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Barcelona v Real Madrid

Real Madrid's new Ramos? Alaba steps up at both ends to decide El Clasico

17:40 BST 24/10/2021
David Alaba Vinicius Junior Memphis Depay Real Madrid Barcelona GFX
As Barcelona struggle to replace their departed inspirational captain, Los Blancos look to have done just that with their signing of the Austria star

Match statistics: Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid

Real Madrid and Barcelona both lost legendary captains over the summer, with Sergio Ramos and Lionel Messi heading to Paris as an unlikely buddy movie pairing.

As such, the front page of AS on Sunday read, "The new Clasico".

But while the Catalans’ No.10 can never be truly replaced, David Alaba showed why he is proving an instant hit for Los Blancos, with Ramos-esque match-winning contributions at both ends of the pitch.

Despite playing centre-back, Ramos was Real Madrid’s leader and an essential contributor in attack, scoring goals in big games, and the Austria defender looks like he will prove himself an able successor.

He helped Madrid record a fourth consecutive win over Barca, their best run of form against their arch-rivals since 1965.

It was Alaba’s excellent strike which paved the way for Madrid’s 2-1 win over Barca on Sunday afternoon, taking the visitors top and leaving Ronald Koeman’s side languishing in eighth place.

Barcelona came into the Clasico with two wins in their last two games, their first back-to-back victories this season, but the drab performance over Dynamo Kyiv in midweek left a lot to be desired.

A half-empty Camp Nou watched that game, but the crowd was doubled for this. Still, it was the lowest Camp Nou Clasico attendance since 1988, highlighting the low ebb the Blaugrana find themselves in.

With the Catalan national anthem, Els Seguidors, ringing in their ears, Barcelona threw themselves into the game with enthusiasm, if not excellence. Those days are gone, for now at least, with Ronaldinho, Deco, Carles Puyol and Luis Enrique no doubt discussing them in the presidential box.

That collection of Barcelona legends might not have enjoyed Real Madrid’s opener, but will at least acknowledge the quality of the strike.

It was a surgical operation, the procedure carried out by doctors Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Alaba. It was one of the few ‘perfect’ moves of the game, with a lot of mistakes being made by both sides.

The break started with Memphis Depay turning the ball over on the edge of Madrid’s box, with Vinicius beating Oscar Mingueza and then showing his newfound poise with a fine pass across the field to Rodrygo. He sought out Alaba in space and the ex-Bayern Munich star, with laser-guided precision, lashed past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Barca had no answer to it; replacing the best player in the club’s history takes some doing. Ansu Fati wears Messi’s No 10 shirt but understandably the youngster has a long way to go to fill the Argentine’s boots.

Ansu and Memphis were kept quiet by Alaba, who is already crucial for Madrid. The defender was alert to their runs off the ball and far stricter with them than Mingueza was with Vinicius.

The Brazilian, for his part, was a constant thorn in Barca’s right-hand side throughout, with Mingueza selected for his speed over Sergi Roberto, but still unable to keep up with the winger. He was axed at half-time, with Sergino Dest moved back to right-back to help keep the waspish forward at bay.

It nearly backfired when a Dest error allowed Vinicius in, but his pace allowed him to recover just in time and whisk the ball of his toes.

As the game fractured there were chances at both ends before Lucas Vazquez settled it, under remarkably little pressure from Eric Garcia, after Marco Asensio’s shot was parried.

Substitute Sergio Aguero netted in the 97th minute, but it was far too little, far too late for a toothless Barcelona, lacking both leaders and star power.

Alaba brings both for Real Madrid, and here it steered them to victory.