It was a friendly in name only as Barcelona and Real Madrid met for El Clasico on Saturday night in front of a sold-out crowd at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. A goal from Raphinha saw Barcelona take the match by a 1-0 score holding Real Madrid without a single shot on target. With both teams putting out strong sides, it was a good time for Barcelona’s new-look attack to get a test after rolling over Inter Miami. Real Madrid’s youthful midfield of Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni got a good test in the first half against Barcelona’s top attackers.
It’s clear that the match meant a little more to Xavi than Carlo Ancelotti as Real Madrid rolled out a more experimental lineup that was at a disadvantage to Barcelona’s press. Eden Hazard featured as a false nine as he regains fitness after undergoing surgery to remove a plate in his leg related to a prior fibula fracture in March. Hazard hasn’t been able to make his mark since moving to Real Madrid from Chelsea. Only making 66 appearances for Real Madrid so far, Hazard has scored six goals and assisted 10 more.
Raphinha got Barcelona’s lone goal while Real Madrid’s best chance was a hit off of the post. Xavi’s press looked to be in midseason form while Real Madrid struggled with the pace of the match as David Alaba and Antonio Rudiger spent more time marauding forward than defending. When the lights turn on for the season, things will likely revert to form so it’s too early to be concerned but it’s something to watch moving forward.
Speaking of things to watch, here are a few takeaways from El Clasico in Vegas:
Raphinha is taking to Barcelona well
After his move from Leeds United, it’s showing why Raphinha held out for Barcelona’s interest instead of taking Chelsea up on their transfer offer. Early into his Barca career, it’s clear that the Brazillian was born to wear the shirt as he already collected his second goal for Barcelona. He did get some help from a bad cross from Eder Militao but the finish can’t be taught. Picking up on pressing cues well and always looking to do something when he gets the ball, Raphinha’s play will be key to Barcelona looking to overtake Real Madrid for the title.
Not having won the title since the 2018-19 season, Xavi wants to end the drought now and with Raphinha and Robert Lewandowski, he’s getting the help that he needs. With Lewandowski moving from Bayern Munich, Barcelona has a forward that is feared again. How Real Madrid defended him during the first half was telling of how life in La Liga will go because the entire team collapsed on him. This makes it easier for the entire attack.
Missing Karim Benzema
Benzema missed the match due to starting preseason late so that he could get an extended holiday but without a recognized forward, Real Madrid struggled in attack. Vinicius Junior generally interchanges with the Frenchman as the two clearly understand what the other wants to do. Luka Jovic is now gone to Fiorentina which is why Ancelotti has been testing Hazard as a false nine. Depth at forward is probably the biggest weakness for Los Blancos and it’s something that will need to be addressed as Benzema can’t feature in every game.
Marco Asensio came in for Hazard but had the same issues going up against Barcelona’s defense as he’s more comfortable on the wings. If this match was a look into how things will be without Benzema during the season, then it would likely be a good idea for Real Madrid to dip into the transfer market to bolster their options sooner than later.
Barcelona are taking to preseason well
Even when Barcelona didn’t score, they tested Thibaut Courtois heavily in Vegas. When Ousmane Dembele came into the match in the second half, he was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet. Courtois ended up with six saves as Barcelona’s press and attack were relentless. Barcelona overpowered the midfield of Camavinga and Tchouameni in the first half and Real Madrid didn’t get a shot on target during the match. There was improvement when Toni Kroos and Luka Modric entered but Barcelona were on a different level.
Sergino Dest had a bright showing in the second half when he entered for Ronald Araujo. As Raphinha was also off the pitch, Dest and Dembele had a better understanding of their overlaps so Dest could power forward and create chances in attack. With Dembele being a different type of winger to Raphinha, Dest still feels like an odd man out in the lineup but he certainly will fight for his place at the club. Xavi can’t ask for a much better start to preseason than this though as taking down your rivals comprehensively builds all-important confidence.