LaLiga: Five things we learned from El Clasico

Andrew Gaffney

No one should ever question Messi’s influence

There was something of an obsession going into El Clasico about whether or not we were seeing the decline of Lionel Messi. “He just doesn’t look the same any more,” they said. “His body language is all wrong.” All this despite the stats showing he’s being as important – if not more so – than in recent times. Messi rarely answers his critics in interviews or statements but he does respond on the pitch.

In this modern culture of building people up only to knock them down you’d imagine the Argentine would be exempt from criticism. Whether you support Barcelona, Real Madrid or anyone else for that matter Messi is top three of all time. There’s no doubt there, not even a inkling. Sadly this isn’t the case as when Barcelona crashed out of the Champions League it was Messi’s picture, hitting the ground, which was used as a symbolic reference to his side’s – and his own – failure. Fools, I tell you.

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He came into the match sporting a shiner yet despite being battered from start to finish, he held his hand up in victory. If ever a performance was truly reflective of Messi’s time at Barcelona this was it. Not the face on the ground one. You can pick away at his style or whether or not he’s lost a yard of pace but he has something you can’t teach. He’s unique, special, magical, wonderful and above all else: a winner.

Messi’s back? He never went away.

Captain caveman Ramos sees red – and it costs Madrid dearly

After a few months of writing positive feedback on Sergio Ramos’ last-gasp goals and leadership abilities, he reminds you why he’s not one of the best defenders based on his defensive contributions. Some will always rate Ramos highly because of the goals he’s scored, very important ones too, but in terms of fulfilling the basic requirements of his role as a defender he’s nowhere near the best.

You barely noticed he was playing until that mad, wild lunge on Messi which saw him pick up a red card. He seemed shocked at the decision and protested his innocence. “What did I do?” was the look plastered across his face and, ironically, was exactly the same thing everyone else was thinking too. Not because they believed he was a victim of some grave miscarriage of justice but because he’d lost his head. He committed a dangerous challenge which rightly saw him receive his marching orders.

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As he left the field he motioned to Pique that his sending off was because his fellow international had been in the referee’s ear. Always looking for someone to blame. Sometimes Sergio, like tonight, the blame only lies with one person: you.

Iniesta needs to be wrapped in cotton wool and protected as much as possible

Similar to Messi there’s been a concern amongst football fans that Andres Iniesta hasn’t quite been up to his usual standard this season. It’s hard to remember a time in the modern game which hasn’t included the Spaniard ruling football. He’ll turn 33 next month but he showed the world that he isn’t finished just yet. Barcelona only need to protect him like they did Xavi Hernandez.

It’s no surprise that when Iniesta plays well, so do Barcelona. He was magnificent. Injuries have caused his season to become far too stop-start but there’s no one in this current team who can do what he does. Alongside Rakitic and Busquets, he was allowed a license to go further forward and his passing and vision were off the charts. Age is just a number to someone as talented as Andres and it’s imperative Barcelona tie him to a new deal.

Marcelo is the best left back in the world

Marcelo is a joy to watch right now. The afro sporting Brazilian followed up his incredible performance against Bayern Munich with one nearly as good against Barcelona. He constantly prodded and probed for openings down the left hand side and his delivery caused problems for the Barcelona defence.

The only thing stopping Marcelo from being included amongst the best left backs of all time is his injury record. He’s been desperately unlucky with injuries forcing him to miss large chunks of a season at Real Madrid. Players such as Nacho and Danilo can cover his absence, and in most games you can get by, but in the big ones you need Marcelo on the pitch if you want to win.

In his current form he’s unplayable and, in a similar vein to Barcelona legend Dani Alves, he makes an entire wing his own. Left back or left winger it matters little as his energy levels and standard of performances remain at the very top.

‘Broken’ Bale can’t be trusted to lead this team

It says a lot when you can win two European Cups and a Copa del Rey and it still be considered a surprise when you’re named in the starting line-up. Part of it was due to concerns over his fitness but the majority of people simply preferred someone else over him. Isco continually performs when given an opportunity and following his game winning performance against Sporting Gijon, must’ve felt like tonight was going to be his night. It wasn’t.

Bale’s inclusion was a huge demonstration of faith by Zidane. However when he broke down holding his foot, another layer of protection fell off the Welshman. How long can you ignore his injury issues? No one is doubting the quality of the player but there comes a point where you need to be honest and say that’s enough. Heir to Cristiano’s throne? He’s only in the side due to his price tag at the moment and nothing else.

Marco Asensio reminds you of a young Bale. Eager to impress, pace which scares defenders and a threat in the final third. Not scared to shoot when that’s the best option, even if it incurs the wrath of Cristiano Ronaldo, but smart enough to get his head up and find the pass if someone is better placed.

Every time Bale breaks down, the stronger the cases for Isco and Asensio starting become. 

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