Barcelona beat Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, thanks to two sublime goals from Lionel Messi. In truth, it was all that La Blaugrana deserved after Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid thoroughly embarrassed their own great names and standing within the game with a base tactical approach.
Going into the game, there was very little talk of this match being a Champions League Semi-Final, nor was their talk that this was the fourth Clásico of the season, with a fifth and definitive game to come next week.
No, all the talk was of Jose Mourinho’s mind games.
In the final press conference before the Semi, and having previously tried to goad Guardiola almost too many times to count, Mourinho finally drew Guardiola into a response by making it personal.
“A new era has begun,” Mourinho said on Tuesday. “Until now there were two groups of coaches. One very, very small group of coaches that don’t speak about refs and then a big group of coaches, of which I am part, who criticise the refs when they have mistakes – people like me who don’t control their frustration but also people who are happy to value a great job from a ref.
“Now there is a third group, which is only Pep, that criticises referees when they get decisions right! There is a new meaning to [football] now. In his first season [Guardiola] lived the scandal of Stamford Bridge [in the semi-final], last year he played against a 10-man Inter. Now he is not happy with refs getting it right. I am not asking the referee to help my team. If the referee is good everyone will be happy – except Guardiola. He wants them to get it wrong…”
Guardiola responded in a manner that we had not seen before, obviously stung by Mourinho’s decision to move away from general accusations towards actually naming “Pep.”
While the Clásico has always been a game played in pressurised conditions, Mourinho’s comments and Guardiola’s response meant that this game would be played in a cauldron like never before.
In the end, the game proved to be something of a damp squib until Lionel Messi popped up with two brilliant goals, the second of which will go down as one of the all time greats after he beat no mess than six men after running from the half way line before slipping the ball past Iker Casillas.
Madrid started the match, at home remember, in a very strange manner. The sheer lack of ambition by Los Blancos was there for all to see as they had virtually handed the ball over to Barca to pass the ball around.
Fielding an extremely defensive 4-2-4-0 formation that saw his team fore-go any attacking intention what so ever, Barca quickly raced onto 83 percent possession in the first 15 minutes. By the end of the 90 minutes that figure was down to a modest 75 percent.
To put Madrid’s tactics into simple terms, they basically played for a 0-0 draw from the start in the hope of nicking an away goal in the second leg. For one of the most storied club the world to reduce their great heritage and standing in the game to not even playing, never mind attacking, was nothing less than embarrassing.
Without attacking intent Real Madrid then set their plan into action and moved towards the second part of Mourinho’s tactics into action by basically trying to kick Barcelona off the pitch.
In one fell swoop, the great Real Madrid, home of some of the best players ever to grace the game, home of sublime football, the home of style and great goals, was reduced to the anti-football you would expect of a Wimbledon, but that is doing the Dons a disservice because while they kicked and defended, they always tried to win the game.
From there, one unsavoury challenge followed another with Madrid kicking almost everything that moved and many of Barcelona’s players going down far too easily for any one’s liking.
Alvaro Arbeloa appeared to smash Pedro into the face until replays showed that all the Madrid player did was hold his ground as the little winger actually ran into him. Sergio Busquets seemed to go down anytime he was challenged, always clutching his face – something that Thiago Motta of Inter Milan fame can testify has worked in the past.
Niggling challenge followed niggling challenge, all the while Barcelona were the only team trying to play. Iker Casillas was the busier of the two ‘keepers, saving from a close range Xavi effort before denying David Villa and Pedro. Madrid for their part were intent on their own suffocating tactics only had their first real shot on goal in the 44th minute as an otherwise pedestrian Cristiano Ronaldo forced Victor Valdes into making a smart save.
With the first half over, many wondered what Jorge Valdano would make of his clubs tactics. The Sporting Director of Real Madrid had famously said Mourinho’s style of play with Chelsea was like “shit on a stick.” How he considered this performance was anyone’s guess.
As the two teams trundled off, all and sundry watching at home on television hoped that the game could only improve…
Then we had the two teams in a battle in the tunnel. Barcelona’s reserve ‘keeper, Jose Pinto, was sent off for slapping a Madrid official across the face as the two teams had to be separated from each other. Unsavoury scenes after an unsavoury first half.
Mourinho, acknowledging that he had got his tactics wrong, decided to change things around at half time by taking Ozil off for Emmanuel Adebayor. In the first half his team offered absolutely no penetration and had effectively played without a forward line.
In trying to psych out Pep Guardiola, Mourinho had in effect actually psyched himself out. Without his best centre half, Carvalho, he decided to push his next best defender into midfield with two defensive midfielders, thus creating a midfield triumvirate who sat in front of the back four. Instead of picking the best team available in their best positions, Mourinho had out thought himself and picked the wrong team with the wrong tactics.
This is especially the case when you consider that Carles Puyol played at left back and that Cristiano Ronaldo, before tonight considered by many as the best player in the world, played through the centre as a defensive minded attacking midfielder! And that Dani Alves continually left holes in behind as he broke forward, and that Andres Iniesta was not playing, Javier Mascherano was playing centre half…
This was Mourinho’s best chance to beat Barcelona and he completely forgot about his own job at hand and instead concentrated upon putting his counterpart off.
By the time the second half kicked off it was too late to change the rhythm of the game. Los Blancos had settled into a pattern of kicking and trying to close down space while Barcelona had settled into theirs.
To confirm this further Sergio Ramos quite cynically whipped Lionel Messi down with a deliberate foul before Pepe made an absolute meal of a Javier Mascherano challenge.
Minutes later Pepe saw red after a cowards tackle on Dani Alves. It was high, it was late, and it was a deserved red even though Alves did act like his leg had been chopped off with a light sabre. He screamed and writhed in pain, was carried off on a stretcher and then jogged back on as if nothing had happened.
To make matters worse Mourinho sarcastically applauded and winked at the fourth official who then sent the real Madrid manager to the stands.
If anything, the two sending’s off gave Jose Mourinho all the excuses he needed. He had undoubtedly got his team and his tactics wrong against Barcelona and now he had the perfect chance to suggest conspiracy theories and favouritism.
Barcelona was already on top against 11 men, now they faced 10. Surely it was only a matter of time before they scored?
Barca started to edge closer to opening the scoring as David Villa forced Casillas into a fine save while Cristiano Ronaldo smashed a distant free kick well over the bar.
The pattern of incessant bickering, diving, and dirty fouls continued to intersect the match at all too frequent intervals and then just as everyone was giving up hope of seeing anything special Lionel Messi popped up with two goals.
The first came after Ibrahim Afellay broke down the right and upon reaching the back line as al good wingers do he drove a training ground cross towards the near post. Lionel Messi, knowing exactly where the ball was going, reacted quicker than any of his markers and charged to meet the ball before turning it in past a helpless Casillas, the only Real Madrid player to walk away from the game with his head held high.
Minutes later and the game was all over.
Messi picked up the ball in the centre circle and passed to Busquets who laid the ball off in a move reminiscent of Boniek and Platini at the height of their powers. Somehow he managed to move up a gear in the space of a couple of yards and accelerated towards the edge of Madrid box, leaving three players in his wake.
As he glided towards the 18 yard box he found yet another gear and moved past Ramos and Marcelo like they weren’t even there and then slid the ball past a helpless Casillas who could do nothing to stop one of the great goals of Champions League football, or football anywhere for that case.
It was the moment that everyone was waiting for.
But instead of it being the norm in the classic match we had all hoped to see, it case like an intruder in the night and was completely unexpected when compared to the detritus of the previous 87 minutes.
The goal effectively ends the tie as a competitive fixture and means that Barcelona should now face Manchester United in the Champions League Final in Wembley at the end of May.
The result was good for the game. The tactics, vitriol, and sheer nastiness that Real Madrid stood for on the night should never be rewarded. Barcelona going through is a victory for football.
Mourinho has to pick up the pieces to avoid being annihilated at the Camp Nou. He can’t go into the game using the same tactics and outlook and if he wants to win the moral high ground he so wants he will have to do it the right way.
If there is anything that Jose Mourinho is good at; it is deflection. This latest sending off has given him the perfect opportunity to deflect the attention away from his own mistakes.
But when all is said and done real football people know that he has shamed the game and that he has shamed Real Madrid.
Despite winning the Copa Del Rey against Barcelona last week, this season has been a disappointing one for Real Madrid. They will finish further behind Pep Guardiola’s team than last year and now, despite getting to the Champions League Semi-Finals, they have been eliminated from the competition in a more embarrassing manner than ever before.
With all things considered, Jose should be looking for a new job next season, and almost every major team in the Premier League will be interested. All Jose has to do is decide whether he wants a break from the game, or not…