Barca display solid defence

Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic beating Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and defender Sergio Ramos to score the winning goal on Saturday.
Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic beating Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and defender Sergio Ramos to score the winning goal on Saturday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

'Human shield' Lenglet, Pique block seven shots when the goalscorers have an off day

MADRID • There was little sign of Barcelona's swashbuckling attacking play in their 1-0 LaLiga win at Real Madrid on Saturday as the team renowned for goalscoring produced a rare masterclass in defending, led by Clement Lenglet and Gerard Pique.

Ivan Rakitic scored the decisive goal in a cagey Clasico that lacked the drama associated with the fixture, sending the table-toppers 12 points clear of third-placed Real.

The victory, coming hot on the heels of last week's 3-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu in the second leg of their King's Cup semi-final, was mostly down to the steeliness of their central defensive pair, who blocked seven shots between them, forming a human shield in front of goal.

"Every time Madrid attacked us, Pique or Lenglet cleared the danger, I had very little work to do because of them," said Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

"We fought and suffered in the last half-hour, (but) we defended as a team. You always suffer a bit at the Bernabeu, but we know we have a great team and we fought hard for the victory.

"The last few years have been very good here, we've had a lot of success here and I hope it stays that way."

Rakitic added: "We worked very hard for this victory and we deserve it. Sometimes, you have to fight, you have to stick your leg in and we are very happy."

Pique led jubilant celebrations in the middle of the pitch after the full-time whistle, but later warned that the league title was not in the bag despite "having made a real statement".

The former Spain international told reporters: "We knew how to suffer. We weren't celebrating the league title because Atletico (Madrid) are still there.

"It's been a perfect week and we should celebrate it, but we haven't won the league yet, not at all, it's not definitive."

However, his manager Ernesto Valverde all but wrote off Real's title ambitions after Barcelona overtook them in their head-to-head record for the first time in 87 years, with 96 victories to 95.

The Spaniard claimed his side had "delivered our best and inflicted damage on our rival".

Real No. 1 Thibaut Courtois also conceded they "lacked accuracy" in the two games against the Spanish champions.

The Belgium goalkeeper said: "To win games, you need to score goals and we didn't do that. We couldn't play the final pass and they saved themselves a couple of times, the ball just didn't want to go in."

His coach Santiago Solari was equally despondent after Real slumped to their third straight home loss for the first time since 2004, admitting "sometimes, everything doesn't go for you".

And former Real manager Jose Mourinho predicted things would get worse for the European champions as they "are (now) on a low".

He told beIN Sports: "It was not a happy performance. It was not the performance of a happy team. It was not the performance of a team with great belief and self-esteem.

"It's just a soft performance... against the top teams, you have to do much more than this if you want to win."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2019, with the headline 'Barca display solid defence'. Print Edition | Subscribe