Real Madrid vs Barcelona: El Clasico will be decided based on which team executes their tactical game plan better

You won’t find a greater rivalry than real Madrid And Barcelona, and the two mega-clubs will write another El Clasico chapter this Thursday when they meet in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals. Through April 4th, these two historic rivals will meet three times. For a generation, this clash has not just been a battle between rivals, but a battle between styles. Real Madrid’s Galacticos, a squad of international stars, against homegrown Barcelona talent. The intricate stylings of a Barcelona side based on Pep Guardiola’s tika-taka passing style against Madrid’s thunderous ups and downs. Those times are long gone.

Barcelona rely on direct attacks

A look at these two squads will now follow show that they are actually incredibly similar. To a certain extent this was inevitable. Golden generations like the group that Barcelona’s success was built on wouldn’t be golden if they kept popping up. The fact that one of them still occupies the midfield for them Sergio Busquetsand another managed for her in now Xavi not enough to stop the passage of time. And really, after a summer shopping spree that has landed Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Jules Kounde, Frank Kessy, Marco Alonsoand Andreas Christiansen, it’s hard not to wonder what the Catalan word for galactico is.

And this changed approach is reflected on the field. Barcelona are seven points clear in La Liga but both teams have fairly similar top-line stats. Barcelona have scored 45 goals against Madrid’s 47 and conceded eight against Madrid’s 18, with underlying expected goal stats even closer, 46.4 vs 48.6 in attack and 18.8 vs 20.4 in defence. It only gets interesting when you look under the hood.

Remarkably, these two teams have played an almost identical number of passes in 23 games, 12,490 for Barcelona and 12,440 for Madrid. But how they approached their business is very, very different. In a notable turnaround since the rivalry’s heyday, it’s Xavi’s side who have opted to play more directly. They have made significantly more long passes than Madrid, 819 to 642, and put the ball inside the box 747 times more often than 638. But it is Madrid who lead the field in terms of passes made in the last third, with 3685 to 3236.


All this paints a very clear picture. Barcelona want to play directly, get the ball across the field and into the penalty area and score goals. Madrid are happier to keep the ball once they are in the attacking third until they have chosen an opportune moment to score. Both methods work equally well to score goals, but the numbers show that Barcelona are no longer keeping the ball and Real Madrid are looking to up the tempo. Rather, both sides want a relatively up-and-down game, but when push comes to shove it’s Madrid, who are more willing to get the ball back into circulation, and Barcelona, ​​who want to find a quick shot in attack Zones instead of looking for better opportunities.

These are two very good teams and it will certainly be entertaining when they take to the field on Thursday, but this just isn’t your slightly older brother’s Clasico. Complicated passing in midfield is out, direct winging is in and Barcelona are at the forefront of this attack.

Both teams are developing defensively

A similar phenomenon happens on the defensive side of the ball. These two teams are the best in Spain when it comes to preventing the opponent from scoring. They are tied with the best xG conceded in the league at 0.75. Barcelona have the added benefit of being well ahead of their xG projections, thanks in part to a superb season so far from Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal, who has conceded five fewer goals than an xG model from the shot predicted for the average goalie from the shots he faces. But similar to the attacking story, when you break down the numbers you can see that the two teams differ slightly but clearly in their approach.

Barcelona fire very few shots. They only collect 7.87 per game, the best score in Spain. Madrid conceded 10.3, the fourth-best overall rating. But Madrid are excellent at making their opponents throw pretty bad shots on average. Shots against Madrid are worth 0.07 xG per shot, the best mark in the league, while shots against Barcelona are worth 0.10 on average, a much more average number. These numbers make sense and start to paint a holistic picture when you combine them with their oppressive numbers. Barcelona are one of the most aggressive teams when it comes to regaining possession in La Liga, with 61 tackle attempts in the attacking third, one of three Spanish teams with over 60, while Madrid are further down the list with 53. And even in the middle third of the field, Barcelona easily overtakes Madrid with 150 tackles to 144 for Madrid.

Put it all together and you can see how the attacking and defending halves interact. Barcelona play more directly, bringing the ball across the field to their attackers, who attack the penalty area and try to create chances. They don’t do this because they play conservatively, but because it’s an approach that allows them to stay in shape and strike when lost, win it back and attack again. Madrid, on the other hand, are more willing to use the ball and play it around in the attacking third, making it a bit easier to counter against them, making their defense much more focused on recovering than winning the ball back. They can move the ball up against Madrid, but when you get into good areas, their players have recovered and it becomes quite difficult to get anything resembling a good shot against them.

Ultimately, these two teams are evenly matched and play the game in superficially similar ways. They are certainly more alike than they were ten years ago. Both have talented wingers, both play the ball relatively quickly into the offensive third, both sides want to attack the penalty area. But if you look under the hood, you can see key differences in the way they do business. Thursday’s Clasico will almost certainly be decided by whoever executes their approach better.

How to see and odds

  • Date: Thursday March 2 | Time: 3 p.m. ET
  • Location: Santiago Bernabeu – Madrid, Spain
  • TV: ESPN | Live broadcast: fuboTV (try for free)
  • Opportunities: Real -105; Draw: +260; Barca +270 (via Caesars Sportsbook)

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