give a lot of value to winning this one – it’s an honour to come here and win. They’ve got 77 points and that’s incredible." - Pep Guardiola on the result
Shots: 16 v 8
Shots on goal: 7 v 4
Usually when I see stats like these, I tend to expect Barca to be the bigger number. Unless it's a difficult away fixture, it's usually a safe assumption to make. In this case, Real being a very difficult away fixture indeed, Barca had less shots, only shaded possession (58%) by their standards and didn't even hit 85% passing accuracy (shocking, I know).
Perhaps, then, the Real players and their coach are entitled to feel a little hard done by. Maybe Arbeloa is right to say that Barca were lucky.
I'm going to pause here for a flashback. Back in Frank Rijkaard's first season as Barca manager, he packed the midfield for his first Clasico (at Camp Nou), lost, and got labelled a coward by the Catalan press. Rijkaard faced it all with his usual good grace and resiliency, even stating outright that he'd make the same tactical decision again regardless of the name-calling.
We laugh now about that infamous quote from scholar of football Tim Lovejoy in which he accused Barca of only knowing how to play one way, but there's a certain truth to it if you look at it the right way. I think there's a certain pride and intimidation factor in never compromising one's style no matter what the circumstances, or at least in having that reputation, and occasionally Barca can be guilty of being too intoxicated by that idea.
When I say that, I obviously don't mean Pep Guardiola's team. Guardiola has shown both a willingness to experiment and to hold his hand up and admit failure when it doesn't work out (for an example of the latter, see his apology after Barca's loss to Sevilla in the Copa del Rey this season). He bought Zlatan Ibrahimovic to add another dimension to Barca's play. He's happy to flood the midfield or play no strikers or start two leftbacks and three centerbacks (as he did against Athletic Bilbao), and he's not afraid of gambling in the big games.
Which brings us back to the Clasico, and Puyol at rightback with Alves as the right winger. Not only a gamble but a decidedly conservative move, which combined with Pellegrini's tinkering resulted in the opening twenty minutes playing out like a chess match, La Gazzetta dello Sport likening it to a classic Serie A encounter. Whether or not it worked - Alves definitely struggled as a winger, resulting in him being switched back at half-time - the fact that Guardiola felt like he could and should try it speaks volumes.
During the slow decline of Rijkaard's team, one of the often-heard laments was that Barca was set up in such a way that they could only win by playing well. Some of the Clasico match reports I've been reading have praised this Barca for winning by not playing particularly well, but by being composed and clever.
Nothing wrong with that. If you said that to Pep Guardiola's face, he'd probably take it as a compliment.
"We’ve got good players. I try and make sure that they all run and that they help each other, but there aren’t many secrets – I work hard, work long hours and I’ve got good players. They know that if they don’t run, I’ll let them know and since they don’t like that, they work all the harder." - Guardiola on the secrets of his success
On a different note, do my eyes deceive me or is Cristiano Ronaldo actually getting criticised in the Madrid press this morning? Really surprised to see that.