La Liga

Film Focus: Reviewing Copa Del Rey, Counter-Attacking Real Blunt Barca Threat

Real's Gareth Bale, left celebrates scoring his team's 2nd goal during the final of the Copa del Rey between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia, Spain, Wednesday, April 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz)
Alberto Saiz
Dan ColasimoneContributor IApril 17, 2014

It was less than a month ago that Barcelona swept to a dramatic 4-3 win over Real Madrid in La Liga at the Bernabeu, but the tide of Spanish football has turned in the meantime, and Los Blancos were dominant 2-1 winners in the Copa del Rey final on Wednesday.

The secret to Real's success in El Clasico was to execute a simple plan to perfection.

Barcelona dominated possession, as per usual, but Carlo Ancelotti's side maintained a tight defensive formation through the middle, forcing their opponents to move the ball into wide areas.

Though they were missing the most effective counter-attacking player in world football in Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid had two of the best replacements conceivable in Angel Di Maria and Gareth Bale.

In the end, it was the brilliance of those two speedy wingers that made the difference.

Ancelotti opted for a midfield trio of Luka Modric, Xabi Alonso and Isco. His masterstroke, however, was to play Bale on his preferred left side, with Di Maria on the right.

Barcelona manager Tata Martino started with Neymar on the right, surprisingly, and Lionel Messi and Cesc Fabregas taking turns at sharing the "false-nine" role and drifting left.

Here's how the teams lined up at kick-off:

B/R

Without the ball, the Madrid side reverted to a 4-4-2, with Di Maria dropping back to midfield, as shown below.

When attacking, Los Merengues would aim to exploit the space behind Barcelona full-backs Dani Alves and Jordi Alba through the pace of Bale and Di Maria.

This strategy was demonstrated in the fifth minute, when Bale got behind Alves to create a goal-scoring opportunity.

Sky Sports

Martino's unusual decision to put Neymar on the right did not pay dividends. The Brazilian was lively in his movements, but largely ineffective when he tried to create danger.

Messi was, once again, static in the middle. His lack of desire to move about and find space for himself, for whatever reason, ensured he did not receive the ball enough, and when he did it was not in ideal positions.

Fabregas took on something of a playmaker role, and that too was of little concern to a tightly packed Real defence, who had the numbers to snuff out any threatening passes.

The breakthrough came for the capital club when, after Isco had turned over possession, they once again broke at extreme pace.

Noticeable just before the goal how tight and organised Madrid were in defence. Looks like they've learned. Allowed them to break and score.

— Ben Hayward (@bghayward) April 16, 2014

BR UK

The ball was moved to Karim Benzema, who was only marked by Alves, and the Frenchman played a pass back into the centre for Di Maria, who accelerated past Barca's central defenders before beating Jose Manuel Pinto. 

As the Catalans upped their urgency, Real Madrid simply packed their own box with players. Here, Messi finds himself on the edge of the area with the ball, but faced with seven white shirts, he spreads wide to Alba, whose cross is not capitalised on by Neymar.

Sky Sports

At half-time, Barcelona had achieved 67 per cent of the possession but had struggled to created clear chances.

In the second term, Messi and Co. looked slightly sharper when passing their way through the middle, but Di Maria and Bale remained menacing.

Same old for Barça, really. Lots of crosses, lack of coherence in final third, Messi static. Pedro/Alexis missed, but problems run deeper.

Thore Haugstad (@Haugstad1006) April 16, 2014

Sergio Busquets, so often the reliable hub at the base of midfield for the Blaugrana, was uncharacteristically sloppy with his distribution, which complicated matters for his teammates.

Eventually, Neymar switched to the left, with Messi operating more frequently on the right; and both immediately looked more potent.

BR UK

The equalising goal was still somewhat against the run of play and from an unexpected source, with Marc Bartra heading home from a Xavi corner. In the last decade of Clasicos, this was only the fourth headed goal Barcelona had scored.

Martino's side enjoyed their best spell of the match immediately following the goal, upping the energy levels and finally looking like they might be able to pass their way through Real's packed defence.

Los Blancos held their composure, however, and eventually found a dramatic winner courtesy of the speed and power of Bale, who left Bartra for dead along the touchline and finished past Pinto.

Sky Sports

Neymar missed a chance late on that would have likely sent the game into extra time, but in the end, Real Madrid deserved to claim the cup, as did Ancelotti, who made all the right tactical decisions on the night.

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