Only a draw at home against their biggest rivals, and still, Barcelona should be pleased. Still 8 points ahead of Real Madrid, and still one Lionel Messi, there whenever he’s most needed, scoring two goals in a match they probably didn’t deserve to win, a rarity in a Clasico from recent years.
Tito Vilanova is creative, maybe a bit too creative when it comes to tactics. Adventurous, risky. But that was only showcased because Barcelona have been suffering from a terrible run of luck this season when it comes to their central defenders. No Gerard Pique, no Carles Puyol. Vilanova decided that a left back shall be his savior, and put Adriano next to Javier Mascherano as his centre back duo.
It limited the entire Barcelona offense for a long time. Adriana kept pulling everyone back with his positioning, ruining offside traps and worse, forcing Xavi and Busquets, who was already playing a more defensive role than usual, to begin attacks from much further than they’re used to. It worked very well for the Real Madrid pressure, as Lionel Messi ventured from his favorite positions to help the stagnant ball movement.
After falling behind due to some bad defending and bad goalkeeping, things didn’t look better for Barcelona. They were nearly 0-2 down a minute later, but that luck we were talking about finally came through. Ball hit the post, saved for a bit longer. On the other end, Pepe made his obligatory mistake of the match, and while Real Madrid players were asking for a foul that never happened, Messi showed his quick thought and instincts once again, scoring and equalizing. Always pushing forward, always ready for anything that happens. Another huge part of what makes him a level above the rest, along with the sometimes unhappy chap from Real Madrid.
From here, this was the Barcelona – Real we usually see. Xavi and Iniesta felt more comfortable, and everyone start moving into their known, usuall, assignments. Cesc Fabregas was sacrificed to be a left winger in the sake of having another person who can handle and pass the ball. Watching Alexis play later on as the match started losing all tactical constraints, after the 2-2 was already in place, makes you wonder why Vilanova made that substitution at all, which added nothing to Barcelona’s match.
Pedro did a great job on the right wing, but he was stuck there for too long, with hardly any ventures into the middle. The Barcelona no-striker approach works only because Lionel Messi is such a freak of nature when it comes to his ability with the ball and the complete panic he creates whenever his 25 meters from goal. He’s turning into a little master of free kicks as well, or maybe it’s just when he sees a Blancos wall and Iker Casillas at goal.
Was Alex Song a better choice? Barcelona’s defending could have been better, but they made it through and Vilanova survived his huge gamble without too much damage taken. When you have Lionel Messi, even bad patches aren’t that terrible, and playing three or four players out of position is still manageable. For the long run? Barcelona need a bit more consistency in their midfield, and their preferred centre backs, or at least one of them. That 8 point lead isn’t bulletproof, even with Messi.