El Clasico: Scoring the Jose Mourinho vs. Tito Vilanova Coaching Battle
Ahead of the game, one of the big talking points was Jose Mourinho's "confrontation" with Tito Vilanova last season. How would the two react after Mourinho gave the now-Barcelona manager a good old-fashioned gouge of the eyes?
All that should take a backseat, however. It's a nonsense story that has long been laid to rest. The real story is the new personal battle between the coaches of the two biggest clubs in Spain.
I'd expect Mourinho would have wanted to upstage his greatly inexperienced counterpart. Guiding Madrid to a win—even if it was only in the first leg—would have been fantastic on many levels.
The Portuguese manager has done it all in European football, even letting us know that he's changed his moniker to "The Only One." But would it be enough to fend off the challenge from a team who put up such a lengthy and resilient defence of their league title up until last season?
Mourinho would have wanted to cause a stir with the inclusion of Jose Callejon from the get-go. He certainly raised a few eyebrows and would have surely left the new Barcelona manager pondering his thought process.
Naturally, Madrid opted for Fabio Coentrao at left-back over the more attacking alternative in Marcelo. However, it was the full-back on the other flank, Alvaro Arbeloa, who was drawing much of the defensive praise.
At this stage, it's pleasant to see Arbeloa transforming himself into a very good permanent inclusion in the Real Madrid first team. He's not as skilful as his wonderfully talented teammates; however, he does the small things well and is now much more than just a stand-in at Sergio Ramos' old spot.
The battle of the first half of the game was surely won by Mourinho. Barcelona looked comfortable in possession, but were continuously frustrated by a stern Madrid defence. There really was no getting through the Pepe-less back line, and it was impressive to see the defence cut the supply into the danger zones of Iker Casillas' box.
At the other end of the pitch, Barcelona also did their part to frustrate and suffocate Madrid. That, however, is nothing new. We expect Barcelona to see much more of the ball, and for Madrid to take their chances when they come. It was a good first-half display by Mourinho's men.
The shackles for both sides were thrown off in the second half, as both teams looked to raise the energy levels in this football coliseum.
Cristiano Ronaldo put his side ahead after 50 minutes, powering in a corner and rising well above his marker Sergio Busquets.
Was there time to start the applause for Mourinho in what was looking like an excellent game plan? Not a chance.
Pedro immediately went up the other end and hammered home following the restart. It would have been a thunderous blow to those on the Madrid bench to see their side so vulnerable and open following their unlikely lead.
Tito Vilanova on the Barcelona bench remained calm throughout. Perhaps he was caught up in the fever of his first Clasico as Barcelona manager? Maybe he was just beyond confident in his side's ability to defeat the enemy.
It was no surprise to see Barcelona take the lead via a penalty, as the team had been knocking on that door all night with Alexis Sanchez. Iniesta, however, was much more dignified in his fall in the box: a deserved penalty.
The turning point from absolute power in Vilanova's corner was the undeniable slip-up—not literally—by Victor Valdes.
Vilanova could have prepared his side as best as he could and guaranteed victory to the Catalan press and supporters. But in reality, there is no way to prepare for the calamitous showing by the Barcelona goalkeeper.
Angel Di Maria's quick thinking and ability to bring a goal back would have certainly helped Madrid in their quest for the first big victory against their rivals this season.
The second leg awaits, as does a fiery caldron with which Vilanova and his side must keep their nerve. But on the whole, I was impressed with Mourinho's side on the night.
The experienced manager knew where his strengths were and where his team would have the most luck. Ronaldo looked incredibly confident at times, while the rest of the side might have rued not giving the Portuguese flyer more of the ball.
Madrid took what they could and will be confident on the game at the Bernabeu next week.
Tito Vilanova deserves praise for his team choice and the tactical changes he made. The inclusion of Pedro from the start was good to see.
But Mourinho deserves praise as well for keeping the score within reach and setting up his side to frustrate Barcelona. Considering the final score, Mourinho got exactly what he wanted.
Tito Vilanova: 8
Jose Mourinho: 9
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