The third installment of this season’s ‘El Clasico’ match-up between Real Madrid and Barcelona could have been renamed ‘El Fiasco’. Depending on your outlook, it may have been surprising to see Jose Mourinho’s Madrid squad setup with such bullying tactics. Both coaches had strong words for one another in the press conference so I was not surprised that the atmosphere was tense.
The game was hyped in some circles as a Lionel Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo showdown to see who the true best player in the game is right now. That for me was just one of the sub-plots available. To dismiss the array of talent on both squads is naive. According to Deloitte, Real Madrid pay €192m (£170m) in wages to a squad that cost €475m to assemble. Barca hand over €235m to a group who cost €175m to buy. Barcelona spend less on transfers because of the success graduates of Barcelona’s academy — La Masia de Can Planes (loosely translates from Catalan as “The Farmhouse”) have had with the first team. Among the graduates are key first-team players Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, Carles Puyol, and Víctor Valdés.
The game itself was a cagey affair in the first half with both teams not looking full sharp and taking more interest in fouling their opponents. The half-time whistle brought no relief to the tension as Barcelona’s backup goalkeeper, Pinto, was sent off for seeming to punch Madrid’s match-day delegate Miguel Porlán “Chendo” in the midst of an argument with Alvaro Arbeloa.
The game changed early in the second half when Pepe and Dani Alves both went for a loose ball and Pepe appeared to catch Alves on the shin. Alves writhed on the floor like his leg had been broekn and referree Wolfgang Stark showed Pepe the red card. Personally, I thought the referee was conned by Alves’ roilling around and at most should have given a yellow card. Don’t believe it? Watch this video!
Jose Mourinho sarcastically applauded Alves as he was stretchered off and gave the fourth official a thumbs-up for good measure. Mourinho’s performance earned him a red card and he will not be on the touchline for the return leg. Alves returned to the pitch less than 5 minutes later and appeared to be just fine.
I suspect that had Pepe not been sent off that the game would have ended as a dour scoreless draw. Pepe and Lassana Diarra had done a good job of harrassing Messi, playing in a deeper position because of Iniesta’s absence, and Xavi which stifled some of Barcelona’s creativity.
A scoreless draw was not to be after the sending off and there are two moments of pure class to discuss with Lionel Messi being at the heart of both of them. His second goal in particular deserves to be celebrated not just by Barcelona fans, but anyone who is even a casual soccer fan. It was an expression of artistry that elevates the game to the heights it should always strive to reach. Watch the marvelous second goal and tell me if you’ve seen a better display in such a big game. Remember, this is not some beer league team, this is a very good Real Madrid squad who were looking to keep the score close.
Unfortunately, things got ugly again during Jose Mourinho’s post-match press conference. Some of his remarks are completely scandalous and Barcelona manager Pep Guardialo refused to acknowledge them.
Barcelona are considering legal action against Mourinho while UEFA confirmed that its Control and Disciplinary Body would hear numerous cases against Real on May 6, ‘in relation to the throwing of missiles, a pitch invasion, the red card shown to Pepe, the dismissal of the coach José Mourinho, as well as the inappropriate statement given by Mr Mourinho to the media after the match’.
Mourinho has essentially conceded the semi-final to Barcelona stating that a 2-0 deficit will be very difficult to overturn.