El Clásico: Real Madrid dominates crucial La Liga match

Sunday, Oct. 16 saw the first La Liga meeting between Real Madrid and Barcelona as El Clásico, perhaps the biggest rivalry in professional sports, was renewed for the 184th time. The two sides have dominated Spanish soccer for as long as can be remembered, with the pair having won 61 league titles between them. In recent years, Barcelona has slipped somewhat on account of their financial woes, leading to Madrid winning two of the past three league titles available. But with former captain Xavi back leading the club as manager, as well as a number of big signings, Barcelona has looked to be back among the Spanish elite as the 2022-23 season has progressed. They entered the day tied on points with Real Madrid atop the league table, meaning that this clash would be of the utmost importance in setting the tone for the remainder of the league season.  

The match was held at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid’s home ground. It was clear from the start who the home side was as well, with Real dominating the game in the early stages, missing several clear chances as Barcelona floundered and failed to get a foothold in the game. Real played on the counter attack, and Barcelona was caught flat on their heels. Vinicius Junior went close in the 7th minute in what turned out to be a foreshadowing of what was to come. Real broke down the left hand side, exposing the rather slow Sergi Roberto, and left back Ferland Mendy got in behind the Barcelona defense. He cut the ball back to the sprinting Vinicius, whose shot took a deflection on its way to the far corner.  

An almost identical attack led to the opening goal in the 12th minute, as midfielder Toni Kroos fought through a foul to slot the ball in behind Roberto down the Real Madrid left, sending Vinicius to goal once again. His touch was heavy, allowing Barcelona keeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen to cut the angle down and make a save, but the rebound fell to the lethal Karim Benzema at the top of the box who slotted it calmly into the now vacant Barcelona net. Real Madrid led, and deservedly so.  

Barcelona did create a rare chance in the 25th minute, as some clever ball movement swung play from left to right in a flash, creating enough space for right winger Raphina to play a brilliant ball along the top of the six yard box. It was out of reach for the Madrid keeper Thibaut Courtois, but the usually clinical Robert Lewandowski could only put his shot high from a tight angle at the back post. But much to Barcelona fans’ chagrin, the Real Madrid lead was doubled just ten minutes later as Vinicius Junior once again created problems for a Barcelona back line that looked slow and cumbersome all game long. An unfortunate deflection took the ball into the Real Madrid man’s path, which drew three Barcelona players as he looked for a shooting angle. This opened space behind him for the advancing Aurelien Tchouameni, who passed up what seemed to be a great shooting chance to pass the ball wide to Mendy. Mendy cut the ball back to the top of the box into the space now vacated by Vinicius where Federico Valverde smashed the ball low into the corner from 20 yards. Barcelona themselves then finished the first half with a flurry of chances, but just lacked any real threat. Frenkie de Jong had a decent effort easily saved by Courtois, and Lewandowski put a promising cross well wide with his head.  

The second half was more of the same. A quick counter and switch of play saw Benzema net his second of the match, only to see it unfortunately called back as he was a yard offside when the pass was hit to him. Ten minutes later, he once again picked up a dangerous cross at the top of the box before this time slipping Vinicius in behind Roberto, only for Ter Stegen to come flying off his line to smother the shot at the last possible second.  

The match was relatively quiet from that point on as Real, comfortably on top of the game, took their foot off the gas. But with ten minutes to play, Barcelona got back into the game as Ferran Torres prodded home from close range after Ansu Fati beat two Real Madrid defenders down the left flank before whipping a beautiful ball through the box. Courtois couldn’t reach it, and Torres was unmarked; it was game on once again.  

But after eight minutes of rather calm play, Real Madrid once again stamped their authority over the game. Eric Garcia stopped a Real counter attack by stomping on Rodrygo’s foot in the box, for which the referee awarded the home team a penalty kick. Rodrygo dispatched of it without flinching and the match was essentially over. Real Madrid won 3-1 and cemented themselves as the title favorites with a three- point lead atop the table.