Leaders: Barça lacking one, and Real’s risesPosted: March 4, 2013
One of the most-talked about fixtures in world football was played three times over the past couple of weeks, as Real Madrid and Barcelona went to war yet again. Two Copa del Rey fixtures followed by a less important league match, and of course the respect, adoration, and revenge that comes with victory, was what was on the cards for the three Clásico matches. At first Barça started well, grabbing a 1-1 draw in the Bernabéu, a match that the home side would have been aiming for victory in. The return leg of the Copa fixture in Barcelona was completely different though, as Real Madrid easily brushed passed their eternal rival for a 3-1 win.
Before the league game, an almost unimaginable sixteen points separated the teams in the league table. Atlético sat in between them, four ahead of Real. The result would make no realistic difference to the way the league title was heading, as even Mourinho himself conceded defeat in the league race in the press conference ahead of his first leg Champions League clash with Manchester United. Nonetheless, a Clásico is still a Clásico, and Real Madrid and Barcelona don’t get along all that well, for the most part. Real Madrid won the match 2-1, making it two wins and a draw for them in the three quick-fire Clásicos.
What was clear to see from these games is that with the unfortunate absence of Tito Vilanova due to health issues, Barcelona are lacking a leader, whilst Real’s on-pitch leader is returning to the top of his game and, like the team, is peaking at just the right time.
First off, I cannot criticize Jordi Roura one bit for the job he’s done. He was thrown into the deep end very suddenly when the club’s manager, Vilanova, had to leave due to serious illness. He was never supposed to take the reign at Barça, at least not now anyway. However, despite all this, he’s managed to keep his team performing very well in the league, and possibly most importantly – winning. They could have completely collapsed, but instead continued their near-perfect form, and there aren’t too many who believe they’ll be pipped for the La Liga title this season with twelve games remaining, and an 11 point gap separating them and second placed Atleti.
However, when it came to the biggest games, the games that would really test Barcelona, the games that they needed to both be at their best, and inspired by an influential leader who can make the difference, Barcelona have so far failed. In their Champions League first leg match against AC Milan, they looked flat and lifeless. Lionel Messi was probably the most-criticized player from that game, even prompting new Milan signing Mario Balotelli to say “I didn’t play today because of UEFA rules, I don’t know why Messi didn’t play though.”
When Mourinho’s men visited the Camp Nou, they looked like a much better team. Varane, Ramos, and the rest of the Madrid defence were practically impenetrable. Speaking after the match, Cristiano Ronaldo said after the game, in which he became the first player to score in six consecutive Clásicos in the Nou Camp, that his team were easily able to adapt to Barcelona’s predictable tactics, saying their rivals “always play with the same philosophy.” Barcelona, in turn, had no real leader to look to for an answer, exactly the same as in Milan when faced with a well-organised and stern defence, and had to endure Real’s dominance for the majority of the match.
On the other side of things, Real Madrid did have a leader to look to. Mourinho’s tactics were able to shape the team in preparation for the match, and that’s something he did perfectly. On the pitch, however, it was Cristiano Ronaldo who provided the light for his side, winning and scoring a penalty to begin the goalscoring, and doubling his team’s tally with his second goal in the second half. Throughout the game he was a nightmare for the Barca defence, and played a perfect game.
In the final Clásico of this set, Ronaldo was named on the bench for the start of the match. Due to the lack of significance for the result, Mourinho decided it wasn’t worth the risk of injury, with an eye on a trip to Old Trafford coming up. Real’s XI comprised of a mixture between first team (mostly in defence) and fringe players. When Cristiano was introduced in the 57th minute, he converted Real Madrid into a different team. He single-handedly gave his side the exuberance that had been missing from their performance.
Cristiano is now the leader to the Real Madrid team. Iker Casillas did the team’s press conference after the 3-1 in Barcelona, and praised Ronaldo highly, calling him “vital” and describing him as the “reference point” to the team. Real Madrid will be hoping he’ll be able to continue the fine form he’s on when they visit the stadium that their talisman is so very familiar with.