It’s been a very interesting pre-season for some of Europe’s top teams and we have witnessed some very fantastic matchups. Football fans in America are having a great time as most of these teams have been playing their games in the U.S. The sport is growing rapidly in the country and all the teams are trying to push their brands and get a share of the market in America. We witnessed the first Manchester derby to be played outside England a week ago, and just this past weekend, American fans got to witness El Clasico first hand as Barcelona took on Real Madrid in Miami. It was an explosive game and here are five things we learnt from that game.
Real needs Ronaldo
Real Madrid created lots of chances with Isco orchestrating and creating chances for his teammates and coming close to a late equaliser himself, but it was very obvious that they were missing the lethal finishing of Cristiano Ronaldo. Some fans insist that Madrid are a better team without Ronaldo because he is usually the focal point when he’s on the pitch, but the team’s pre-season form of three losses from their last three matches, would suggest otherwise. They need the Portuguese, if they hope to maintain the same level at which they performed at last season. Zidane had initially planned to rest Ronaldo for the UEFA Super Cup tie against Manchester United but he might just be tempted to at least name the Portuguese on the bench against the Red Devils in Skopje next week.
Kovacic is ready
Real already have a Croatian schemer in Luka Modric in the middle of the park, but the one that caught the eye in this game was a different Croatian, Mateo Kovacic. The 23-year old midfielder showed his quality and topped it up with a stunning goal to give Real a reprieve and a way back into the game when it seemed like Barca were running away the tie. He has been with Real Madrid for two years but has been unable to break into the starting XI, with his compatriot, Toni Kroos, ahead of him, in the pecking order. However, this might just be his breakout season or he might have to consider leaving the club to look for regular playing time elsewhere because he needs to play every week to fulfil his excellent potential.
Barca takes pre-season very seriously
The Blaugrana started like a house on fire and came at Real from the first minute. They looked fast and poised offensively, attacking Real Madrid with the ball and hounding them without possession in the opening half-hour. Despite scoring two goals in just over six minutes, Barça continued to attack relentlessly and created great opportunities to score, finishing the half with nine total shots, three of which were on target. Barça scored a third goal early in the second half and continued to create chances, but were wasteful and also faced an inspired Keylor Navas in the Real goal and they ended up with 16 shots, six of them on target. The victory ensured that Barca won all three games on their pre-season tour of the United States tour and also took home the 2017 International Champions Cup with the victory over Madrid.
Neymar underlines his importance to Barca
I wrote a piece recently on why Barca cannot afford to lose the mercurial Brazillian and the 25-year-old solidified that theory in this game. For the first hour, while most of the starters were present, he practically ran the show and orchestrated most of Barca’a attacking moves. He was the catalyst behind most of the team’s runs, created many of their opportunities and even took the responsibility of delivering the team’s set-pieces. Lionel Messi started the scoring for Barca less than four minutes into the game, but the Argentine couldn’t quite maintain a consistently great level throughout the one hour he spent on the pitch. Luis Suárez was equally guilty of some woeful finishing upfront. Neymar was the star man and once again reminded everyone of his value to the team and why they need to do everything in their power to keep him.
There is no friendly El Clasico
We’ve seen a lot of friendly games in the U.S this pre-season and the tempo at which most of them have been played at. This game was quite different as it was frenetic, intense and ultracompetitive. It was obvious that neither team wanted to lose to the other. Both teams showed that there is nothing friendly when it comes to the El Clasico and they fought to win it from the blast of the referee’s whistle. Despite being billed as a friendly game, each team collected two bookings each while Neymar and Dani Carvajal almost exchanged blows at one point in the game. This match is just a prelude to what we should expect when both teams face off in the Spanish Super Cup in a forth night and with what we saw in this game, we can only expect two explosive el clasicos!