Alaba presents the perfect example of how the lines of identity between Barcelona and Real Madrid, not so long ago seen as being the antithesis of each other, have been blurred of late. The Austrian, who can play in a number of different positions and offers a number of different qualities, is the sort of player who would have thrived at the Camp Nou a few years ago, yet he played his first Clasico in all-white.
Not only this, Alaba has the sort of mindset that would have made him a favourite under Pep Guardiola as Barca boss, and did make him a favourite during his time at Bayern Munich. Despite this being the 29-year-old’s first Clasico, played in a hostile environment, he was always in control.
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Barcelona, however, weren’t. The way Real Madrid opened the scoring after 32 minutes demonstrated the superior maturity in their play. Vinicius Junior did well to beat the high press after a Memphis Depay turnover, showed composure to spray it out to Rodrygo, who in turn fed Alaba for the driven finish. Compare this with the manner in which Sergino Dest fired over the bar from just six yards out not long before.
It took Real Madrid just 16 seconds to go from winning the ball 25 yards out from their own goal to putting the ball in the back of the Barca net. While the Catalan hosts dominated possession, particularly in the first half, they lacked the structure on the defensive side of the ball to prevent Real Madrid from cutting through them in transition.
Vinicius was especially impressive in the decisions he made. Maligned in the past for his rawness, the Brazilian has sharpened his final product this season and this was clear in the option he offered his team on the left wing. Real Madrid never lacked for an outlet to relieve pressure on themselves.
This was in stark contrast to the way Ronald Koeman deployed Ansu Fati, who was asked to play through the middle of a front three. The 18-year-old still mustered a couple attempts on goal, but was largely left isolated with Alaba and Eder Militao quick to cover the pass into Ansu’s feet.
David Alaba of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring his sides first goal during the La Liga Santander match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou
Image credit: Getty Images
Koeman made changes for the start of the second half to correct this with Philippe Coutinho introduced to play behind Memphis as the centre forward in a 4-2-3-1 shape with Ansu on the left and Gavi on the right. This saw Barcelona concede a greater share of possession, but there was better balance to their attacking play. It wasn’t enough, though.
Until Sergio Aguero’s late consolation goal at 2-0 down, there was to be no way through Real Madrid, who were set up to prevent Barcelona from exposing them in transition. The Catalans played into their hands by hesitating to speed up their play in the attacking third. It was far too ponderous from the home side.
Both Barcelona and Real Madrid are building for the future, demonstrated by the number of young players on the pitch for such an important future, but the latter proved that they are much closer to being the final product than their rivals at this moment in time. Alaba, more than anyone else, epitomises this.
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