Not the Saddest: Real Madrid 2, Barcelona 1By: kage | August 29th, 2012
At one point, my lead was going to be: This is the saddest story I ever heard. For the first 35 minutes of the second Supercopa leg against Real Madrid, FC Barcelona was being thrashed, dominated, subjugated and humiliated. A more pathetic performance than any since the beginning of the Pep Guardiola era. And so I was preparing to write: It’s over, folks. The best team in the world ain’t what it used to be. Yet, even though the bad guys in white won the match 2-1, and the tie on away goals, by the end of this match I felt curiously uplifted. Was it simply the end, as the realization of the benign indifference of the universe even to the Barca football team sank all the way in, or was there a second, more revivifying story that played out on the field at the Bernebeu?
Let’s go back, as briefly as we can, to the horror of the first 35 minutes. Real Madrid began by exerting tons of upfield pressure, and Barca reacted like a deer frozen in halogen headlights. By the sixth minute Valdes had to make a great stop on Higuain (Pique having let him in); in the tenth minute came disaster. A speculative long ball from Pepe flew through the night air, and the Monster Masch, instead of playing defense, lazily attempted to knock it down with a lifted leg. It went through, and with it was Higuain. Pique did not have the speed to stay with him, and the Argentinean smashed it off Valdes and into the goal. Eight minutes later a speculative long ball from Real flew through the night air… I’d like to say Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but sure enough a Barca defender – Pique, this time – was unable to stop it from falling to Ronaldo, who lined the ball up in the penalty area with oceans of time, Valdes in front of him, Pique manning the left side of the goal. The Hero of Himself drilled the ball right at Pique, but Valdes dived and deflected it into the net. It wasn’t Victor’s fault (and it was indeed Gerard’s), but it sure was bad luck for Barca.
Or was it? Real Madrid was playing a monstrously aggressive game, pressing like demons, dispossessing Barca with the eagerness of flies around an outhouse. But their tactics were strictly Stoke City: never mind the midfield, just heave it forward and hope that Carles Puyol has just broken a cheekbone, leaving only a couple of clowns behind. Oh. Right. That happened. And apparently Dani Alves was injured, because Adriano started at right back; neither he nor Jordi Alba at left back ever seemed in the vicinity when the hard rain of long balls fell. In the 21st minute, Valdes made a second great save; two minutes later, a Pepe goal on a header was disallowed for a foul, and just barely.
And then it got worse. This was the saddest story I ever heard, remember. In the 28th minute Adriano tugged down The Great Lord of Himself as the latter burst through yet again. Red card, and rightfully so.
Barca would have to play 62 minutes, down 2-0, in a roaring stadium, the great Real Madrid team in full cry, already ahead 2-0. At that point, FC Barcelona had literally no goal chances. It looked like Armageddon was nigh. To punctuate that thought, Marcelo forced Valdes into another good save. One had hardly ever seen such an utter rout of a great team.
But something happened. It wasn’t very much, at first. Montoya came on for Alexis, to play right back. He took the ball away from The God of Himself near the sideline. That was basically the first good moment Barca had. In the 36th minute, Iniesta whipped in a great choice, and Montoya almost got hold of it. It was a chance, a positive chance. Pique actually blocked another shot by the Great Divinity of Himself; a minute later Jordi Alba actually shouldered Pepe off the ball. Suddenly there were two teams playing; a football game broke out.
In the 44th minute, Leo Messi rifled a cracker of a freekick, bending it sharply and at great pace around the wall to the left corner. Casillas, guarding the other corner, had no chance. 2-1.
We’ve seen a lot of Barca games like this: one team absolutely dominates, but on a set piece the weaker team scores, making the game a lot closer than it should have been. Except that usually Barca is the stronger team, vulnerable to the free kick. This time the halftime total was 11 shots to 2, and only Messi’s goal was within the frame for Barca.
The second half was an entirely different game. Real gave up on pressuring the ball. They sat back with a one-man advantage and waited for Barca to come to them. (While the defenders took turns kicking the crap out of Leo Messi.) In retrospect someone might say that these tactics were a canny move by the Special One, but I think it was a great mistake he got away with. For this was the game Barca was used to; they became tranquilo, as the ESPN Desportes announcer told us. Despite being down a man, they dominated possession. And the chances came. Twice Pedro zoomed by Ramos, once even on a dribble, but he couldn’t beat Casillas. Jordi Alba came free behind the defense, but couldn’t control the ball. Tello came on, and he too had a big chance, but Casillas made a great save on a ball destined for the top corner. And in the very last minute of the game, Leo Messi had a great chance, and just missed.
I don’t mean that Real Madrid didn’t have its chances. Khedira, of all people, dribbled his way clear just yards from the goal, but tried to bend it around Valdes with the outside of his boot, and the keeper cleared it. Higuain had a huge chance in the 79th minute, just deflected by Mascherano. The Absolute Lord and Master of Himself came free and shot well in the 88th minute, to be denied by Valdes again.
Yet the fact is that for the last 55 minutes of the game, Barca was marginally the better team – in Madrid, down to ten men. Had Messi’s shot at the end bent a bit more, Barca would have been holding the cup, despite Adriano’s horrible mistake. The report of my death, Mark Twain once wrote, was an exaggeration. Any team that can outscore Real Madrid away with one less man, and even outplay them, is not dead. Real, after all, must have felt a sense of desperation: they’re already down 5 points in the league, and they needed this game far more than Barca, even if the Evil Empire is the reigning champions. A defeat here was not really such a huge shock, was it now? Hey, even this writer had an inkling: in a Comment to Natasha’s preview, above, I wrote:
“For score, I’m going to suggest something negative here: 2-1 RM, with the final goal being nailed in the coffin late by none other than His Own Handsome Self, Ego7.”
You could look it up.
Meanwhile, could someone please slap that defense? This time, Valdes was magnificent. But you other guys: Jeeze. I mean, Jeeze.
Valdes – Man of the Match for Barca – 8. Made five or six great saves. Prevented a horror show.
Adriano – Man of the Match for Real Madrid – 0. Have never liked him at right back. He sure looked uncomfortable.
Pique – he warmed up to the match and played quite well after matching Masch, bonehead for bonehead – 3. Got a yellow card.
Mascherano: For the first time, he looked like a defensive midfielder thrust into the center-back position – 3. Got a yellow card.
Alba – not good at the start, but who was? Was Barca’s best in defense. Just wish he’d been able to control a long high ball to him when he came free – 6.
Busi – played badly, didn’t link defense and offense, which is essentially his job, and rarely short-circuited Real’s attack in their own half, which is his other job – 10. Why? Because Busi should always get a 10, and Messi a zero. Isn’t that how it goes here?
Xavi – always seemed to have men around him, too many men, all in white. Came to himself when Mourinho called off the dogs – 6.
Iniesta – similar to Xavi, of course. Made some amazing Iniestaesque moves. None of them came to anything, so far as I can remember – 6.
Alexis – dove in the box, though he was probably fouled a second before that by Ramos. Nothing else was very pretty, and he was replaced after a half hour – 4.
Pedro – played hard, of course, and manufactured some great chances, got by Ramos twice, and absolutely should have scored on one free runner, when he shot straight at Casillas. Reminded us of last year (shudder) – 5.
Messi – scored on a stunningly good freekick – 6. Had a few Messi moments, but again found himself playing deep in order to help bring the ball up. Which means that Busi and Xaviesta weren’t doing their jobs. And which means that he faced too many Real guys to try to dribble past em all.
Subs: Montoya played quite a bit, and played quite well – 6. Alex Song made his Barca debut with 15 minutes, and played even better. One clever little pass gave Messi a great chance to win the game at the death – 7. Tello – energetic and willing, and almost brought Barca the cup. But not quite – 7.
Tito: didn’t have Barca ready for what was surely an obvious tactic, the upfield pressure. Mourinho’s tactics more than Tito’s brought Barca back into the game. Good subs. 3.