Columnists, Sports

Tiki-Taka: A tranquilized El Clasico

Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic has gotten a lot of attention based on rumors of him leaving Barcelona FC, but he’s been quietly playing well through these rumors. COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Perhaps the most painful part about following the Premier League in the United States is having to wake up as early as 7:30 a.m. to watch your team play. Having grown up in India, where due to the time difference all Champions League games start by 1:30 a.m, I felt that my already fallacious sleep schedule would be able to adapt.

How wrong I was.

The North London derby was going to start early Saturday morning, and so Friday afternoon itself, I set my alarms on my phone to ensure I’d be up. But, alas, once again, I fell prey to my social life, which is becoming a mild hindrance to my fandom. The game kicked off at 7:30 a.m. — I woke up at 1 p.m. Darn pre-spring break parties.

After what seemed like a Herculean effort, I pushed myself out of bed and made myself comfortable on the couch in the living room. Tired, dehydrated and nursing a throbbing headache, I read the BBC match report on the Arsenal-Spurs game on my phone as I made myself some cereal.

I read about how Arsenal had been tactically sound, about how Aaron Ramsey’s goal was well taken, but I also read about the controversial Harry Kane penalty and the dramatic Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang penalty miss.

I wasn’t sure if I regretted sleeping through the game. But, my appetite was craving some sort of soccer action. I checked the time, and it was perfect — I had woken up just in time for El Clasico.

Last week, a friend sent me a truly beautiful piece on Lionel Messi, about how we didn’t realize that we were lucky to be alive at the same time as him. That article actually got me thinking I hadn’t seen Messi play enough.

Sure, I’d seen him in the big Champions League games and the World Cups, but I wanted to see the stuff that didn’t make it to the finely edited YouTube and Instagram videos.

From a neutral point of view, the game was quite drab for large durations. Messi didn’t feel the need to ever break out of stride. The lion prowled the den, while his pride did the rest. When everything is said and done, we’re all going to regret that we didn’t appreciate Ivan Rakitic enough.

Overshadowed by Messi at the club level, and by Luka Modric in the national team, the graceful Rakitic always needs to assume the role of chief lieutenant instead of the kingpin, which is why it’s baffling that rumors of his departure this summer are dominating the gossip columns.

This Barcelona midfield is a well-oiled machine, which operates like lubricated cogs of a wheel.

Arthur Melo is showing that he is ready to take on the mantle of the No. 8 jersey, and he’s showing a lot of signs of the old No. 6. The Brazilian pranced around the Bernabéu Stadium in a lazy trance, dancing all over Casemiro and Modric.

The hug Modric gave Ernesto Valverde after being substituted showed everything the Spaniard had felt about Valverde’s performance.

With players such as Luis Suarez, Messi and Neymar ahead of a player, the job of a midfielder can often get overshadowed. Providing regular service to ensure the tap is always flowing for others to lap up is no easy feat.

Just ask Mesut Ozil — he knows exactly the value of a created chance. Thankfully for Rakitic and company, they have enough thirsty mouths in front of them.

Real Madrid struggled to get a grasp on the game, and their best chance of scoring was through teenage sensation Vinicius Junior. The forward has an electric touch and gets you on the edge of your seat any time he surges toward a goal.

He has flashes of Arjen Robben in him. The cut-back-and-shoot, which still needs work, looks like something defenders are going to have to get used to. He cut a stark contrast to Gareth Bale, who looked jaded as ever.

The much-maligned Welshman seemed to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, and Madrid fans didn’t help easy the load, either. When he was hooked off the pitch, the cacophony could be heard even on the screen. This could perhaps be the last El Clasico Bale plays in.

Santiago Solari looks as lost on the touchline as Luiz Felipe Scolari did in Belo Horizonte. He has as good a chance of hanging on to his job as Ronaldo has of returning to Madrid.

Madrid wasn’t that bad, and Barca wasn’t that good either, but it felt as though the white flag had been raised in the Bernabéu long before kickoff.

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