This was an El Clasico that was to be free from politics but full of emotion and sentiment, emotion and sentiment not only for a Barcelona legend but a true legend of football, Johan Cruyff, who sadly lost his battle with cancer at the age of 68 on the 24th March 2016.
The objective for Barcelona this week since the death of the man that made them in his image, would have been to deliver the send off Cruyff would have approved of – a classy performance and a satisfying result.
The performance and the result can never be predicted, especially in the case of the el clasico. It’s a stand alone fixture where form, although discussed, is not a great barometer for the outcome. Barcelona were looking to complete the La Liga double over Real Madrid and Lionel Messi was chasing his 500th career goal. Real Madrid were hoping to maintain their recent league form under Zinedine Zidane. Real’s last defeat coming at the hands of Atletico at the end of February.
The world of football has been paying tribute to the Dutch great ever since his death and Barcelona wanted to pay their own tribute to the man that gave them so much. A mosaic was displayed by the fans in the Camp Nou bearing the No 14 and ‘Gracies Johan’ was written into the same mosaic, the Barca players were also wearing shirts with the same sentiments and on 14 minutes the fans stood and applauded their hero. The tribute to Cruyff was not limited to these grander gestures and many other subtle tributes could be seen on a night that would prove to be a difficult one.
This was a difficult game made more difficult by the emotion surrounding the fixture but both sets of management and players had to try and put that emotion aside for ninety minutes, however, this combined with a week of international fixtures which saw both sets of players travel to all corners this was easier said than done. This was evident during the first half, with both teams looking lackluster and the game itself resembling a chess game in the midfield – a far cry from the displays we are used to seeing from both sides’ attacking elements – especially Barcelona’s record-breaking trio. The Nou Camp was untypically subdued too, untypical because this was the el clasico, arguably the biggest fixture in La Liga.
The major talking point among so few talking points was how Sergio Ramos managed to remain on the pitch with a number of questionable challenges – especially from such an experienced player, although a player not renowned for discipline. There were few chances created and the few clear cut chances fell to Suarez who failed to find an open goal from six yards and a far less clear cut chance from Ivan Rakitic forcing a save from Navas from close range. Karim Benzema was responsible for missing Real’s only clear cut chance, scuffing a shot from a central position unchallenged inside the box. Barca fans sounded their dissatisfaction at the half time whistle.Was it going to be the fond farewell Barcelona were hoping for?
Typically Barca came out for the second half sticking to the possession style we have become accustomed to with Real attempting to play on the counter. The work rate of Real was epitomised by Ronaldo of all players and on a number of occasions found himself chasing back and playing full back, Zidane has them motivated and organised and the team is picked on form not reputation.
On fifty-five minutes the deadlock was broken by Pique, a non-vintage Barca goal scored from a header off a corner after managing to lose Pepe, the man responsible for marking him all night. Surely now, the farewell was on?
Sadly not, things were only going to get from bad to worse. Benzema equalised on sixty-two minutes before Bale had, what seemed, a legitimate goal disallowed for a push on eighty minutes. Real were then dealt a predictable and long awaited blow when Ramos was given his second yellow and therefore his marching orders on eighty-three minutes. In truth, he could have been sent off four times prior. The final twist in the tail and a script destroyer was the winning goal from none other than Ronaldo just one minute later. Not the farewell result Barcelona were hoping for.
The result aside, Johan Cruyff’s legacy will remain. The reason there are no more superlatives to describe the style of play provide by Barcelona was started by Cruyff, he was a visionary, a leader and a man that knew his own mind, from the training facilities to training techniques, Cruyff blazed the trail. Total football was within him, he even had a movement named after him – The Cruyff turn. Since his death there is talk of the Nou Camp being renamed in his honour, why not? That not only speaks volumes about what he did for Barcelona but it speaks volumes about the man.
Here is a quote from the man himself that really illustrates exactly why and how Barcelona have made it be arguably the greatest team on earth – much of it thanks to him.
Quality without results is pointless. Results without quality is boring. – Johan Cruyff
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