Eight Things We Learned from Barcelona's Victory over Real Madrid in the UCL
So Barcelona are back to the Champions League final, for the third time in six seasons. Just like in 2009, their opponents will be the Premier League's only powerhouse of the past two decades Manchester United.
Many expected Barcelona to struggle against their eternal rivals Real Madrid, but the Catalans barely broke a sweat to reach the final. To be honest, Arsenal had caused a lot more problems than Real Madrid, who were second best during the whole tie.
Barcelona scored three goals, while it's very debatable that Real Madrid even had three clear cut chances to score during the 180 minutes.
The international press hailed Barcelona's victory as a victory for football, and it's hard to dispute that. Barcelona played their usual fine passing football, while José Mourinho set his team up to defend and kick Barcelona players as much as possible (basically to try and cheat their way to the final).
These tactics did not work, however, and Barcelona are deservedly through to the final. Here are seven things we learnt from the semifinal clash.
José Mourinho Is No God Among Managers
There is a myth among some sections of the football community that Mourinho is some kind of God among managers, a "guarantee of titles". However, it was proved once again that it is just not true.
José Mourinho is a great manager, one of the best in the modern era, but that's it. He did not perform any miracles. He had success with Porto, Chelsea and Inter; Porto and Inter have been two of the best European sides in the Champions League era and Chelsea had unlimited funds available. He obviously did a great job in those teams, but he didn't perform any miracles. He didn't do anything that other great managers hadn't done before.
And he loses too, just like everyone else he has weaknesses. Granted, he wins more often than he loses, but he's not infallible. In fact, he failed this year, since he was hired to win La Liga and the Champions League.
This time, he was beaten by Pep Guardiola both in the league and in the Champions League. He might still win trophies with Real Madrid in the future, but he won't be because he's some kind of God but a great manager in charge of one of the most talented collection of footballers the world has ever seen.
Besides, while he's one of the best at his job, he's also one of sorest losers in world football. His behavior during this tie has shamed a great institution like Real Madrid and brought more haters than friends to Real Madrid.
José Mourinho Has No 'Formula to Beat Barcelona'
This is one of the biggest myths in world football. Somehow, people believe that Mourinho is Barcelona's nemesis, that he has Barcelona and Pep's number. It was proved once again that this ridiculous notion couldn't free any further away from the truth.
Mourinho's record against Barcelona is as follows:
Won 4 (one after overtime)
Scored 16 Conceded 20
And now his record against Pep Guardiola:
Won 2 (one after ot)
Scored 6 Conceded 13
He has clearly NOT figured out Barcelona and Pep Guardiola, as his record clearly shows. He has lost more than he's won, he's never won at Camp Nou in his career. He had four Champions League ties against Barcelona, having won two and lost the other two.
He also suffered the biggest humilliation of his career on that fateful 29 November night at Camp Nou, where his side were made to look like a third division side and suffered a 5-0 humiliation.
The belief some people held that Mourinho's arrival would put an end to Barcelona's domination in Spain and Europe was proven to be completely wrong. But then again so are most unfounded beliefs!
The Bernabeu's Demand for Attacking Football Is a Myth
It was a sad sight to see the Bernabeu applaud as Pepe ran around like a headless chicken hacking every players on his way, as if it were some kind of fine art. It was a sight that put an end, once and for all, to the myth that Real Madrid supporters demand attacking football from their team.
If a Barcelona manager ever pulled a similar stunt (parking the bus, especially at home), he'd probably be shown the door the next day.
Most Real Madrid supporters, however, had no qualms with it. That makes them... exactly like any other. Their purpose is merely to win, regardless of style. There's obviously nothing wrong with that, but it does go against that preconceived idea that the Madrid faithful demand attacking football. They do not, they just demand results.
Even the very poor sportsmanship of the likes of José Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo (with their frankfully disgraceful gestures at the airport and post-match statements) didn't seem to bother them much.
Andrés Iniesta Is the Best Player in the World Not Named Lionel Messi
Now on to Barcelona.
While very few sane people would deny that Lionel Messi is the best player of this generation, there's another genius at Barcelona named Andrés Iniesta, who's currently the second best player in the world. Not only because he came second in the 2010 Ballon d'Or, but because he really is that good.
Wayne Rooney and Samuel Eto'o have hailed Iniesta as the world's best. While they've probably gone a bit too far, they do have a point. Iniesta's vision is second to none in the football world. And yes, Messi included. His big match performances are also superior to any other player; just ask Manchester United fans, who watched in horror as Iniesta ran circles around their team in the 2009 Champions League final.
Don Andrés is having arguably his best season yet and he showed once again yesterday that only Messi can be put above him. His pass to Pedro's goal yesterday was sublime; his overall performance unsurmountable, exactly the level you've come to expect from a legendary playmaker.
Iniesta will turn 27 next week, meaning that he still has quite a few years ahead of him to bring more joy to both Barca and Spain's fans.
Individual awards will be hard to pick up, though, with Messi around. The little Argentine genius again stole the show in the first leg of this tie. These two geniuses decided the tie for Barcelona, by creating those moments of magic that no one in the Real Madrid team seemed able to produce.
Barcelona Are Indeed 'Més Que Un Club'
The high point of this tie was, beyond any doubt, Eric Abidal's return in the 90th minute of the second half. What an emotional moment, what a great, humane decision by Pep Guardiola. After the final whistle blew, Barcelona players were celebrating their qualification to the final, but most of all the return of their teammate, who had just won the most difficult battle of his life.
Abidal, the man who once claimed that he would retire from football all together if Barcelona didn't renew his contract, is a man and a player who epitomizes what a special club Barcelona are. No Barcelona supporter around the world could contain their happiness to see King Eric come back.
The tie itself was an example of what Barcelona stand for. While Real did all their talking off the pitch, with ridiculous complaints, accusations and conspiracy theories that only tarnished the club's image, Barcelona talked on the pitch, imposing their unique football philosophy in both games. Winning is not everything for Barcelona, it only matters if it's done in the right way, by sticking to Barca's philosophy through thick and thin.
In the end, Xavi claimed that this had been a victory for football and very few would argue this.
Barcelona Are Better Now Than in 2009 and Last Season
It seems impossible, but it is true. This is the best Barcelona side under Pep Guardiola yet. They're more dominant in La Liga than in previous years and better in Europe.
Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Madrid were never in the tie. Only Arsenal caused some trouble in the first leg, but they were thoroughly steamrolled in the second leg at Camp Nou. Compared with Barca's narrow win in the 2009 semifinal and the disappointment last season, this is a massive improvement.
Apart from November and December, the team isn't as spectacular/entertaining as in 2009, but they're better overall, more mature as a team. They know when to push forward, when to simply exchange passes... the chemistry is also even better hard as it may seem to believe. David Villa has brought a lot to the team, while Pedro and Busquets have finally become world beaters in their own right. It is a testament to Pep Guardiola's excellence as a manager that he actually managed to improve on a sextuple-winning side.
Pep Guardiola Did a Great Job in the Transfer Market
The 2010 summer turned out to be very successful for Barcelona. The catalans were already the best team in the world; there was no need for any major changes, just a few tweaks to further improve the side.
Pep Guardiola couldn't have done it better. He got rid of the hugely ineffective Zlatan Ibrahimovic and brought in the amazing David Villa, who, despite being played out of his natural position, is having a fantastic first season at the club. His movement up front and his goals have been instrumental to Barcelona's success. He should even better next season.
Javier Mascherano and Adriano also turned out to be great signings. What has most impressed about Mascherano is his humility. He was an undisputed starter at Liverpool and only a benchwarmer at the beginning for Barca. However, he accepted his role and improved gradually. Injuries to key players meant that Mascherano had to become a regular starter in the end of the season; and he did not disappoint, delivering world-class performances both as a defensive midfielder and a centre back (!).
Adriano also struggled at the start, but performed brilliantly when he had to take Abidal's spot. Both these players have improved a lot under Pep Guardiola. Mascherano's ball-playing skills are quite good right now, seems hard to believe he's the same player he was at Liverpool last season.
Finally, the signing of Ibrahim Afellay proved to be a stroke of genius as well. He proved his worth in the end of the season by helping Barcelona defeat Real Madrid in the Champions League. He'll be even more influential next season after having fully adapted to Barcelona. The same can be said about all the other signings.
Pep Guardiola's excellent market vision ensured that Barcelona would have the quality depth necessary to compete on all fronts.
There's Hope for Football After All
After Inter Milan won the Champions League with ultra-defensive tactics last season, many feared the triumph of boring, defensive, negative football. Spain's World Cup victory brought some hope to football purists, as Spain defeated a Dutch side in the final whose aim was anything but to play football.
This season, the Champions League final will be contested by Barcelona and Manchester United, which represents another triumph for football. These are two teams who have a philosophy of attacking football (although they express it with different styles) and passion for fair play in their DNA.
We can rest assured that a great football match will be played on May 28 and whoever wins will be worthy of the trophy.
Football fans should be happy that they'll see two great attacking teams battling it out for the Champions League trophy on May 28 at Wembley!
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