Barcelona and Real Madrid concluded a quartet of the famous but boring and one-sided El Classico with a UEFA Champions League final berth to Barcelona. In this last encounter, without coach Jose Mourinho, Real really competed. Mourinho’s cry of previous encounters at least rang true for a change. It is only when you get stuck in there and get on full throttle and fail, that Madrid can complain and it holds water.
The Galatico fought a good fight that I thought they would win, and frankly, they could have won it had the worst decision of the best referees of the El Classicos been right. His call to disallow a goal with the stakes balanced at 0-0, was the defining moment of the entire 2 legged semi-final. Real looked in it the entire time until the last few minutes of the match. This does not mean they dominated or that Barca were mince meat. Actually, the Catalans were dominant throughout and at times, at alarming levels.
The anatomy of the match shows that Barcelona outpassed Madrid at a ratio of 3;1 completed passes. Xavi ran more than any other player and had by far the most completed passes. These were not ordinary passes and that is exactly what made it seem like Madrid were in it, because with such ball possession, one expects a massacre.
Real were guilty of generously donating possession with such chilling accuracy, failing to knit three passes in a row and then spending over 5 minutes trying to regain possession with tons of work and running their socks off. By contrast, Barcelona never duelled for the ball and got plenty of it without sweat, keeping it to themselves for almost forever.
I must say that while Madrid can never outpass Barca, the effort to try to get the ball past at least one defending player was most encouraging. Madrid had the discipline of the strategy and kept dozens of men behind the ball for most of the time, not that it is relevant to do that when you play the Catalans, but the plan worked. Barcelona always tear teams by the same methodology of attack. They play square the entire time, attracting the impatient teams out of very good defending positions and then accelerate to pounce. The principle work well if the opposition is ambitious like Madrid.
In trying to combat the opponents, the Galatico threw bodies and dived into tackles and lost effective duels except the one they were never supposed to lose. This is one part of the Real game that was supposed to be permanent; Lass on Messi. Lasana Diarra, number 10, marked, tracked, tricked, tripped and bossed Lionel Messi winning the most important battles, combats and duels to shut the nimble-footed Argentinian.
The pace of Messi and David Villa, technique of Iniesta and Xavi, the work rate of Dani Alves and Mascherano, the intelligence of Pique and the experience of Puyol who played a century of Champions League matches makes Barca a class act of all time. This team move the ball with incredible precision for extended periods of time in the middle 3rd of the pitch. Regardless of the defending team’s distribution, this distorts the composition and effective defending mentality, breaking down teams psychologically as options become minimum and patience runs out. Frustrations creep in and concentration levels collapse and decision-making tend to be chaotic without any regular trend. Defending teams find themselves flat-footed and at that point, the stakes are upped by an accelerating attacks from deep in defensive or midfield areas.
When Messi or Villa come running at defenders at pace, they usually have the advantage of both the speed and direction. The velocity is usually maximum by the time they reach say, Xavi Alonso, Pepe or Carvhalho who will have to pick themselves up from 0km/hr, accelerate and attain to speed. Over a distance of 40 to 30 metres, by the time defending players hit top gear, Cassillas will be dusting himself and Messi having his shirt over his face in celebration after scoring. It was evident that Mourinho had this in mind in all 4 matches, as he tried to have midfielders mobile by tracking Barca consistently across the field. He had 4 men square across the field and shuttling in front of the goalkeeper.
Lack of proper possession made Cristiano Ronaldo irrelevant in most of the matches as the Portuguese thrives on both running with the ball at the opponents and dead ball situations. His duel with Alves was never relevant and for the reasons already stated, the small Brazilian won the day. Marcelo had a good run on the left as did Hinguin in the first half. The sporadic attacks Madrid had were quite telling and gave the impression that the Galatico can rise to the occasion. I could not help but feel that they spent a lot of time worrying about the politics and Barcelona than doing the correct things. Knowing The Special one, Mourinho over-coached the team and it was best if they tried to be chased by Barca. The whole deal was totally based on trying to stop the La Liga leaders. It proved one thing; Barcelona are unstoppable.
The more relevant tactic that you will surely see next season, if Mourinho does not part with the Galatico, is, Madrid being the one doing their thing for other teams to chase, and that is a winning formula.