How Real Madrid Destroyed Barcelona And Became Kings Of El Clásico
The Santiago Bernabéu was in shock. They had romped to victory in style but there was just one small problem: it was the away team that had everyone in awe. Pep Guardiola brought his charges to Madrid in search of a win and win they did. The image of Gerard Piqué grabbing his shirt as he knocked in the sixth Barcelona goal of the night is still fresh in the minds of all who were present.
Twelve months before, his team-mates had to applaud los Blancos on to the field as they did a guard of honour for the newly crowned champions. That victory in 2009 started a series of impressive Barça victories but now the tide has turned. Real Madrid are now top dog of el Clásico and this week, just in case there was any doubt, they proved it twice.
When Barça won in 2009, it was shock and awe and Real Madrid spent years trying to overcome it. Real Madrid’s fans and players started to dread the fixture. Five league games came and went and Real Madrid didn’t won one. The press started to ask questions. José Mourinho was brought in and still things were not on the up on the league front.
In the Copa del Rey, things were different: the 2011 final may be remembered more for Sergio Ramos dropping the trophy off of a bus but now it can be seen as the turning of the tide. Having beaten their rivals fair and square, Real Madrid started to believe. Mourinho has built momentum and now it is the Catalans who fear visits from their rivals.
On Tuesday last week it was the turn of Barça fans to sit in awe. Real Madrid attacked the Blaugrana and they destroyed them in Camp Nou. Xavi would say afterwards that Barça had lost the title that was the least important but in the Guardian Sid Lowe said that it was a little more important than that. He was right: for as much as Barça played down the loss, it wasn’t fooling anybody, Real Madrid were no longer afraid.
This weekend a strange thing happened in La Liga. El Clásico is usually played at a time that TV companies can get maximum exposure, but with a midweek Champions League game against Manchester United on the horizon, things changed. A four o’clock kick-off saw the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench but after just a few minutes, Karim Benzema scored. This week the French forward was caught speeding in Madrid and is facing trail in March but today he sped past the Barça defence.
Barça were lost. Their passing and positioning was off and they looked dazzled. Lionel Messi has been taking a lot of criticism lately for failing to show up in these ties but he silenced his critics with a second half equaliser. Jordi Alba, who was blamed for the first goal, showed his joy by giving the finger to the Ultra Sur.
It looked like it was going to play out for a draw when Ramos rose above the opponents’ defence and headed home the winner. Suddenly a blip that saw a side twelve points in the lead of La Liga looked like a crisis. Losing to Milan in the Champions League, being knocked out of the Copa and with people questioning Jordi Roura’s leadership and experience, things are starting to look genuinely bad for Barça.
Roura, only stepping in for Tito Vilanova as the coach receives treatment in New York, was praised in January but February has been a disaster and with this loss, Atlético Madrid have now closed the gap to nine points. With Barça looking nervous, Madrid’s other team have a chance to try and recover some points. It is still a long shot but the red and white side of Madrid are dreamers and with Cholo Simeone, anything is possible.
Of course this tie couldn’t end with a simple score line; there had to be a subplot. Even the Madrid press acknowledged Barça’s appeal for a penalty towards the end. Victor Valdés was furious and went for the referee and questioned his decisions. Some five minutes later, Twitter went into overdrive as a rumour that Valdes had attacked the referee and had been arrested spread like wildfire. The fact that no journalists at the Bernabéu reported the story didn’t seem to stop the speculation but in the end the truth came out. So too did Barça’s opinions.
For as much as Barça would like to point the finger, it is a mirror they need. They are suspect at set pieces and the fear they once inspired has disappeared. Also gone is the belief that anyone could manage this side. Some tough times lay ahead for Barça: they need Tito back but he isn’t expected to return for at least a month. As for Real Madrid there is still the question of how a team who could beat Barça twice in a week could be so far behind in the league but few fans will be thinking about that this weekend.