For Real, Defence is the Best Form of Attack
How a tactically astute Zidane learned from Benitez’s mistakes and helped his team pip Barca 2-1
Bloodied by a 4-0 thrashing Barcelona handed them l a s t N o v e mb e r, Real Madrid's tactical changes in Saturday's El Clasico were richly rewarded when they ended the home side's record-breaking 39-game unbeaten run with a 2-1 victory at the Nou Camp. Coach Zi nedi ne Zida ne lea r ned the lessons of predecessor Rafael Benitez's disastrous tactics in the last encounter and employed defensive midfielder Casemiro in favour of more attack-minded players, opting instead to sit and wait for Barcelona. "We had a game plan, we know we've got speed on the counter-attack, so we used that to our advantage," Madrid forward Gareth Bale said on Saturday after late strikes from Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo cancelled out Gerard Pique's opener on 56 minutes. "We know obviously if you attack them they're not the best defensive team in the world. They're great at attacking, so we worked on that in training and it's paid off."
Before kickoff, Barcelona staged an emotional tribute to late player and coach Johan Cruyff, who had an irreversible inf luence on the philosophy of attacking football with which the team remain associated with today. Coach Luis Enrique and captain Andres Iniesta had talked of their desire to give the Dutchman, who succumbed to cancer at the age of 68 last month, the perfect tribute on the pitch by beating Madrid with a display of attacking football.
However, they were cancelled out by Frenchman Zidane's astute game plan and none of their potent front three of Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi or Neymar were able to demonstrate their usual attacking f lair. "Casemiro played a fundamental role," Zidane said.
"The goal scorers made the difference but above all, we put in a huge performance defensively against players who can cause you damage if you give them any space. I enjoyed seeing my players help each other out." Madrid defender Marcelo added that the result was a reward for his side's ability to resist the temptation to mirror Barcelona's attacking style of play
"Barcelona are one of the best teams in the world and we managed to beat them by playing well and knowing how to suffer, because we were patient," the Brazilian said. "We owed our supporters something after the last game (the 4-0 defeat in November). A team like this always has to be at the top and we gave everything to make our fans happy." Madrid's t actics were hai led by French newspaper L'Equipe with the headline 'Super Zidane', and Spanish daily Marca's front cover praised the team's spirit, saying "Los Blancos didn't give up and conquered the Nou Camp".