There stood in black a listless Luis Enrique, a superstar – in his own right – in his playing days. He starred first for Madrid, and then went on to captain Barca, in a quiet enviable career. This was a man Pele included in his list of top 100 players for FIFA at the turn of the century. He played many “Clasicos”, and knew firsthand what exactly this game meant to fans of these two great teams. This was the man who was also going to, during the ensuing ninety minutes, make a novice of the rather experienced Rafa Benitez. Luis Enrique put on a tactical masterclass. Barca dominated the match, producing a first half that was altogether fascinating as they blew Madrid aside, scoring two goals in the process (they could’ve had even more). It looked too easy.
Luis Enrique gave greater importance to his midfield, the position Benitez unfortunately forsook by effectively playing without a defensive midfielder for the totality of the match. Against the world’s best midfield that was always going to be the wrong decision. Madrid paid for it, heavily – four times! Starting four midfielders in the man-of-the-match Iniesta, the mesmeric Roberto, and classy workhorse Rakitic, and not forgetting the man-of-the-moment Busquests, Madrid was always going to have a torrid time in midfield. It was very clear from the onset that Benitez set his team up to attack, but against Barca that’s easier to plan than to actually execute. Without wanting to take anything from an absolute footballing masterclass from Barca, I would like to say Madrid made it too easy! Benitez got his tactics so wrong, he played right into the hands of Barcelona.
His ultra-attack lineup left an Atlantic Ocean of space between his midfield and defense. Seeing this he should have ran unto the pitch waving a white flag! You do not just commit such atrocious mistakes against treble-winners Barca. I can imagine Luis Enrique rubbing his hands in glee (in his mind) as he saw this unforgivable flaw in Madrid’s setup. Kroos and Modric were rendered redundant as Rakitic and Iniesta passed circles around them. As for James and Isco, even though Isco performed better after his introduction, they both could not have any meaningful impact on the match, as they were starved of the ball, and made to defend for most of the match. This match was effectively won in midfield.
And this is where Luis Enrique triumphed. He produced a team meant to play to the strengths of the midfield. Barca used the whole length and breadth of the Bernabeu’s luscious green pitch, and every time they had the ball Sergi Roberto would drift into midfield changing the system to a variation of 4-4-2. This lead to a midfield overload, from here all Barca had to do was pass. Something they do better than everyone else. The first goal came after over twenty passes, Madrid did not even realize what just hit them. Alves and Alba constantly joined in midfield, for the fourth goal, Alba was playing as center-forward, he received the ball and with his first touch put Suarez straight through on goal. Alba is a left-back by trade. Seeing him in such an advanced position lends testimony to Barca’s roots in the Dutch philosophy of “Total Football”.
For FC Barcelona this would go down as one of its biggest wins in Madrid’s spectacular stadium. They deceived it, when you play this good, a massive win is very much deserved. And they did all this with little help from Messi! Luis Enrique deserves the plaudits for, in hindsight, a seemingly one-sided match against a very disappointing Madrid.