Carlo’s Clasico tweaks backfire

Carlo Ancelotti lamented a Javier Mascherano push on Cristiano Ronaldo which wasn't perceived as a penalty after Real Madrid were beaten 2-1 by Barcelona. “I think the whole world saw it apart from the referee," said the Italian in the post-match press conference, but the Madrid-based media weren't about to be deflected from what were some fairly bad decisions from the Clasico virgin.

Undiano Mallenco, the referee, did pick up some of the slack on Sunday morning, although it's Los Blancos' boss who's coming under the most scrutiny. "Ancelotti and Undiano put the shackles on Madrid," said AS, with Marca suggesting he "gifted the first half to Barca with a new and untested system."

It took huevos for Ancelotti to make the tweaks he did. Sergio Ramos was promoted to a midfield role as Raphael Varane returned to partner Pepe at the back, Gareth Bale came in for Karim Benzema and Dani Carvajal edged the battle with Alvaro Arbeloa for a shot at Neymar. And while Ancelotti would have been taken the plaudits had his side produced the goods at Camp Nou, he'll now have to stand up to questions as to why he decided to be so bold with his team selection.

The 54-year-old has struggled with finding the right balance in midfield all season. With Xabi Alonso sidelined, Sami Khedira, Asier Illarramendi, Luka Modric and Isco have all feature in two or three man midfields. On Saturday night it was Ramos' turn; the Madrid captain taking his place alongside Modric and Khedira with Illarra suffering from muscle fatigue and only deemed fit enough to start on the bench.

Ramos' role was presumably to fill in the space where the likes of Lionel Messi and Cesc Fabregas drop to great effect, but a yellow card for a typically robust challenge on Neymar early on curtailed they way he had to put himself about. Ancelotti replaced him with Illarra not long after the break, and Madrid looked a better side for it.

"We pressed more, played more – we were in control of the game and had good chances to score," was Ancelotti's take on the second half, vaguely almost admitting defeat on his decision to play Ramos in a midfield role.

Further forward another wildcard failed to inspire Madrid – who were unbeaten in the five previous El Clasico fixtures – to victory in Cataunya: the inclusion of Gareth Bale. It's hard to be too hard on the Welshman, who has struggled with fitness since swapping the Premier League for La Liga, but he was a shade of the player who was so phenomenal last season. Like with Ramos, it wasn't surprising that Madrid improved when Bale was replaced by Karim Benzema.

The Frenchman rattled the bar in the aftermath of Ronaldo's penalty appeals as Madrid looked to respond to Neymar's opener. A moment of magic from Alexis Sanchez, who chipped all 6'5" of Diego Lopez, killed off that hope though; Jese Rodriguez's consolation was far too little, far too late.

Despite the inquisition that will follow this week, it's not all doom and gloom for Ancelotti at the Bernabeu. A six point gap doesn't make Barca uncatchable, while he can look forward to the return of Xabi Alonso and, hopefully, an improving Gareth Bale over the next few months.

With 10 games gone he may have lost his two biggest games – having lost to Atletico Madrid previously – but there is no reason they have to lose anymore with those two now out of the way. It is still early days in the Italians reign and, away from the Clasico spotlight, he can now take the next few months to iron out his selection issues. With a little luck, by the time Barca visit the Spanish capital for the return fixture he won't be using the match to try out new ideas again.

La Liga - Club News