The grandest stage in all of world football was set for millions of fans across the world.
On one side, you had the Catalan giants of Barcelona. On the other side, stood a giant in Spain’s legendary capital and one of the best sides currently in Europe. When these two meet on the same field, we’re always served with a fantastic brand of football that demands the ultimate amount of admiration.
Yes, we’re talking about El Clasico.
But not the hotly contested El Clasico we’re used to seeing in front of thousands of rowdy Spaniards. No, this El Clasico was a tune up preseason affair and would take place in America, Las Vegas in fact. A perfect city for a football match that can make any player drunk off the atmosphere alone.
The stage was set, the players were ready, and a certain Polish superstar was anxious to etch his name onto the hearts of football fans while debuting in a new shirt and for a new club. Let’s discuss how it all panned out.
Both teams miss opportunities early
The first half was a bit of a rollercoaster. Throughout the first 20-25 minutes, both teams traded shots, while keeping each other honest. Barca’s first shot on the match came from Robert Lewandowski, who sent himself into clean space after using a nifty move in the midfield.
Lewandowski then found himself on the counterattack with green grass in front of him. He eventually tried to find a teammate in Madrid’s penalty area, but he couldn’t, so he took a shot instead. But his shot was saved by Courtois and punched out of play.
The action continued after that just seven minutes later. As Fede Valverde’s shot rang off the post. It was an unlucky moment for Valverde, as the shot looked great coming off his boot. But it sailed a little too much to the left, and bounced away from danger.
Just two minutes later, it was Ansu Fati who almost joined the score sheet. Fati found himself with a golden opportunity to put the ball in the back of the net from in close. But he dragged his effort wide and out of play. The action was fast paced and nonstop, and it felt like sooner or later, one team was going to find the breakthrough this match was begging for.
We didn’t know who it would deliver it, but we just knew it wasn’t too far away.
Raphinha delivers the first punch
In the 27th minute, we found our answer as to who would set off the first firework in El Clasico. It was none other than Raphinha, one of Barca’s new entrants this summer, and the man that has been on fire to start the preseason tour.
After Barca applied some pressure on Real Madrid in their back third, Eder Militao turned the ball over in a dangerous area. Raphinha got his foot on Militao’s errant clearance, and fired a rocket of a shot that even got past the arms of Thibaut Courtois, perhaps the best goalkeeper in all of world football right now.
The crowd in Las Vegas exploded, Barca players pumped their fists in excitement, and Barca fans quickly raised their arms with joy. It was 1-0 Barca, with the Catalans seemingly threatening to score more.
Just five minutes later, Barca almost did just that. Raphinha dribbled himself into a good position in Real Madrid’s penalty area. He then fired a pass to Lewandowski in the middle of the penalty area, where he had a somewhat clean look at a goal. The Polish superstar then fired a shot, but it was blocked from causing anymore harm.
That felt like Lewandowski’s best shot to score all night long. In what felt like a anxiety induced debut for the former Bayern marksman. He looked a bit rusty throughout the first half, as he attempted to adjust to Barca’s style and ways of play. But the goals will come along with his chemistry with the rest of the attack, so no worries there.
An El Clasico dust up
In the 43rd minute, we encountered our first heated moment of the match. After a Jordi Alba that ended a Madrid counterattack, emotions began to run high. Madrid players were upset Alba’s foul was only punished with a yellow card, while Barca were upset a foul wasn’t called on the other end when Pedri lost possession while Barca were on the attack.
What ensued was a nasty shoving and pushing session. Players from both teams had to be separated from each other, as the match looked ready to spill over in the first half.
The dust up eventually concluded. But not before the crowd got more into the match, and not because of the football being played. It was another reminder that even though this El Clasico wasn’t a regular La Liga fixture, it still held the same amount of intensity we usually see from these two teams whenever they meet.
After the physical moment was over, halftime quickly approached. Barca still held on to a 1-0 lead, and looked ready to pounce for more goals in the second half.
Were they able to do so?
Once the second half began, we saw a mass surplus of changes for Barca.
One interesting note was Frenkie De Jong’s position. He played as a centerback once again, with Xavi opting to see Franck Kessie in a more advanced midfield role.
We don’t know what this says regarding De Jong’s tactical situation moving forward. But it was certainly interesting to see Xavi play De Jong in this position for the second match in a row.
Aside from this though, the second half provided a lot of excitement, just like its first half counterpart. Real Madrid possessed the ball a lot more in the second frame, but Barca found more concrete scoring opportunities as well.
One came in the 71st minute. Kessie was given a golden chance to score his first goal as a Barca player after a brilliant counterattacking sequence by Barca. But Kessie’s shot was brilliantly read by Courtois, as the Belgian prevented the shot was threatening the net even further.
Should have scored more
That wasn’t the last of the opportunities for Barca however. In the 85th minute, Ousmane Dembele had a chance to increase Barca’s lead to two, but his shot was met with a stunning save by Courtois. Dembele had another shot at scoring in the 87th minute, but his effort was saved by Courtois once again.
Dembele’s presence was felt all over the pitch, but you probably would’ve liked to see one of his final two shots hit the back of the net. Not just for entertainment purposes, but to also see Dembele’s improved shooting skills rewarded.
Barca added one more shot on target in the 91st minute courtesy of Sergino Dest. He found himself some room just outside Madrid’s peanlty area, and shot a powerful effort toward the goal. But Courtois stepped up again, putting a hand up and deflecting the shot out of play.
After that, the match ended, with Barca winning 1-0. It was a promising display, but one still flawed and in need of some improvements.
This match felt like a positive conclusion for Barca’s efforts. They pressed well, looked confident on the ball, the attack flowed nicely despite some chemistry issues, and the depth showed their quality in the second half.
Barca still has some improvements to make — especially regarding the chemistry aspects in the attack with Lewandowksi down the middle — but it was still a good display of football from Xavi’s side.
One thing of note was Raphinha’s quality. He showed he belonged on the big stage, and he looks set to have a really good year under Xavi.
Barca’s next match
Barca’s next match is on Tuesday against Juventus.
See you all then!