There is only one team you can trust to maximise its potential, one you can trust to give you a game, to make the minimum of mistakes in La Liga, and it didn’t turn up yesterday.
At the moment when Barcelona or Real Madrid turn up on the pitch, there is always the chance of an appearance of a moment of weakness, a gap, a gift.
And the situations are not always created by the play of the opposition; often it is just a freebie. An unnecessary mistake.
For that reason, both of the Copa del Rey’s protagonists have recently posted some strange results (Real Madrid at Dortmund, Barcelona at Valladolid and Granada) and come up with bizarre finishes such as the recent 3-4 result in the Clasico.
In the cup final, the three goals could have been avoided if their defensive structures were as sound as you expect for top teams. But those weaknesses allowed for an emotional match with one of the best goals ever scored in a Copa final.
Carlo Ancelotti’s plan was clear, namely to ask Isco to be less like Isco and a little more akin to Clarence Seedorf, the player that the Real Madrid head coach would like Isco to become. And the boy from Malaga, along with the rest of his team, ran tirelessly without the ball until such time as they controlled the game without having the possession.
Isco was constantly on hand to snuff out any potential danger, remorselessly hunting down whoever had the ball, or whoever looked like they were about to get it, and Lionel Messi.
Once Madrid had stolen the ball, he was on hand to offer a way forward, always with an eye on the counter-attack. Yesterday, Isco came of age.
Barcelona defended themselves by using possession very conservatively, by attacking down the flank and putting an unbelievable amount of crosses into the box. The team distanced itself once again from Messi, who showed his frustration by not being involved enough. There was no depth, no element of surprise in the football practised by Barcelona.
It was also much easier for Real Madrid than ever attacking a Barcelona side who, until the last half hour (with the exception of Andres Iniesta and Marc Bartra), did not battle for every ball.
All Madrid had to do was stay tight, press from time to time and inflict the occasional lashing as they did with their first goal, with their first counter-attack of the game.
In the context of two imperfect sides, Gareth Bale acquired the starring role for himself.
When he found space, he went for the one vs. one. When he had the opportunity to shoot, he shot, and when he wasn’t given the ball, he protested.
And after winning a foot race with Bartra, a subtle touch brought with it the spoils of victory.
Bale is now in that magical, elevated zone where the demands of being at Madrid mean less than what will not be accepted.
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