One thing is for certain, Barcelona are the form team in world football. The pomp and verve displayed on Monday night will not have sent shockwaves through Surope, but only because their dominance and class is utterly accepted.
But less about the winners; what of the losers? What went wrong? And, more importantly, where do Jose and Real go from here.
Perhaps it was a sign of things to come. As the Real Madrid team coach arrived at the Juan Carlos I hotel in Barcelona, stones and bricks were thrown. Glass shattered over Raul Albiol and Alvaro Arbeloa, whilst a member of the security staff was hit by a brick. Maybe they should have just turned around.
Another factor was the back injury sustained by Gonzalo Higuain. Although Ronaldo has been Real’s top scorer, Higuain provides the focus point of attack, with holding the ball up and providing for supporting runners so important when facing the Catalan giants.
These things are mere excuses, but they fail to help a team before their biggest challenge.Players
The crucial issue facing Jose Mourinho is that his players simply didn’t turn up in the most important match of the season. Four of the players in the starting line up were Mourinho signings, and the way in which his side capitulated will be of great concern to the Portuguese. This was an El Classico that was over bar the shouting after twenty-five minutes.
But of even greater worry are the bare facts. Real Madrid have spent upwards of €220million in 18 months, and yet in that time have spent just €28million on defenders. Only Ricardo Carvalho (€8million) played on Monday.
Even with all the outlay on new players, Cristiano Ronaldo would be the only definite player from Real Madrid to get into the Barcelona first XI, with Alonso and Casillas the only other likely candidates. Messi, Villa, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Pique, and Alves are all better players, certainly on form, than Ozil, Di Maria, Khedira, Pepe, Carvalho, Ramos and Diarra.
The players at Mourinho’s disposal are world class, but for them to be successful, they need to be better than the best team in the world. And that may be a huge stumbling block.
The most disappointing thing from an observer’s point of view on Monday night was the way in which Mourinho changed his tactics despite his previous successes against Barcelona.
In his victories with both Inter Milan and Chelsea, Mourinho’s teams were successful through using a deep defensive line, pressuring Barcelona throughout the pitch, and gaining success on the counter attack, perfectly encapsulated by Chelsea’s 4-2 victory against Barca in 2005.
This was an approach that was abandoned by Mourinho last night. The defence was positioned high up the pitch, allowing Messi and Pedro to thread passes through for Villa to latch on to, and Barcelona were given time and space in midfield in which to comfortably engineer opportunities
Perhaps this was because Mourinho didn’t feel that he had the players at his disposal to carry out such a tactic, but that merely makes a mockery of the money spent.
Although the Madrid daily sports paper dared to point an accusatory finger at the referee, Real’s discipline was shoddy on Monday. Carvalho should have been sent off for a handball as the last man, and Ramos’ tackle was as petulant as it was malicious.
But despite the seven bookings and a sending off, it was the tactical indiscipline and naivety that most disappointed. Pedro, Villa and Jeffren were all able to catch Real defenders off guard by simply hiding behind them and making runs at opportune moments, and the lack of pressure on the Barcelona midfield was nothing but counterproductive.
Ramos will be missing for three games. In that time he needs to take a long look at his current form. From World Cup winner to defensive liability is an overstatement, but it has been quite a six-month fall for the Spanish right back.
On Monday night Real suffered a horrible defeat in the Nou Camp, a defeat that may leave psychological scars on both players and supporters. But as President Jorge Valdano was yesterday keen to point out, it was just a defeat, and the first defeat of the Mourinho reign at the Bernabeu.
Real Madrid only sit two points off the league in La Liga. The last time they won the league (2007/8) Real were two points ahead of Barca at the same time as now, and ended up finishing eighteen points ahead. This is not a lost cause.
Jose Mourinho is also the best coach in the world at creating a siege mentality, a bubble around his players in forming an us-against-the-world attitude. If he can get the players to rally round, regroup and be reignited, then the title race is not over.
But one thing Monday showed is that this may be the hardest task of the Special One’s career. And as the papers continue to gloat over the Portuguese’s humiliation, his siege mentality may be more useful as a measure of self-preservation.