Koeman and Zidane go wild in Clásico: Real Madrid exposes the Achilles heel Barça

FC Barcelona seemed unstoppable in La Liga, however Real Madrid disrupted Ronald Koeman’s 3-5-2 machine in El Clásico on Saturday evening. How did Zinedine Zidane do that?

Barça starts with familiar contours
Koeman sends Barcelona onto the field in the now familiar system: three defenders, Sergiño Dest and Jordi Alba on the flanks, Frenkie de Jong not in the defense, but as a midfielder next to Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi in the striker instead of 10. As a result, the Argentinian does not or hardly have to deal with defensive tasks. Antoine Griezmann is the child of the bill and starts in the bank.

In the opening phase, Barça takes control of the game. Ousmane Dembélé plays as a deep striker to keep Real’s two central defenders – Eder Militão and Nacho Fernández – busy. Messi can often drop right between the lines in this way to gain possession of the ball.

Barça is also well organized defensively. The two strikers put pressure on Real’s two central defenders, while the midfield can play man-on-man. The backs Alba and Dest continue on the backs of Madrid. Real, especially in the opening phase, will not escape this pressure in a constructive manner. The Madrid people mainly have to rely on switching times or when football can continue from a long ball.

Zidane’s tactical moves
However, Zidane has adapted his team. Federico Valverde starts as a right winger. When Barcelona has the ball, the Uruguayan, normally a midfielder, drops back as a right back to create a 5-3-2 system.

Zidane wants Luka Modric and Toni Kroos to play from De Jong and Busquets. Casemiro then has to take care of Messi. However, this is not going smoothly. Pedri always chooses a smart position and keeps pulling Modric towards him, allowing Busquets to be released into midfield. Duckweed then has to choose: either release Busquets or move completely out of position to give pressure.

Casemiro cannot receive Pedri. When he does, Messi is released. When that happens, it is Nacho who fanatically keeps going, but that opens up spaces in the last line.

After about twenty minutes of play, Zidane converts it. Real has now come to 1-0 because Valverde cleverly sags while Lucas Vázquez Alba ties at the side of the field. A through ball on the right back and an unparalleled tap from Karim Benzema are enough to pass Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Zidane chooses to let Vázquez transfer to Pedri. As a result, Modric no longer has to go with the Barcelona midfielder and can take care of Busquets in the center. Kroos can in turn stay in position more and Casemiro can receive Messi. Real makes the spaces extremely small in this way. Something to which Barça cannot answer.

Second half becomes tactical jousting
In the second half, both trainers are released. Zidane has already adjusted his system in the first half and in half time Koeman throws his 3-5-2 system overboard to play 4-3-3 again with Messi as the false striker.

As a result, the Catalans will play better and come closer through the goal of Óscar Mingueza. Real responds to this by switching to a 4-1-4-1 system, so that more couples play in midfield.

When this also does not bring the defensive certainty that Zidane wants, the Frenchman decides to bring an extra defender with Marcelo. Real is going to play 5-3-2 again and in that way manages to win over the line.

What does this mean for Koeman?
Koeman will be disappointed in his team. After a difficult start to the competition, the lead was there for the taking. But mainly due to individual errors, his team gave away the victory.

The biggest concern on the side of the Catalans is still the switch after losing the ball. Barcelona tries to stop the counters by immediately putting collective pressure on the ball. However, when the ball is lost, the organization is often not in a good position, after which running towards the ball looks a bit wild. Real Madrid shows that a team with sufficient qualities is able to play underneath.

Yet the match also shows that Barça seems to be on the right track. Real is pushed back almost the entire game. It is mainly due to Barcelona itself that they are unable to convert possession into goals. The title fight in La Liga between Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid and Barcelona is completely open.
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