El Clasico 2012 Fallout: Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo Make Their Case
The script had almost become stale, too simple, prematurely set in stone.
Lionel Messi was the best player in the world (maybe of all time), Barcelona were the best team in the world (maybe of all time) and that pesky league deficit was merely a minor concern (their comeback probable if not inexorable).
On the other hand, Cristiano Ronaldo was great (maybe an all-timer), Real Madrid were impressive (probably not all-timers) and that large league lead wasn't really going to last (their collapse feasible if not inevitable).
Then Cristiano Ronaldo scored. Then Real Madrid won at the Camp Nou. And then everything was different.
Real Madrid defeated Barcelona 2-1 on Saturday in a matchup of what pretty much every football fan on the face of the Earth agrees are the two best teams.
With Barca slain, Real now sit seven points clear atop Spain's La Liga with four matches to play. And Real, who had entered the match with a Barcelona problem as troubling as Wayne Rooney's hair plugs, did it on Barca's turf by playing the same way they had in all the previously troubling El Clasicos.
That means it's time for…well, something. A rewrite perhaps, or, if we're lucky enough, a winner-take-all sequel.
If you somehow missed the most recent episodes in the world's best current rivalry, here's your 30-second synopsis:
Real Madrid attack. Barcelona wins. Lionel Messi is the best.
Real Madrid attack again. Barcelona wins again. Lionel Messi is still the best.
Real Madrid fans call for defensive football. Real Madrid attack. Barcelona wins again. Lionel Messi is still the best.
It had worked well enough, we thought. Real led the league, but Barca advanced to the cup final—beating Real along the way—while retaining their birthright as the world's best.
And on Saturday, the script started similarly. Real attacked. Real took a lead, through light-scoring German midfielder Sami Khedira. And Barcelona equalized, with practically Alexis Sanchez's first touch of the game.
But this time, Real flipped the script. And this time, Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi's longtime understudy, provided the decisive moment, racing onto Mesut Özil's pass through the heart of Barca's backline and sweeping home past a helpless Victor Valdes.
As he sped off to celebrate, Ronaldo held his hands out and pushed his palms down and without the benefit of words staked his and his team's claim to the title of best in the world.
It didn't need to be said. It was there for all to see. Real were about to win, Real were about to clinch the league in all but fact and Ronaldo was about to beat Messi head-to-head.
That's exactly how it finished. But afterwards, one of his coaches said it anyway.
Others will disagree. And with reason.
Which team is better?
Admittedly, Messi didn't look like himself after suffering a slight injury against Chelsea on Wednesday. And despite coming out second best to Ronaldo on Saturday, Messi can fall back on a long resume full of impressive feats, against Real or otherwise.
But after Real's and Ronaldo's breakthrough, and with the Spanish title heading back to the capital, it's time to start asking questions again.
After Real ended the title race—and Ronaldo out-performed Messi—on Barca's own turf, the script isn't so simple anymore. Barca (probably) have the cup, but the league belongs to Real.
In the ongoing debate over who's the best in the world, it's time to bring Real and Ronaldo back into the discussion.
Maybe they never left, or maybe they'll never truly match up. But if the results fall right in this week's Champions League semifinals, maybe we'll get another chance to argue.
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