Barcelona vs. Real Madrid: Cristiano Ronaldo and El Clasico's Biggest Storylines
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The two most ballyhooed and historic sides in Spanish soccer (futbol) history battle tonight (or this morning, or this afternoon—depends where you’re tuning in) for the first of four matches in 18 days for the first time in Spanish history.
Barcelona, currently eight-points clear of Madrid in La Liga standings, have to be the immediate favorite due to the 5-0 comprehensive beating they put on their Spanish rivals on Nov. 29.
The Catalan giants have played the most dominant, consistent football all season and are on track to win their second treble in three seasons. They also face Madrid in the Copa del Rey final on Wednesday and two meetings in the Champions League on April 26 and May 3.
But don’t count out Jose Mourinho and Los Blancos. It was, after all, Mourinho’s Inter Milan side that knocked Pep Guardiola’s seemingly unbeatable Barcelona side out of the Champions League last year. Madrid have to had been licking their chops at the thoughts of revenge after their November 29 embarrassment.
How many times will Ronaldo appear to cry? How many outrageous runs will Messi make, or wild shots will David Villa take? How slick of a suit will Guardiola wear?
We’ve got all the updates for you here.
You can forgive Sergio Ramos and Real Madrid—it's been a while since Los Blancos have won any major silverware.
The night after Madrid won their first major trophy since a La Liga triumph in 2008, Madrid's Ramos dropped the Copa del Rey during their celebration in Madrid only to look below and see the trophy crumble under the bus they were celebrating on.
See the video of Ramos dropping the Copa del Rey, Spain's biggest domestic cup trophy, here.
Apparently, FIFA has already replaced the shattered cup and awarded Real Madrid a fresh, non-shattered one. They must assume that late-night celebrations may serve some form of risk for the hallowed trophies when they're awarded. Who would have thought?
Blogger Anthony Schneck makes light of the entire situation:
I don't speak Spanish, but I think you can hear the announcer in the video frantically saying, "Esta la Copa! Esta la Copa!" Si, si, esta la copa. Last night marked the first time Real Madrid won the cup since 1993, and there goes Sergio Ramos dropping it all over the place. He is officially NOT invited to Cristiano Ronaldo's orgy party that will take place over the next three days.
No one has ever questioned the talent of Cristiano Ronaldo.
The who-is-the-best-player-in-the-world debate has typically been a two-horse race for the past several years between Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Not coincidentally, the two have been particularly under the microscope now that the two prolific attackers are pitted against each other on Spain's two most fierce rivals, Barcelona and Real Madrid, also widely considered to currently be the world's two best sides.
But up until Ronaldo netted the game-winner and Real Madrid toppled Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final, Messi had far and away gotten the better of Ronaldo.
Consider: In Ronaldo's final game with Manchester United, Messi led Barcelona to a 2-0 victory over a punchless United side in the UEFA Champions League final.
Last season, Madrid lost to Barcelona 1-0 and 2-0 in Ronaldo's first season with Los Blancos, and Madrid were crushed 5-0 on November 29 this season.
In the past five days, Madrid have tied Barcelona 1-1 and triumphed 1-0 on Wednesday with Ronaldo scoring in both fixtures.
So has Ronaldo rid himself of some Barcelona demons? Maybe. But Ronaldo has never been at a loss of confidence.
He has, however, shown a level of maturity in the past two matches that has yet to be seen by the Portuguese international.
Although he seemed a bit late to pull the trigger on Wednesday, he appeared to be spending less time flailing on the ground complaining to the referees and more time helping control the pace of the game and getting his teammates involved. Ronaldo barely missed several opportune chances, but was unflustered and kept his head in the game—literally—and squared away a brilliant winner.
Are we on the verge of seeing a new, matured Ronaldo harness is already limitless talent? Only time will tell.
Watch out, world.
Offensive catalyst Cristiano Ronaldo applauded Real Madrid's Copa del Rey effort that gave Los Blancos their first silverware since their La Liga triumph in 2007.
Ronaldo scored the winner in the 103rd minute on a perfectly placed header on a cross from Angel Di Maria to help Madrid win their first Copa del Rey in 18 years. It was also Ronaldo's first major trophy since arriving at the Bernabéu and the first time he defeated Barcelona in a Madrid uniform.
“It was a very tough game, Barcelona played very well, but, as you know, whoever scores wins,” Ronaldo told the Associated Press. “We are very happy, Madrid had not won this cup for many years.”
Barcelona is Jose Mourinho is no stranger to topping Barcelona—his Inter Milan squad stymied a seemingly unbeatable Barca squad in the UEFA Champions League last year—and his players applauded what he's worked to instill at Madrid.
Sergio Ramos was quoted as saying on goal.com:
“Mourinho is the captain of our ship and we are with him to the death.
“What he is trying to instill in us is working wonderfully.
“We must thank our fans for their support. We are also glad that we have already won a trophy without the season having ended yet.”
It's been a rough couple of years for Iker Casillas and his Real Madrid side when it comes to facing Barcelona for the past couple of years.
The 29-year-old Casillas, already in his 12th year at the Bernabéu, helped Madrid win the Copa del Rey with a 1-0 victory over Barcelona on Wednesday. In a La Liga match on April 16, Madrid tied Barcelona 1-1 to secure the side's first points against Barcelona since Pep Guardiola took over at the Camp Nou in the 2008-09 season.
So naturally Casillas was delighted that his side were finally able to solve the Barcelona hex.
He told assembled reporters after the win:
"Today, we have suffered badly, but we have won a trophy that's coveted by all Madrid fans.
"We thank them for their support and we can repay them now that we have finally won a trophy. I am very happy.
“Our mentality has been changed. (Mourinho) is a phenomenon. We know that the league is complicated but we must always fight for everything.
“Now we have a Champions League semi-final to look forward to.”
Iker Casillas lived up to his billing as "Mount Casillas" under the bright lights for the second time in a 10-month span in Real Madrid's 1-0 Copa del Rey triumph over rival Barcelona on Wednesday in Valencia.
Casillas, widely regarded as the world's best goalkeeper, captained Spain to a World Cup triumph last summer in South Africa, played perhaps his best professional game between the pipes against Barcelona on Wednesday since he shut down a relentless Dutch squad in the World Cup final (a 1-0 extra-time win for Spain).
The stakes of tonight's Copa del Rey triumph were similar to last summer's World Cup final, too: A tilt between two sides more known for their offensive prowess than shutting teams down battled to a scoreless tie in regular time and Casillas' team struck in extra time to take the lead.
This time it was Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored off of an Angel Di Marilla cross in the 103rd minute, who will steal the headlines for putting in the winner and ending Los Blancos' 18-year Copa del Rey drought.
Casillas frustrated a relentless Barcelona attack that took control in the second half after Madrid controlled the first. This, after all, was the same Barcelona team that put five goals past Casillas in a 5-0 thrashing on November 29. But Casillas was a steady force behind a strong Madrid defensive effort and he was able to stymie the Catalans.
“We proved to everyone we can beat any team we want,” Casillas told the Associated Press after the victory.
Hours before Barcelona and Real Madrid's Copa del Rey clash in Valencia, Barcelona's prolific midfielder Andres Iniesta received a reprieve from FIFA and won't miss the opening leg of Barcelona's UEFA Champions League match against Real Madrid on April 27.
Iniesta was accused of deliberately picking up a yellow card during Barcelona's 5-1 triumph over Shakhtar Donetsk to trigger an automatic ban for the return leg in Ukraine. UEFA officials reported Iniesta's actions and he faced a suspension for the crucial opening leg at the Bernabéu.
Barcelona appealed the decision and FIFA ruled just hours before the Catalans' Copa del Rey tilt against Madrid that Iniesta would face no further penalties.
Barcelona posted on their official website:
FC Barcelona sent its allegations to the governing body of European football appealing against the proposal to ban the player for an additional match as a result of the yellow card shown in the quarter final of the Champions League against Shakhtar.
Iniesta will therefore be able to play in the Champions League semi final against Real Madrid at Bernabéu. UEFA has announced that it will not be suspending the midfielder. FC Barcelona sent its allegations to the governing body of European football appealing against the proposal to ban the player for an additional match as a result of the yellow card shown in the quarter final of the Champions League against Shakhtar on April 6. UEFA have also announced that he will not face any financial penalty. That means the player will be available for selection by Pep Guardiola in the first leg of the Champions League semi final tie with Madrid.
Real Madrid haven't won anything since their much-publicized, record-setting purchase of Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
In fact, Los Blancos haven't won anything since 2008 when they won La Liga and have since been relegated to also-rans compared to their fiercest rival, Barcelona. Real Madrid and Ronaldo will have one of their most opportune chances tonight when they face Barcelona (again) in the Copa del Rey final.
Madrid are unlikely to catch Barcelona domestically, but they will also have two more chances in the UEFA Champions League semifinals to better their rivals and upstage Barca by taking Europe's biggest prize and tonight in the Copa del Rey final.
Ronaldo has piled on the individual accolades since arriving at the Bernebéu, but has yet to net Madrid any noteworthy prizes that they expected when they uprooted Ronaldo from Manchester Untied. The pressure, naturally, has gotten to Ronaldo. Although he has yet to better Barcelona, he remains ever confident that Madrid will emerge with at least one major trophy at season's end.
According to an ESPN report:
"Real Madrid cannot go two years without winning a title. I'm convinced that we are going to win something this season and it's going to be very important. The players look very positive and that's a good sign, I like it a lot. There is the ideal atmosphere in the squad for this final straight.''
On the heels of four matches in the span of four days, Barcelona winger Pedro was largely unaffected by the outcome of Saturday's debut of the four-match epic El Clasico.
Of course, the Catalan giants tied Real Madrid 1-1 on a controversial penalty given in the 82nd minute. Barcelona is still well on track to win a third consecutive La Liga title but tonight's Copa del Rey final will have no bearing on Barca's title chase nor their UEFA Champions League quest—just Spain's most coveted domestic trophy.
Madrid tied Barcelona in Saturday's La Liga tie, but did so on a somewhat fortunate penalty given. Still, los Blancos arguably outplayed their rivals on Saturday despite playing with 10 men and nearly came away with the game-winner. Tonight's tie on neutral soil will surely draw fireworks.
Barcelona winger Pedro appeared unfazed by tonight's match. If anything else, he felt that the—in his opinion—draw against Real Madrid was unjust and Barcelona would capitalize as a result.
He told goal.com:
"They had their chances to score and equalised with a penalty. I am not sure whether it was [a penalty] or not," he told AS after the game.
"We had dominated the game and had chances to win the match but I still think that a draw is a good result.
"The game on Wednesday will be different and I do not think that what happened in this game will have any impact on the cup final."
One down, three to go. Yes, life is good in the footballing world.
If Saturday's El Clasico clash at the Santiago Bernabéu on Saturday was a sign of things to come—bring it on.
Sure, the match between longtime and hated Spanish rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid ended in a 1-1 tie and Barcelona continued to march toward their third consecutive domestic title, there was enough drama that fans of the sport could only be left salivating over their pints for the upcoming three fixtures in the next 18 days between the two.
Real Madrid, who have been dominated in recent years by the Catalans, limped away with 10 men and a draw, but slayed a few demons in the process. Cristiano Ronaldo scored against Barcelona for the first time in his already-decorated career and Madrid earned a point against Barca for the first time since Pep Guardiola took the reins at the Camp Nou in 2008.
There were controversial penalties, a red card, brilliant runs from both sides and, surprisingly, very few flops from Cristiano Ronaldo.
The two meet again on Wednesday in the Copa del Rey final at Estadio Mestalla in Madrid (3:45 p.m. EST) in a match that Barcelona's Xavi said is the most important of the four matches in a report posted on sport360.com.
And the World Cup-winner has hung his hat on the cup final at the Mestalla - home of Valencia - in midweek as the most important "because it is a single match."
The rivals meet again in a two-legged Champions League tie on April 26 and May 3.
In Saturday's El Clasico, Barcelona were their typical Barcelona selves, playing keep away from their Real Madrid counterparts and dominating the majority of the possession—as they almost always always do.
But their attack was a bit flatter than usual with less flair: their typical seemingly effortless flow on offense was amiss during the tilt at the Santiago Bernabéu.
According to a report in The Guardian, Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho kept the Bernabeu's grass higher than usual in hopes that the playing surface would slow down the Catalans' offense.
Barcelona had much more of the ball but there was a slowness to their play – Mourinho had ordered that the grass be left long – and a lack of clarity and fluidity, the ball moved around reduced spaces and deep areas of the pitch, accumulating bodies and passes but not opportunities. For Barça, who knew that a draw would preserve their league advantage, nor did there appear to be much urgency. For Madrid, the urgency came in the speed with which they launched themselves forward from deep, where they lay in wait, and the pressure they applied to their opponents.
Did it work? Maybe. Sure, Barcelona weren't as fluid as most would expect from a Barcelona side, but they probably should have had an additional penalty awarded in the first half, and Real Madrid's penalty that led to the equalizer was a controversial one.
But if anyone would resort to odd tactics to try and earn an advantage, would anyone put it past Mourinho?
Although Barcelona had to be smarting at a controversial penalty awarded to rival Real Madrid that allowed Cristiano Ronaldo and the hosts to escape with a vital point despite playing with 10 men for most of the second half.
That said, Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola seemed content in a CNN report with leaving the historic Bernabéu unscathed and with a point in hand.
"A draw at the Bernabeu is a good result and I am happy with how we played, although maybe we could have done better at 1-0," Barca coach Pep Guardiola told AFP after dropping his first points in six league games against Real since taking over the role in 2008.
"I don't think we are league champions (yet) as we have to play against teams that are still fighting for their lives."
Madrid were awarded a controversial penalty when Marcelo was taken down and Cristiano Ronaldo slotted home the equalizer.
The Portuguese Real Madrid winger converted a penalty in the 81st minute to give Los Blancos, reduced to 10 men, a crucial goal and a 1-1 draw in a drama-filled affair at the Bernabéu.
Real Madrid were controversially awarded a penalty when Dani Alves reached on a tackle to try and thwart a charging Marcelo. Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes vehemently argued referee Cesar Muniz Fernandez’ call to the point Fernadez gave the Barca netminder a yellow card for dissent.
Ronaldo calmly fired right while Valdes guessed left and Madrid’s hope was anew.
Lionel Messi countered with a pair of dazzling runs but the Catalans couldn’t find the winner.
Hero Marcelo teamed up with Emmanuel Adabayor to threaten Barcelona in the waning moments, but like Barca, were unable to find the winner.
Madrid have to be relieved for even earning a pivotal draw. It doesn’t help their effort to catch the Catalans—Barcelona leads Madrid by eight points in La Liga—but leading into Wednesday’s Copa del Rey final and two additional Champions League tilts following that, it may have been tough for Los Blancos to rebound from another defeat at the hands of their fiercest rivals. Barcelona crushed Real Madrid 5-0 at the Camp Nou on November 29.
If the next three matches meet the intensity of Saturday’s Clasico—bring it on.
Lionel Messi converted from the spot to give Barcelona a 1-0 lead in the 51st minute of their tilt with Real Madrid.
Messi calmly beat Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas with a rocket shot after coolly jogging up to take the kick.
Barcelona were awarded a penalty after a rusty Raul Albiol dragged Barcelona’s David Villa down by the neck. Albiol was immediately given a red card and Madrid will have to try and find an equalizer at the Bernabéu with just 10 men.
Messi’s goal came just minutes after Cristiano Ronaldo’s free-kick effort had Victor Valdes beat and glanced off the woodwork. Real Madrid’s El Clasico’s effort then took a dramatic turn for the worse.
Visiting Barcelona have controlled much of the pace and possession of the game, but Real Madrid have still had plenty of chances.
Shortly after Messi’s goal, Carles Puyol, who has been battling injury went down with an injury. Barcelona subbed in Seydou Keita for Puyol. Madrid sent in German Mesut Ozil for Karim Benzema to look for the vital equalizer.
Stay tuned for more. At the pace this tilt is moving at, additional drama is all but assured.
Saturday’s El Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona went into the half scoreless at the Bernabéu, but the pivotal Spanish tilt was not without fireworks—or controversy.
Barcelona players made their pleas with referee Cesar Muniz Fernandez, but he didn’t award the Catalans a penalty and Fernandez gave Gerard Pique a yellow for dissent while making an emotional case for Villa.
Casillas twice proved his worth for Los Blancos when stopping dangerous opportunities from the always-dangerous Lionel Messi. In the 18th minute Casillas stopped Messi on a one-on-one opportunity where Messi tried to chip Casillas—a very similar attempt in Barca’s Champions League fixture against Arsenal where he was successful—but Casillas was up to the task.
He also stopped a rocket shot from Messi’s foot in the 42nd minute.
Real Madrid threatened in the waning moments of the first half off of a corner kick, but Barcelona’s Adriano cleared Sergio Ramos’ effort off the line.
It may seem outlandish to predict anything but a Barcelona victory, but Real Madrid have been in top form in recent matches.
Los Blancos are fresh off of a 5-0 dismantling of Tottenham in the Champions League and finally resembled the team most figured they’d see after all of Madrid’s high-profile purchases. They finally appear, at least, to be clicking on all cylinders and barely resemble the team that was thoroughly destroyed by the Catalans in November.
That said, Barcelona have absolutely looked like the side everyone has expected them to be. They currently lead La Liga by eight points (over Madrid) an appear poised to make their third Champions League final in four years.
Quite simply, while Barcelona is the superior side, Madrid have way too much to lose to allow another disastrous outing against their biggest rivals. Their coach, Jose Mourinho, is rumored to be headed back to England and the board will likely be unhappy with another second-place finish with how much cash they’ve injected into the product. That, and they’re playing this round in Los Blancos’ home, the Bernabeu.