Sparks fly when Real Madrid plays FC Barcelona and last night was no different though the quality of football on display was not the most spectacular. Here’s an attempt at the highlights.
THE LINE UPS
REAL MADRID- No center forward was ample indication of what Jose Mourinho wanted out of the match or at least the first half. Though not suprising, one was only hoping against hope that Jose would play either Benzema or Higuain. In spite of his weekend heroics against Valencia, Kaka who has been there, done it didn’t make the cut. I would have played him ahead of Ozil as Kaka is a proven matchwinner.
FC BARCELONA- No Iniesta, a big blow. Mascherano at center back was a huge surprise. Gabriel Milito can surely look for another club now. Keyta is no match for Iniesta and Barca’s line up meant they were going to be short on creativity. A dull first half was already on the cards.
FIRST HALF and JOSE’S APPROACH
The first half was a predictable stale mate marked more by acting skills than attacking skills. Sergio Busquests can consider himself lucky for not getting a yellow card for diving and unlucky that he couldn’t become an award winning actor elsewhere. Real had clear instructions it would seem to A. put Barca out of their rythm and B. attack on the counter. An approach much criticised after the match was working all fine on the ‘A’ part but the fact that they were not pushing for the ball in Barca’s half meant there was no chance of a counter. Ronaldo was visibly annoyed that none of his team mates joined him in putting pressure on Barca in their own half. The approach that won them the Kings Cup was not well received at the Bernabau and the pressure was telling on the Madrid players. Someway down the middle of the first half Jose would have realised he needed a target man to whip a long ball in or to hold up play when Real did get the ball once in a blue moon. To play 3 midfielders all of whom are defensive in nature was not a bad tactic (remember Copa Del Rey, Inter Milan) but Ozil was invisible and a CF in his place could have made a lot of difference. The half was marked by Real’s lack of attacking intent and the now famous Barcelona play acting.
SECOND HALF and the RED CARD
Not often do you see these two teams play sportingly against each other and Jose Pinto’s red card without entering the field and during halftime was a sign of things to come. Mourinho made the much wanted change of Adebayor for Ozil. The african’s height and strength were what Jose opted for ahead of Benzema and Higuain, one would assume. The second half began in no different fashion than the first with Barca having all of the ball but not much in the attacking third. Adebayor showed more willingness to chase than the man he replaced but not to much avail. Mascherano fouled Pepe who went rolling down the ground. But only a yellow it was for the former Liverpool man who was all at sea at central defence. Tempers were flaring on both sides with a conference around the refree for every foul and free kick, Barcelona being more aggressive than Madrid. Then came the moment of the game that would be discussed well beyond the night- Pepe made a high footed challenge on Dani Alves with his studs pointing to the wing back’s shin and was shown a straight red by the ref. Though a poor challenge, no replay could confirm any vicious intention and Pepe clearly went for the ball. A yellow was probably what it deserved but Barca know to milk the red out of any pocket. Alves was stretchered off, only to return in a few minutes and run for the ball as well as he ever did. Barcelona did their image no good by pressurising the refree on every liitle chance but what they did mange was a berth in Wembley as it would turn out. What followed was a sending off for Mourinho himself from the technical area and two goals from you know who. Ibrahim Affelay had come on for Pedro and at the moment looks in better form than Pedro. He beat Marcelo on the right flank for pace and whipped in a cross for Messi to turn it in. It was great work from the Argentinian to be the first to the cross. Advantage Barca one would have thought and before long it was game set and match Barca when Messi produced the kind of goal which makes him the best player on planet. A stark contrast to the first, the second was a solo, getting past 4 defenders to slot it home.
The brilliance of the second goal would be least discussed and all news were about the sending off, Mourinho’s defensive approach and Barcelona being favoured by refrees. The sending off was harsh, no doubt. Mourinho’s approach is being criticised in hindsight. It’s worked for him on three occasions- La liga draw, Copa Del Rey and with Inter and I wouldn’t fault him too much for it except for the fact that he desperately needed a target man for the counterattack. Real Madrid have been at their best in recent times only under Jose Mourinho and their fans will have to do with the fact that spectacular football wont come overnight with the buy of spectacular players. Persisting with Mourinho is the way ahead for Los Galacticos. Barcelona have been receiving favourable decisions for quite sometime now- the semifinal against Chelsea in 2008-09, Van Persie sending off this year, the Pepe red card today being cases in point. But is it a mere coincidence or is there something more to it is a question hard to answer. I would say it’s mere coincidence because I believe Football is too clean for it to be the other way around.
THE RETURN LEG
When the media is done with the ifs and buts, when the managers put behind them the refreeing decisions and the associations finish pondering on the Mourinho accusations, Messi’s two goals will still remain. Come Tuesday, Real Madrid will need a miracle that Mourinho has already ruled out. It will be FC Barcelona against Manchester United again but lets brace ourselves for another El Classico hopefully a cleaner one.