pepe-real-madrid-barcelona_3221143Well that’s a wrap on a barnburner of a game. Real Madrid concede early, but rally back with three of their own and move one point behind Barça in the standings. Let’s look at the five important keys outlined yesterday:

Luis Suarez. Luis played 70 minutes, and looked great for someone who had not played competitively in four months. That being said, he wasn’t put into the right locations to score as often as expected. He assisted on the Neymar goal, but for the entire half the ball was mainly controlled on the opposite side of the field. Until the 2nd half, it did not seem as if the play was being funneled to him. As the season progresses, it appears that the combination of an advancing Dani Aves and a fit Suarez will be lethal – but that opportunity was not taken on this day.

No Gareth Bale. In his absence, Isco truly shined. Known more as an offensive force, Isco played great defense while still contributing to several breaks. More importantly, he controlled the left side (the side where we just mentioned the ball WAS NOT being fed to Suarez). On the key error by Iniesta and Mascherano, it was Isco who controlled the ball and led to the goal.

Barça’s formation. Barça maintained the standard 4-3-3 with the backs overlapping into play – but did so in a very uneven manner. The entire first half, Matheiu pushed up aggressively, leading to chances up the Barça left side (and chances for the Madrid right and James Rodriguez – see below). Come the second half, the action seemed to switch – with Alves becoming more involved, and Mathieu staying back to play with the back line. More interestingly, Madrid brought Marcelo from the center-back into the attack on several occasions. Not only did this simply overwhelm the Barça defense, it caused additional confusion as to who should mark him. Marcelo took full advantage – having a standout game (especially in the first half) and creating multiple chances.

James Rodriguez. After a moderate first half, James seemed to come into his own in the second half. The more wide-open style contributed, allowing him to run and set up multiple chances with Ronaldo and Benzema. He took 6 shots, and had a great assist on the breakout goal of Benzema. All in all a very good game – but we see how he benefits from open space and counter-attacking football.

Barça’s defense. We noted above that the switch of attacking side (and thus the advancing back) was abnormal, but otherwise Barça’s defense was moderate at best. Pique’s handball caused the penalty and first goal, and Mascerano’s mistake led to the break and Benzema’s goal. Pepe’s goal was scored by general non-marking, although that appeared to be be Mathieu’s man. Overall, Madrid’s defense was solid – as expected – and Barça continued to struggle in the back line.

As an admitted Barça fan, it’s tough to see a game like this – but I must tip my hat to a great looking Madrid team. As mentioned in the telecast, they played as a team – something that is truly scary for Spain and the rest of Europe as the seasons progress.