Barcelona’s disappointing loss to Real Madrid was a result of a number of factors which went against the Catalans. No doubt Real’s players and coach Jose Mourinho deserve credit for properly implementing the plan to contain Lionel Messi and for using the perfect tactics to neutralize Barca’s other key players such as Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
However, there are a number of factors which gave Los Blancos the initiative from the start:
1) Josep Guardiola’s Lineup: Guardiola opted to rest Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez ahead of the return leg against Chelsea. Clearly Guardiola’s focus was turned to the Champions League. This was a decisive factor in favor of the visitors. Nothing ought to be taken away from Real’s victory but had Guardiola selected his strongest lineup then the final outcome might have been different.
2) Cristian Tello: Guardiola made a mistake starting the inexperienced Tello in such a decisive match. The occasion ended up being too big for the young player. He has the talent but he made several poor decisions when given the chance to produce goals or assists. Tello went on to waste at least a couple of scoring opportunities by himself or for his teammates. Another starter, perhaps Pedro would have probably provided a different dimension and a scoring threat in such a crucial match.
3) Lionel Messi: The Argentine wizard was surprisingly subdued for such a big match but he has often been the focus of some of Mourinho’s anti-Barca tactics which emphasize reducing the danger posed by the Catalans by eliminating Messi’s threat. Messi was surrounded by at least three players whenever he set on one of his trademark forays into Real’s penalty area. He was unable to create much and his most notable contribution was the one pass to Xavi who wasted a great scoring chance.
4) Victor Valdes: The goalkeeper could have done better on both goals had he been positioned in a more effective way. For the corner, he appeared to be lost and was caught in two minds forcing him to unconvincingly palm away the header which eventually fell to Sami Khedira to score Real’s first and to practically undermine Barca as Mourinho’s emphasis must have been on scoring first and relying heavily on counter-attacks.
For the second goal, Valdes appeared to be stuck in no man’s land as he should have either stayed further back or rushed even closer to Cristiano Ronaldo in order to close down the space and angle for Ronaldo. The Portuguese star did finish with aplomb but frankly Ronaldo had it easy once he noticed Valdes’s ill-advised positioning.
5) Strikers: In recent years, Barca’s triumphs have relied heavily on the possession game and the intricate passing as well as the superior talent of the squad. All these points of strength fail to conceal one major weakness in the team. Barca lack a true striker who can finish chances. Perhaps the failed attempt to integrate Zlatan Ibrahimovic has left Guardiola unwilling to experiment again, but since the departure of Samuel Eto’o, the Catalans have not had a true striker who fits their scheme of play. This has been costly this season, in particular in El Clasico this weekend and during last week’s 1-0 defeat to Chelsea in London.
Real’s players deserve praise for outwitting the superior Barca players in Catalonia but it must be said that some of Guardiola’s decisions made it easier for Los Blancos to triumph against the Catalans and to effectively seal the fate of the Spanish league title.