Copa Del Rey El Clasico: Messi, Ronaldo and 5 Things Learned from the First Leg
The first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinal matchup between Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid ended the same way so many of these recent historical ties have, Barcelona on with a 2-1 victory at the Bernabeu. Goals from Carlos Puyol and Eric Abidal cancelled out an early Christiano Ronadlo score to give the visitors the win a crucial two away goal advantage heading into the second leg.
Ronaldo got the game off right for the hosts 11 minutes in, capitalizing off Cesc Fabregas sloppily giving the ball away in the midfield. Karim Benzema feeds it to the forward, who gives a quick step over before shooting low and hard past Barca keeper Pinto for the lead.
Barca seemed to struggle to find their footing for much of the first half, as Messi was unable to get on the ball much and many of their attacks were thwarted by a strong back line Jose Mourniho deployed.
However, just four minutes into the second half, a Barca corner found an unmarked Carlos Puyol in the middle of the box. The Catalan sides captain came up big as he has done so many times in his long illustrious career, diving into the ball and tying the game all up at one apiece.
From there on, it was Barca’s to lose. They controlled play for long periods of time and were the apparent ones who were going to make the most of the match.
The breakthrough came in the 77th minute when Messi fed Abidal a delectable ball over the top of the defense. Abidal took the ball down with his chest and was clear in on goal, toe poking it around Casillas for the eventual game winner.
Going into the second leg, Barca will be the clear favorites to progress to the semis, but here are five other things that can be taken away from this match.
Ronaldo Is the Only Key to a Madrid Victory
Much like the first time these two teams met this season, Madrid jumped out to an early lead and looked in control of the match. They were passing better, getting more opportunities and most importantly, when you place Barca, they were holding possession. Every move Barca made going forward seemed to be two on five and nowhere for the Catalans to go.
And this is all because Ronaldo was involved in the game.
So much has been made about the disappearing act the Portuguese star does in the El Clasico and other major matches. He could seemingly be replaced with any other player on the bench.
But today more than anything was indicative of why he is the only hope this team ever beating Barca.
The first half, he was all over the ball. He was quick up the wings, strong in the air, fast without possession, tracking back to help defensively and making key passes. His work earned him the early goal and a few other chances.
Most importantly, it kept the weapon of Dani Alves honest. Alves, for much of the first half, could not get forward in the attack, as he was understandably fearful of a Ronaldo counter. Him not getting forward made the Barca offense totally static and kept the game in Madrid’s hands.
However, once the second half rolled around, the great Hounadlo did his vanishing bit and was no longer to be seen, allowing the Barca players to control the tempo and ultimately win the game.
Obviously, it’s not as black and white as that, but in reality, it sort of is. The only chances that Madrid really created on the Barca net were when Ronaldo was involved. If he didn’t touch the ball on a possession, it usually resulted in a poor midfield turnover.
We all know that Ronaldo needs to show up if Madrid ever wants to win, but it is much more than that. The way it looks, the only way Madrid will ever beat this Barca team is if Ronaldo does it singlehandedly, or at least the closest you can come to do that in a team sport.
Pepe Is Scum
This was an absolutely sensational game for two thirds of the match. All of the players were respectful of one another. Hard challenges were had, but a handshake usually followed. The ref was not mobbed, as in past El Clasicos.
But then came the most disrespectful, contemptuous, unsportsmanlike, vile, inbred, tramp who ever played at this level.
Pepe is known for being a tough-tackling versatile defender. He is strong and not afraid to go hard into an opposing player to let them know he is there. All of this is fine and a part of the game.
However, when you blatantly step on the other team’s star player out of frustration for your own lack of abilities to stop him, you should be severely punished. It was an atrocity beyond words what he did to Messi after a foul and was fortunate that the ref did not see.
As stupid as this buffoon is, he forgot that that there were about 50 high-speed cameras on him. I pray that the Spanish governing body looks at the footage and gives him a ban that will reflect the grossness of his personality.
And please do not try and humor me with defenses on his behalf of it being an accident. We all know that it feels different to step on grass than on someone’s hand.
Tactics: Mourinho > Guardiola
Mourinho’s game plan worked perfectly. The first half was theirs, with Barca making little stress on that defense. The early goal by Ronaldo calmed things down for the home side and allowed Madrid to fall back into sometimes five defenders along the back line.
A lot of questioning was had beforehand by commentators about his choice of playing Diarra, Pepe and Alonso in a three-man midfield, essentially making it a half of the field that was all defenders or defense minded players. The Special One trusted his talented three up top would be able to create on their own, and they sure did.
Muorinho must have been judging a few things with this line: 1) the worst thing Madrid can do is concede. Going into the second leg scoreless is fine as long as Barca does not get an away goal. And 2) this is the least important of competitions. If it were not for it being against a rival, you would have seen a bunch of kids out there.
Guardiola, on the other hand, was struggling to find a way to break through that stringent defense for most of the first half. Alexis Sanchez kept trying to crack the line, but with the defensive trio in the midfield for Madrid, the back four would just drop further back without fear of the midfield getting too comfortable.
Messi had trouble getting on the ball because as soon as he touched it, he was surrounded by three defenders at all times. Fabregas looked lost and out of place at times, and even succumbed to the whiny little runt that he can be.
If it were not for a single corner, the tactics would have probably worked and Madrid would have came away with a win. But Barca scored from a dead ball, ruining any game plan Mourinho had, but most importantly…
Team Mentality: Guardiola > Mourinho
Just like last time these two met, Barca conceded an early goal. Just like last time, it never phased the Barca players. Just like last time, Barca clawed back to level the game. Just like last time, the Madrid players' mentality changed. And just like last time, Barca won and Madrid walked off the field with their heads hanging.
Every single player on the field today is great. There is no real way to say that this player is exponentially better than the man standing across from him. But when it comes to the strength in character and mentality, every single Barca player is miles beyond the Madrid boys.
As soon as Puyol scored the first Barca goal, the air was let out of the Bernabeu. The fans fell silent and the players hung their heads. This is not the mentality of a championship side.
Barca, on the other hand, played the exact same style for an entire 90 minutes. Little tactical changes here and there, but there was never a moment where the team looked like they were beaten.
No one watching that game thought that Barca would not win after scoring that first goal. And it was not because the swing of play changed after the kick off. You realized it much earlier than that. You knew it as soon as the camera panned to a whining Pepe, a disgruntled Ronaldo, a flabbergasted Casillas and a furious Mourinho.
At that moment, the game was over for Madrid, and if they cannot learn to fight back when things go wrong, they will never be a championship side.
Barca Are Still No. 1
Sorry Madrid fans, but it can’t be argued. With another resounding victory in the Bernabeu, Barcelona are still the best team in the world. Hold on to that top of the table, though, because in the end, it may be the only thing you have.