Real story of El Clasico victory lay in Madrid’s midfield

The evidence could hardly have been planer for Real Madrid president Florentino Perez on Saturday night, but if history tells us anything about the man, the odds are he’ll completely have missed it.

While he’ll doubtless focus on the part played by Bale, Benzema and Cristiano in his side’s impressive El Clasico victory, the real story of the night lay in Real Madrid’s midfield and the selection of a young man who cost buttons in comparison to his galactico team mates.


When Perez pops off to bed each night and dreams his Real Madrid dream, the likelihood is that Brazilian Casemiro rarely if ever features.

Yet on Saturday night, the 24-year-old Brazilian showed what even the dogs in the street know – that successful football teams need at least one midfield player who is prepared to sit in and mind the house.

Back in November when last Real Madrid and Barcelona met, Rafael Benitez appeared to cave in to pressure both from inside and outside of the club when he dropped the defensive midfielder in favour of a galactico-heavy, attacking line up.

Up to then, Benitez had made good use of the young Brazilian, the only specialist screening midfielder at the club.

However, with all of Perez’s stars available, the former Liverpool manager appeared to go against everything he has espoused in his career, fielding Modric and Kroos behind a front four of Ronaldo, Bale, Rodriguez and Benzema. The result was almost total embarrassment.

The worst thing perhaps was how screamingly obvious it all seemed. The saddest, that a manager of Benitez’s legendary single mindedness, could crumble so meekly in the face of presidential, media and fan pressure.

There’s little question that the 4-0 Bernabeu hammering dished out by Barcelona hastened Rafa’s exit. Benitez, however, could have few complaints. Yes, perhaps he was simply prepared to do more or less anything to keep his dream job.

But in betraying almost everything he had believed in – the importance of shape, of discipline, of patience – he ensured that he was shown the door without even the courage of his convictions to comfort him.

There’s no question his successor has benefitted from being a club legend, from being Zinedine Zidane. He has certainly profited when it comes to dealing with the president inside the club and when fronting up to the cult of the star player Perez’s tenure has fostered.

And he has benefitted from his own star status when dealing with the demanding media and the massive expectations of the fans. His standing makes him more bullet proof than poor Benitez.

It buys him time. And critically, it allows him select the likes of Casemiro over James or Isco – a choice that proved crucial on Saturday evening in inflicting on Barca their first home defeat of the season, indeed their first defeat in a record 39 game unbeaten run.


The former Sao Paolo player was outstanding in Real’s sixth win on the trot. A coincidence that Casemiro has started all six of those games? On Saturday’s evidence, the answer must be a resounding no.

The lesson, of course, is that all great sides need players like Casemiro. They need the defensive balance, the midfield screen, the cover that such a player provides, especially in a side that looks to commit so many players forward.

This is not to say that the Brazilian is a great defensive midfielder. It is not to say that Zidane’s Madrid will be built around him. It is really to state what has been obvious to so many for quite some time – the president being the most critical exception.

Perhaps after the weekend’s El Clasico victory, Perez will finally have seen the light. Maybe he needed the greatest galactico of them all to show him?

But then, Florentino didn’t see the value of the great Claude Makelele back in his first tenure as president – bombing the Frenchman out of the club in 2003 saying “He wasn’t a header of the ball and he rarely passed the ball more than three metres”.

So if he didn’t get it with Claude, will he even have noticed the part played by Casemiro at the Camp Nou? If he did, well then the big victory for Zidane over the weekend may not have been at the Camp Nou at all, but in Real Madrid’s presidential suite.

The Author

Paul Little

Freelance football columnist. European Football with the Irish Daily Star. Hold the Back Page podcast regular. Family and Renaissance Man. Dublin born, Wicklow resident.

2 thoughts on “Real story of El Clasico victory lay in Madrid’s midfield

  1. Indeed, it become imperative that Real Madrid and Zinedine zidane really need to give Casemiro the chance to improve and explore his qualities. However, in order to revive and consolidate on the real Galacticos ‘era”, there must be a well coordinated synergy between Casemiro and other creative attacking midfielders(Modric, Kroos etall).

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