The 28-year-old is best known for his performances in the heart of the defence, but it was in the centre of midfield, where he has more regularly played for his national side, that the competitive ex-Porto man came to the fore in the Spanish capital.
Jose Mourinho sent his side out to stifle their guests, dropping the hugely influential offensive talent of Mesut Ozil to the bench in favour of a more pragmatic midfield trio of Pepe, Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira. While Madrid offered little as an attacking force until the latter stages of the match, they restricted their guests impressively, with the No.3 undoubtedly the most active and destructive force in the centre of the field.
Pepe looked like a man who had been playing the position for years, rather than simply deployed in the role as what was almost a wildcard move by Mourinho. He snapped at the heels of Lionel Messi when the diminutive Argentine dropped deep in order to find space but he also showed plenty of athletic ability to drive forward when in possession.
| FROM OUR PLAYER RATINGS
|7.5||"Employed in a defensive midfield role, and was outstanding, breaking up the play constantly and performing precisely the role that Mourinho would have wanted, in what was a hugely impressive display from the Portuguese."|
The activity of Pepe could be highlighted by his foul count of five – a game high statistic. Crucially, none of these challenges were deemed worthy of a booking, but his constant niggling prevented Barcelona from gaining any real momentum or offensive fluency in the match.
During the brief spell the Portuguese was moved back into the heart of the defence following Raul Albiol’s red card, a spark was missing from the centre of the pitch, but this returned with the introduction of Arvalo Arbeloa and the subsequent reshuffling of Pepe back into the midfield, where his every touch would be cheered by an appreciative home crowd.
After dominating the Clasico, there may be long-term repercussions for Pepe, whose energy will likely see him deployed in a similar position in the trio of forthcoming Clasico encounters, in which defensive stability may well be favoured by Mourinho over offensive flair.
Using the ex-Maritimo man in the centre of the pitch was certainly an inspired move by the Portuguese coach, who has seemingly already moved to set his side’s stance for the remainder of the Clasico series.
If Pepe can maintain such magnificent form in the coming clashes against the reigning Spanish champions, then he will not only push himself towards the superstar bracket in the world game, but he will also win himself a place in the heart of Madridistas, who will not quickly forget his contribution in stifling the best midfield unit in the world.