When Karim Benzema scored the opener for Real Madrid inside the first minute, some assumed it was going to be a long night for Barcelona’s players and the club’s supporters. However, the Catalans eventually turned the result around in another painful defeat for outspoken coach Jose Mourinho who, as expected, pretended the loss was not damaging.
Below are some of the key factors behind Barca’s ability to turn the early 1-0 deficit into a precious 3-1 victory in Madrid:
1) Barca’s Possession Plan: Most Spanish football fans are aware of Barca’s reliance on the possession game in order to deprive opponents of the ball and the chance to create scoring opportunities against goalkeeper Victor Valdes.
The Barca goalkeeper was shaky throughout the night not because of Real’s chances but rather due to his persistent attempt at neatly passing the ball to a teammate when he was under pressure. This led to Benzema’s early goal and could have resulted in one or two other goals if Real took advantage.
By keeping possession over 60% of the time, Barca made sure that Cristiano Ronaldo saw less of the ball and this restricted the overall efficiency and attacking threat from the hosts.
2) Barca win Midfield Battle: While there is no doubt some Barca player tend to flop at the slightest of touches, the Real players were certainly more aggressive and they did not hesitate to use two-footed tackles on a number of occasions against Barca. At the end, Xavi’s and Andres Iniesta’s confidence with the ball and their ability to pass their way out of any difficult situation allowed the Catalans to eventually turn the ride in their favor.
Xavi would certainly like to take credit for the second goal albeit the heavy deflection which ought to see Real’s Marcelo take the unfortunate credit of scoring an own goal. However, it was not this goal which makes Xavi so critical for Barca’s success but rather his amazing ability to make everything look ordinary. Xavi is not the talented dribbler such as Lionel Messi and he certainly is not flashy, but the Spanish midfielder can pass the ball like no other when forced into some of the most difficult situations.
Finally, Iniesta deserves praise for his efforts and he was Barca’s main threat once the game was at 3-1 with his marauding runs creating at least three serious scoring opportunities for the Catalans to add to the score. Iniesta and Xavi continue to show telepathic understanding when it comes to their passing and positional awareness.
3) Cristiano Ronaldo’s Failure: Ronaldo could have easily helped Real take a solid 2-0 lead over their bitter rivals yet he chose to be selfish instead of passing to the well-placed Angel Di Maria. This squandered opportunity would prove costly as Barca’s Messi would opt to setup Alexis Sanchez with a sublime pass for the equalizer.
In the second-half, Ronaldo would go on to miss a glorious scoring opportunity from a header while his decision continued to be questionable. While Messi did not score, the Argentina wizard did at least create space for his teammates and his assist led to the equalizer while Ronaldo went on to squander a couple of other free-kicks from his favorite spots.
4) Jose Mourinho’s Decisions: The Portuguese coach has been fortunate to get the opportunity to coach some of the best teams in their respective league. In the case of Chelsea, Mourinho became manager at the opportune moment when Roman Abramovich had already poured millions and millions of pounds. Then, with Inter, Mourinho had the benefit of Massimo Moratti’s heavy spending, players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the squad and the fact previous coach Roberto Mancini had set the winning era rolling. Currently, Mourinho is coaching one of the richest and best teams in the world with players such as Ronaldo, Higuain, Mesut Ozil, Pepe, Xabi Alonso and Kaka on his squad.
So where did it go wrong for Jose? When it comes to Barca, many acknowledge the controversial Portuguese coach has a personal vendetta because deep inside he always wanted to take over coaching duties at the Camp Nou. He hoped after Chelsea he would be considered for the Barca post but he was overlooked and then the same following the end of the Frank Rijkaard era in Catalonia. Thus, Mourinho seems to be emotionally charged when facing Barca and he often seems obsessed with avoiding defeat against the Catalans rather than pushing hard for a win.
Some of his questionable decisions include giving striker Gonzalo Higuain a mere 20 minutes to save the game. The Argentina striker has managed to score 12 goals in just 14 La Liga appearances, with 7 of those games coming as a substitute. Some might say Mourinho was adventurous enough to use Benzema, Ozil and Ronaldo at the same time, but the Portuguese coach ought to have started Higuain who is in fine form.
Another issue was the timing of his substitutions which seemed to be off as at 1-3 down, Higuain was realistically left with very little time to save something from the match while Kaka was only brought on after the hosts fell behind 1-2. Ozil was not having a great game so to wait almost an hour before subbing him was quite a mistake. Even Di Maria who was inconsistent and erratic somehow survived longer than expected before Mourinho opted to remove him.
5) The Talent Level: To be fair to Mourinho, the Barca squad has to be considered as one of the best assembled teams in the history of the game at the club level. The core of Spain’s Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 winning squad is formed by Barca’s backbone with key players Xavi, Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol all contributing heavily to both Spain’s and the Catalan club’s success over the last few years. Add to the mix players of the quality of Messi and even summer signing Alexis Sanchez, then it is hard to imagine a team currently better prepared to win trophies. Obviously the addition of Cesc Fabregas, the former Arsenal skipper, only makes the squad even deeper and more talented!
Some might argue this is just a single match, but what they fail to recognize is the fact this triumph in Madrid will likely boost Barca’s morale following an inconsistent run in La Liga. As for Real, the club still has a chance to be 3 points ahead if the players can put behind this defeat to win their remaining match before the holidays. The win was certainly much more important for Barca because had Real won, then the difference would have been 6 points with the Madrid side having the opportunity to make it 9 points prior to 2012.
Time will tell whether this loss will have a damaging effect on Los Blancos and if the Barca players will use this precious victory as a means to propel their season to new heights in the quest to retain their La Liga title.