Barcelona defeated Real Madrid courtesy of another possession masterclass, as their hosts became shamelessly inhospitable.
Gritty, gorgeous and grievous, it was just another Clásico at the Santiago Bernabéu on Wednesday night. That the quarter-final of the Copa del Rey should be a two-legged affair runs the risk of diluting the significance – even of a Real Madrid-Barcelona clash. The masses should, however, know better. Another absorbing affair has already left the footballing world parched for the 2nd leg.
It was a watershed moment, too. Cristiano Ronaldo, smarting from his disastrous display against Barça last month, scored a stylish solo effort to give Madrid the lead with his 4th goal in 14 matches against them.
There was no ‘Filho de puta’, as there was after scoring at West Bromwich Albion three years ago during a period of criticism, for the splendour of his strike spoke volumes. Pinto may have been culpable at his near post but the shot was fired so swiftly and precisely that it was difficult to react, especially since the adidas Tango ran across the slick turf.
But perhaps most pleasingly for neutrals was that the visitors had regained their dignity as Pep Guardiola’s side didn’t butcher their brilliance on a big occasion. There was no sour aftertaste despite the antics of the loathsome Sergio Busquets or the shambolic celebration conducted by Eric Abidal and Dani Alves. No, it was Puyol’s resilience, Xavi’s masterclass and Messi’s perseverance which had the purists purring.
During the four Clásicos in a month late last season, Madrid had warranted gripes about their nemesis’ gamesmanship, cheating and alleged racial overtones. Ironically, despite domestic superiority in the Primera Liga, Los Merengues’ inferiority complex has actually augmented since that Champions League semi-final defeat.
This is illustrated by the brutal thuggery that was meted out yesterday evening. Malevolently, José Mourinho’s side broke rules whereas before they weren’t even bending them. It was challenging to fathom how his selected XI would line up since it featured a plethora of artisans usually overlooked for nimble aesthetes, and therein lies the nefarious admission.
Mourinho’s gameplans ooze brain and brawn, which is arguably Barcelona’s downfall. Los Blancos relish the robust side to football and are essentially a power-play side in contrast to their rivals’ Tiki-taka seamlessness. And no excuses were made for this ‘guilty pleasure’ with the inclusion of Pepe in midfield.
When a Clásico arrives, the likelihood is that the Portuguese will be bumped up from central-defence to midfield as the team’s destructor. Alas, Pepe takes this role all-too-seriously.
His snide stamp on Lionel Messi in the second-half evoked memories of his madness against Getafe nearly three years ago, whenhe shoved Francisco Casquero to concede a penalty before mercilessly kicking him. He struck Juan Albin in the ensuing melee too and received a ten-game ban.
Already this season he acquainted Xavi Torres with his studs via more cowardice as well. The method of his indiscretions summarise Pepe accurately; he is one of those Latino wannabe hardmen who are in actuality as courageous as the Costa Concordia’s captain.
Pepe is what an Englishman would call a ‘s***house’.
His dive when Cesc Fábregas accidently stroked his face should warrant a retrospective ban. Already carded, it was an almighty shame that referee Muñiz Fernandez did not book him for simulation, for the schadenfreude would have perhaps trumped a sending off for Busquets.
The first time yours truly saw Pepe play was in Amsterdam for Ajax’s annual pre-season tournament in 2006. He got Wayne Rooney sent off (and, incredulously, a three-match ban) by feigning agony after a mild shove. He is what an Englishman would call a ‘s***house’.
Ricardo Carvalho prolonged his extraordinary knack for avoiding dismissals also, as whenever Messi surged he was stopped by the ex-Chelsea defender. Xabi Alonso’s fires seem to have been stoked too since Mourinho arrived to end the Spanish bonhomie between Madrid and Barcelona’s Roja internationals. A cultured regista, he savoured the 50-50s and irked Fábregas especially more than once.
His newfound versatility is somewhat incongruous considering his past bemusement at the art of graft. ‘At Liverpool I used to read the matchday programme and you'd read an interview with a lad from the youth team. They'd ask: age, heroes, strong points, etc. He'd reply: “Shooting and tackling”. I can't get into my head that football development would educate tackling as a quality,’ he mused.
Barça were admittedly not immune from shameful semantics. Busquets was reliably reprehensible, Fábregas tried to give Pepe a taste of his own medicine, they hounded the referee whilst Messi tainted his copybook via an outrageous reaction to Fabio Coentrão’s ‘gesture’. They were also brilliant though. From puppeteer Xavi to the magical Messi, it was a mark of their ingenuity that they distracted Madrid to the extent that they forgot about the usually execrable Eric Abidal, who scored the winner.
Damningly for the league leaders is that by morphing into the Spanish Stoke, they are advertising their jealousy. They have the players capable of matching Guardiola’s Dream Team, but enjoy giving them a kick-in too damn much. Mourinho will argue that a domestic cup match affords a chance to rotate, but with the exception of Pedro, Barcelona were unquestionably at full strength.
If anything, the competition afforded Mourinho an opportunity which he has missed. Mesut Özil and Angel Di María should be trusted to inflict damage upon Barcelona’s suspicious defence rather than Madrid overcompensating the need to stymie their opponents’ flow. Roll on partido dos.
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