WEDNESDAY night’s Copa Del Ray victory in the Santiago Bernabeau was Barcelona’s eighth victory in nine attempts over Real Madrid since Jose Mourinho assumed command. The Catalans were far from convincing in the early exchanges and found themselves 1-0 down at the break until the unlikely intervention of two defenders eventually swung the result in Pep Guardiola’s favour.
Madrid’s frustration at failing to overcome their bitterest of rivals spilled over in the second half resulting in yet another series of unsavoury incidents involving Pepe, Ramos and Carvalho. So what did we learn from Wednesday night’s latest installment of the eternal Barcelona versus Real Madrid power struggle?
Mourinho is running out of tactics
JOSE Mourinho changed his tactics for the visit of Barcelona by returning centre-half Ricardo Carvalho to the starting line-up alongside recalled right back Hamit Altintop. This allowed Pepe to assume a central midfield role and for long stretches of the opening half Madrid’s renewed hunger and work rate off the ball prevented Barcelona from getting into their usual stride.
The sight of Crisitano Ronaldo chasing back whenever Barcelona right back Dani Alves crossed the halfway line will have been especially pleasing to Mourinho and the Madrid supporters further underling Real’s willingness to close Barca down at the earliest opportunity. The Portuguese winger has come in for plenty of criticism from the Madrid press in recent months for supposedly failing to sparkle in ‘big games’. Ronaldo appeared to take umbrage at the local media’s view and his early strike gave the home side hope of victory until a defensive lapse minutes into the second period handed the initiative back to Barcelona once again.
Conceding such a straightforward goal to Carlos Puyol from a corner kick is inexcusable at the highest level and worse for Madrid; the goal appeared to unhinge the home side’s confidence. Real lost their shape, their discipline but most worryingly their belief once Puyol’s header hit the net and the ugly side of Madrid’s game resurfaced for the remainder of the tie.
Mourinho’s tactics whilst in charge of Inter Milan demonstrated how it was possible to defeat Barcelona and because of that the ‘Special One’ was brought to Real Madrid to return the club to its former glories. Unfortunately, for Mourinho the emergence of Barcelona’s tiki-taka all-dominant football has made the Catalan side the most revered club side on the planet. It is abundantly clear that unless the former Chelsea manager finds a way to knock his rivals ‘off their perch’ then not even winning La Liga will be enough to keep his job.
Barcelona can score from anywhere on the pitch
THE magnificent inter-play of Messi, Fabregas, Xavi and Iniesta is regularly at the heart of Barcelona’s domestic and European victories but Wednesday night’s Classico showed how even when that avenue is closed off Barcelona still find a way to win. Carlos Puyol and especially Eric Abidal rarely get on the score sheet but both players took their goals with the coolness of an experienced striker to see off Madrid 2-1.
Barcelona’s patient build-up never wavered despite being a goal behind for much of the opening half of Wednesday night’s Copa Del Ray encounter and this admirable trait helped the Catalans to turn the tide in their favour. Irrespective of the score Barcelona never diverts from their one-touch approach play and the most recent El Classico league fixture is a case in point.
Karim Benzema opened the scoring inside the first minute after goalkeeper Victor Valdes had inadvertently diverted an attempted clearance into the path of a Madrid midfielder. Madrid scored from the ensuing mistake but when the ball was played back to Valdes shortly afterwards the Barcelona goalkeeper did not resort to hacking clear like most players would after such a previous glaring mistake. Instead, Valdes calmly rolled the ball wide to one of his defenders and Barcelona began another attack from deep in their own half.
This belief, confidence, arrogance or whatever you wish to call it is what sets Barcelona apart from all other teams. The players stick to the script and play to the game plan created by Pep Guardiola. Only Madrid, Inter Milan and Arsenal have come close to out-manoeuvring the Camp Nou side in recent years but Barcelona’s added ability to score goals from anywhere on the pitch underlines the goal-scoring threat each player (defenders included) possesses in their starting XI.
Pepe should be banned
Lionel Messi was brought down in the 68th minute of the Copa Del Ray quarter final by Jose Callejon and the Real Madrid substitute was correctly brandished with a yellow card. What followed next was another unsavoury incident in the career of midfielder / defender Pepe. The Real Madrid player walked forward to where Messi was still lying on ground and clearly stamped on the diminutive Argentinean’s hand.
Unfortunately this unacceptable and petulant act went unpunished by referee Cesar Muniz Fernandez (who otherwise had a fine game) and Pepe managed to stay on the field until being hauled ashore with ten minutes to go by a clearly disgruntled Jose Mourinho.
Pepe’s record as a Real Madrid player makes for disappointing reading when you consider he was handed a ten-match ban back in 2009 for twice aiming a kick at Getafe striker Javi Casquero after giving away a penalty in a 3-2 victory. Pepe had to be dragged away by his teammate Iker Casillas as an ensuing melee saw the Madrid defender strike Juan Albin in the face before embarking on a lengthy suspension.
Retrospective punishment should be handed down on to Pepe following Wednesday night’s incident by the Spanish FA even if the misdemeanour fails to appear in the referee’s subsequent match report. Pepe’s indiscretion is just another in a long line of poor behaviour from Mourinho’s side and needs to be addressed before a player is seriously hurt.
Follow Ger on Twitter, @offcentrecircle.