Neymar, Alexis tip balance in tight Clasico

Posted by Francesc Tomas

Barcelona achieved a crucial 2-1 win over Real Madrid at the Camp Nou Saturday in Matchday 10 of La Liga. Neymar and Alexis Sanchez scored for the Blaugrana, who had 54 percent of possession, created 12 scoring chances and attempted seven shots, five on target.

Key 1 – Neymar was quick to prove why Barcelona was right to invest so much money, time and effort in bringing him to the home of Catalan football during the summer. The 21-year-old's first appearance in El Clasico was simply stellar; it truly felt as if he was born for games of this calibre.

Neymar didn't seem to feel any of the responsibility that playing at the highest level brings. Instead, he rose to the occasion with unrivaled determination and freshness. Always eager to get the ball in the most difficult circumstances, the direct Brazilian enjoyed the challenge of creating spaces for not only himself but also those around him.

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Being positioned wide on the left wing gave him the space to run diagonally at his marker thanks to his innate dribbling skills and mesmerising pace.

It's worth noting Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti's experiment of allocating Dani Carvajal didn't work as the youngster was constantly beaten by the blistering Brazilian. Having said that, regular Madridista right-back Alvaro Arbeloa couldn't really do much against him in the Confederations Cup final, either.

Key 2 – Alexis Sanchez came on as a late substitute with 20 minutes to play and, almost instantly, he added much-needed dynamism to Barcelona's attack.

His relentless effort was rewarded with one of the most memorable goals the Camp Nou faithful have witnessed. The classy way in which he chipped the ball right over Diego Lopez (not Iker Casillas, by the way, another inexplicable decision by Ancelotti) will never be forgotten.

The way the Chilean international has recovered from a couple of painful, below-par years since joining the Blaugranas can only be understood as a success story thanks to his admirable perseverance and generous effort. Alexis is repaying the confidence that coach Gerardo Martino has given him since landing the managerial role in the summer.

May this string of decisive, positive performances continue for many years.

Key 3 – I was surprised to see Lionel Messi playing as a right wing again and giving up his false striker spot to Cesc Fabregas.

I understand Messi's recent string of muscle injuries may not be fully forgotten, but I am certain the world knows that the quadruple Ballon d'Or winner is much more effective when allowed to use his explosive acceleration and dribbling ability closer to the opponents' area.

Key 4 – Victor Valdes was exceptional once again. The want-away goalkeeper made three remarkable saves which kept Barcelona alive at crucial moments. The Catalan is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career and, unfortunately, the club will have a serious problem trying to find a worthy replacement.

Unfortunately, I felt he could have done better in the dying minutes to block Real Madrid's goal, but I am sure his lack of fortune can be forgotten given Barcelona achieved the victory.

Key 5 – As it has unfortunately happened far too often in recent games, Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano had another couple of concentration lapses which could have cost the Catalans the three points.

Cristiano Ronaldo could definitely have been granted a penalty in the second half after a clumsy challenge by Mascherano. Better judgement and composure is needed in such situations.

I still don't understand why Marc Bartra didn't feature in the high-profile matches this week. His sensational performances while Carles Puyol and Mascherano were away gave Martino enough reasons to trust him despite only being 22. Young talent must be trusted in order to grow.

Key 6 – Ancelotti started Sergio Ramos as an extra defensive midfielder in a controversial move that handed Barcelona an advantage straight away. Despite being a world-class centre-half, playing out of position against the best-connected midfield in world football was always going to cause him trouble.

The Spanish international looked lost both in defense and attack, and had to be substituted after just 55 minutes after putting himself at risk of a second yellow card.

Key 7 -- Ultimately, Barcelona had the edge overall and fully deserved a victory that gives them a considerable six-point lead at the top of La Liga after just 10 matches.

While it is obvious that there are still a massive 84 points to be played for, winning a match of this relevance against such a competitive rival could prove crucial by the end of the season.

The 99,000 Catalans who filled the Camp Nou and the millions of devoted Cules who watched around the world can certainly be proud of their team.

The Quote – “We are still in October, nothing has been decided yet. Obviously, we'd rather be six points ahead than chasing. Madrid could have drawn this game, but Valdes saved some dangerous shots and Alexis scored a magnificent goal." – Barca director of football Andoni Zubizarreta.

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For more news and opinion notes on Barcelona, follow Francesc Tomas at @TomasESPN and Barcablog Facebook; 51,000 Cules have already joined.


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