Real Madrid show they can overthrow Barcelona

April 23, 2011 - 0:0

What a difference a few months make.

Real Madrid have come a long way since their humiliating 5-0 hiding by Barcelona at Camp Nou back in late November.
Last Saturday’s reverse Clasico fixture in La Liga saw a very different Madrid side grind out a 1-1 draw at home. Playing with three defensive midfielders and adopting a negative approach on their own patch drew a lot of criticism, but Jose Mourinho got the job done as he avoided another pasting.
On Wednesday night, Madrid went one further as they lifted the Copa del Rey with a 1-0 victory over their eternal enemies and once again, the ‘Special One’ pulled off a surprise with his formation and his tactics, deploying a 4-3-3 system with Pepe again anchoring the midfield and Cristiano Ronaldo playing as the No. 9 flanked by Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria.
The modification stunned the Catalans as los Blancos took the game to their opponents in the first half, stifling and pressing the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Pedro out the contest while also creating a sleuth of goalscoring chances.
Barcelona only had two shots in the entirety of the first half, and neither were on target. Not only did Iker Casillas barely touch the ball, he was hardly picked up by the TV cameras. Few teams this season have succeeded in playing Barca off the park, but Madrid accomplished the impossible mission.
The capital giants predictably failed to maintain their intensity in the second half. As Barcelona looked sharper and moved the ball around quicker, Mourinho’s men began to tire and the Blaugrana started carving out chances as gaps began to appear.
But that was when Madrid and Mourinho showed the other side of their game, a side that is non-existent in the Barca camp.
Madrid’s antidote to Barcelona’s possession football was power football. The Blancos ran longer, tackled harder, jumped higher, and overall outlasted Barca’s patience while Mourinho overpowered Guardiola tactically.
Pepe was a beast last Saturday, playing a pivotal role in helping his side secure a draw despite having only ten on the pitch. In the cup final on Wednesday night, he was again immense, winning tackles deep in his own half and putting in challenges high up on the opposite end. Not even an early yellow card could put him off his game.
Cristiano Ronaldo has had a stinker against Barcelona up until last Saturday, when he netted the equaliser from the spot to break his duck against the Catalans while only managing to show sporadic glimpses of his talent throughout the game.
On Wednesday, he finally rose to the occasion, literally, scoring the winning goal in extra time with a majestic header and he looked dangerous with his powerful runs on occasional spells. Those galloping forays were something that Barca have always managed to restrict him from doing in so many of the past meetings, but without Carles Puyol to counter CR7’s threat, Barca’s defence looked more vulnerable than ever before in the first half.
But the biggest edge Mourinho’s battalion had over Guardiola’s performers on Wednesday night was their mental strength.
Madrid, despite incessant pressure throughout the whole of the second half, remained controlled and composed in their efforts to stifle the Blaugrana. When the ‘Men In White’ had their backs against the wall, they responded. When the Catalans grew aggravated with their inability to break down the Blancos defence, they buckled and their discipline went out the window.
Madrid didn’t let their performance drop when it came to their defensive duties. Barca did, allowing Marcelo and Di Maria an eternity to play a one-two, before the latter crossed into the box where Emmanuel Adebayor and Ronaldo were waiting unmarked.
For once, it was Lionel Messi who cut the more frustrated figure while Ronaldo remained in check even though the Portuguese went through long periods without seeing the ball in the opposition half.
Barca’s blissful champagne football became their own downfall in the Copa final. Relying solely on their artistry, Guardiola’s lack of preparation with his players in other aspects of the game cruelly exposed the biggest chink in their armour.
Madrid, who had long tired of trying to emulate Barca’s feast of football, used their shortcomings as an opportunity to hone their tactical, physical and technical prowess, and it paid off in the end after 120 gruelling minutes.
Like Sergio Ramos said after the game, the ‘Men in White’ would follow Mourinho to the death. And that was what they did at the Mestalla. They fought to the death.
(Source: Goal)