La Liga Round-Up Week 13: The Clásico to end all Clásicos!

by Joseph Sexton

“You just haven’t earned it yet baby!”, a bequiffed man from Manchester once sang, and that line sums up Madrid’s abysmal failure at the Camp Nou last night. We saw some fine action earlier in the weekend, and a couple of this writer’s predictions proved hopelessly off the mark. But none of that seems to matter after yesterday’s events. Let’s not beat around the bush- after all the hyperbole, after all the craziness, after everything- we were left with something epoch-defining; an encounter for the ages. For once, the hype-mongers failed to ratchet it up enough to match the reality. This, truly, was something else.

Barcelona have of course famously beaten Real 5-0 on no less than five occasions, one a Michael Laudrup-inspired exhibition, abetted by a rampant Romario which this author remembers well; followed by a subsequent a 5-0 reverse  at the Bernebéu in which the masterful elder Laudrup brother played centre stage for the opposite side a year later. It’s not even been two years since they went to the Bernabéu, against a Real team unbeaten in 18 league matches  with the title still in the balance, and spanked their hosts 6-2. And it should have been more that day, because Barcelona took their foot off the pedal, showboated a little, and gave their hosts false hope in conceding a sloppy second. But neither of these victories can compare to what happened last night in front of 98,000 spectators.

For one thing, this was not a Real team coached by the stand-in Juande Ramos, an idealistic yet tactically naive Jorge Váldano, nor the criminally undermined Manuel Pellegrini. This was not a team littered with overpriced rubbish and plagued by institutional instability or incoherent methods. This was a Real team coached by arguably the world’s greatest manager, with complete control on a scale unimaginable to any of his predecessors. This was a Madrid team with a fantastic backline (if you forget about the hapless Marcelo) sitting in front of the worlds greatest goalkeeper. This was a Madrid with world-cup winner Xabi Alonso patrolling the midfield. aided by one of the stars of Germany’s thrilling world cup run, Sami Khedira. This was a Madrid with the 2008 Ballon d’Or winner in the best form of his career, an Angel di Maria who has long-since shed the ’70 minute man’ tag which once plagued him at Benfica, and another stellar performer from this year’s world cup (and this season’s league campaign), Mesut Ozil in support. This was an expensively assembled squad in top form which had finally begun to gel, and more importantly, a team with a growing sense of identity. Yet after 90 minutes of perfection from the Blaugrana, they resembled nothing more than a schoolboy side. “So Barcelona scored 8 against Almería?”, stated a confident Cristiano Ronaldo after Real’s last league outing against Athletic. “Let’s see them do that next week in El Clásico!”.

Be careful what you wish for. On last night’s evidence, one must feel sympathy for Juanma Lillo, sacked on the spot by Almería that night.

In the end of course, Barcelona only scored five but even that impressive figure is beside the point. Barcelona simply annihilated a side of true class, full of talent, and made some of the world’s greatest players look like amateurs. ‘Like statues’, this reporter opined leaving the ground after last season’s group stage encounter when Mourinho’s previous club, Inter, had been schooled 2-0 by a Barça team shorn of several key players and playing in second gear. This was worse, much worse. And on Barcelona’s part, undoubtedly the most impressive performance yet under Pep Guardiola; an amazing thing in itself, given the vast array of choice on offer.

Many people cite the Milan of Capello’s 4-0 shellacking of the original Barcelona Dream Team as a club performance that defined its era, at least in terms of two sides of highest calibre colliding and one ending up utterly obliterated. Perhaps in years to come, last night’s trouncing will be spoken of in the same breath.

José Mourinho certainly showed cojones in opting for the same system that has served his side so well of late. Injury meant that the improving Karim Benzema was drafted into replace Gonzalo Higuaín. It was a bold move, but a boneheaded one. Real never got a grip in midfield, with Messi operating as a false 9 and Xavi Hernández playing higher up the park than usual to avoid the disruptive intentions of Ozil. Thus, it was no surprise to see the little man from midfield pop up to open the scoring. It was an unfortunate goal to concede, but it had been coming; Messi had already hit the post after 6 minutes. If that wasn’t bad enough, the second was disastrous in every sense of the word. Sergio Ramos’ poor positioning left David Villa completely free on the left, and his cross was fumbled by Casillas allowing Pedro to prod home. Just 18 minutes in, and the game was up for Mou.

It seems churlish to argue whether alternative tactics and selections might have seen Madrid fare better, for in this sort of form Barcelona would have prevailed come what may. But the mooted selection of Lassana Diarra in place of Mesut Ozil would at least have given them a fighting chance in the centre. A true defender, albeit a workmanlike one in Alvaro Arbeloa would have been a massive improvement on the attack-minded Brazilian, Marcelo. But ultimately, this is small beer. Barcelona on the night were simply unplayable.

Real had started playing a deep defensive line and the response to going two down was to try and squeeze the play, making the pitch as compact as possible. But Barcelona never looked troubled, and Madrid still remained essentially a broken team, unable to find any link to bring their forwards into play. They also became vulnerable to quick balls forward as their backline advanced, and this was to cost them dearly. The dysfunctional nature of this Real performance can be summed up in two key areas; that Karim Benzema barely touched the ball all night, and that the closest they ever came to scoring was from two Ronaldo free-kicks. By the time Lass finally did enter the fray for Ozil at half-time, it seemed a token gesture, and Barcelona weren’t finished yet.

The irrepressible Messi combined with the equally impressive David Villa on 55 minutes, the latter providing a superb finish despite the best efforts of Pepe. Three minutes later the Argentine supplied an astonishing pass which cut the high-line of Madrid to shreds. When Villa received the ball one-on-one against the frantically onrushing Casillas, you simply knew what the outcome would be. Goal number four, and poor Iker looked like he was fighting back tears.

Barcelona were now content to toy with their opponents, bringing on Keita, Bojan and Jeffren for Xavi, Villa and Pedro respectively. Bojan looked to be through on goal with his first touch, but Pepe was at hand to smother the danger. Shortly after that, he tested Casillas with a long range effort. In the final minute he turned provider, gifting fellow substitute Jeffren the easiest of finishes. Sergio Ramos wrapped up a thoroughly embarrassing night by getting himself sent off for a dreadful tackle on Messi at the the death.

The statistics tell their own story, and it’s a damning verdict for Madrid. 37% possession is nothing unusual against Barcelona, but Barcelona led the foul count throughout; by some distance until the likes of Alonso, Khedira and Ramos got ratty late on, along with Carvalho’s cheeky handball. If was the utter lack of fight, and lack of desire which summed up Madrid’s display more than anything. By the time they decided to get stuck in physically, it was petty, stupid and futile as the game had long since been decided. Barcelona had 12 goal attempts to Real’s 4, with the on-target count of 6 to 2 in the Catalan’s favour. That in itself is a further indication of just how astonishingly good Barcelona were; 6 on target, 5 goals… and Messi’s effort against the post to boot.

If matters on the field were surreal, what we saw afterwards came close. For what seemed like an eternity, José Mourinho fielded questions in Spanish and his native Portuguese from the press corps. His theme remained consistent. Yes, we gifted them two stupid goals, and you can’t gift a team like Barcelona two stupid goals and hope to compete. But he had no complaints at all about the defeat. For me, he said, this is easy defeat to accept, the easiest sort. Sometimes in the past, sometimes here at Camp Nou, there have been important factors, cards, decisions that went against my teams, etc. But tonight, he conceded, Barcelona had been superior in every department. They played very well, he said, and Real had been simply awful.

When asked about his players’ attitude, and how their confidence was after the game he said “I have spoken to them already, and they know that they can plan much better than this. I’m not crying. My Inter team were beaten badly here early last season, but in the end we reached the [Champions League] final; they [Barcelona] watched it on television”

After going two goals down, he still felt that his side might have been able to come back but after the third goal they died. “I felt powerless. I knew it was over. By this stage, the only concern was to maintain our shape. It was very disappointing.”

By contrast, Guardiola had little to say. On Messi’s performance, he said “he is the best in the world. I see him in training every day. He can do anything, he does it all, not just scoring goals.”. He praised Johan Cruyff and Charly Rexach, two of the architects of FC Barcelona’s footballing identity. But when asked if his team were the best in history, he batted the questions aside, stating that “We have to remain humble and let time decide on matters like this”.

The scenes in around Plaça Catalunya and La Rambla were chaotic, and the Catalan sporting press no less euphoric come the morning. ‘Baño al Madrid’, read the front page of El Mundo Deportivo, evoking the image of Real Madrid having a bucket of cold water dumped over them; ‘a slap in the face’ would be the closest available idiom in English. ‘Baño de Realidad!’ ran El Periodico, continuing along this aquatic theme. Further on, El Mundo’s analysis of Cristiano Ronaldo’s performance read “It wasn’t 8, but almost…”.

La Vanguardia’s front-page read “5-0: Barça humiliate Real with an exhibition of football”. “Deliciously beautiful, Barça!” topped their match report, and “Xavi Hernández- the man of an era”, and one would hope the due recognition is bestowed upon him in the end of year awards.

El Mundo awarded man of the match to the entire Barça team, with the broadsheet opting to award Villa, Xavi and Messi 10 each. All concurred that Pepe had been by some distance Madrid’s best performer, offering praise to the Portuguese for keeping his composure and focus when all around him were losing theirs.

And that’s that! Now, we shall take a look at what happened elsewhere in the liga. Yes, there is a liga.

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Andy Mitten tweeted on Saturday night that second division Real Betis had sold 56,000 tickets ahead of their game against Barcelona B that day, only for the gods to intervene and see it rained off an hour before kick-off. An amazing figure, and given the source, surely true.

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Villarreal opened the weekend with a 3-0 away success away to Zaragoza, which leaves the Aragonese side rooted to the foot of the table. Senna, Cazorla and Nilmar were amongst the goals as the hosts’ Contini was sent off for two bookable offences.

Then the real fun began. Sevilla would have fancied their chances at home to Getafe, and justifiably so. When Kanouté opened the scoring on 31 minutes, you would have thought ‘game over’. But a gutsy Getafe side hauled their way back into it, first through a penalty just short of the hour mark converted by Moral. Miku had them ahead just minutes later, and Rios compounded the hosts’ embarrassment 12 minutes from time. Questions are beginning to emerge about potential unrest in the camp, and the manner in which they gave up was jarring for a team with such talent. Could be one to watch, and as more emerges we’ll keep you updated.

Unfortunately, this author missed the other game of the weekend, the other Madrid-Barcelona derby. By all accounts, it was a superb game of end to end football, and it was the visiting Espanyol who emerged victorious by a magin of 3-2. Either team could have won, but the result sees Atlético cede their Champions League place to the increasingly impressive Catalans, who have now added the trick of winning away to their repertoire.

On Sunday, Bilbao eked out a grim 1-0 victory at home to Osasuna courtesy of a last-minute goal by Gurpegi. It was a win that left Bilbao coach Joaquín Caparrós proclaiming that ‘The Virgin of Begonia saved us!’ in his post match interview, this single utterance proving infinitely more entertaining than anything that had happened during the game.

Finally, the late kick-off proved to be something on an unexpected treat. Having lost 8-0 at home to Barcelona, and giving their coach the boot, few would have given a prayer to Almería ahead of their trip to Valencia. But they dug in, looked dangerous, and Uche in particular asked stern questions of the home defence. Two goals of the highest calibre from ex-Real Madrid man Roberto Soldado, one in each half, put Valencia in a commanding position. But Almería refused to give up, and richly deserved their late consolation, when Ulloa headed brilliantly home from Guatia’s stoppage time corner.

Results:

Zaragoza 0 Villarreal 3
Sevilla 1 Getafe 3
Atlético Madrid 2 Espanyol 3
Hércules 3 Levante 1
Mallorca 2 Málaga 0
Racing Santander 1 Deportivo La Coruña 0
Sporting Gíjon 1 Real Sociedad 3
Athletic Bilbai 1 Osasuna 0
Valencia 2 Almería 1
Barcelona 5 Real Madrid 0

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3 Responses

  1. As ever, a solid tactical analysis from Zonal Marking on el clásico.

    http://www.zonalmarking.net/2010/11/30/barcelona-5-0-real-madrid-tactics/

  2. Varun says:

    “if his team were the best in history”

    Indeed it is.
    Better even than, Hungary, Brazil and the Dutch at their primes.

    And its the sort of play what makes them great not necessarily how many trophies they won or will win.

    Its THE most difficult form to play and they do it.

    1. Joseph Sexton Joseph says:

      And key- the most difficult form to play AGAINST. Barca are the best team with the ball, and (on those rare occasions when it come to pass), the best & most hardworking team without it.

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