In recent years, Jose Mourinho has brought his expensively assembled team to the Camp Nou with one overriding goal: to avoid humiliation. And although the performances of last season must surely be a balm to Madridistas, one of the striking features of this most recent SuperCopa clash was just how much it continued in the spirit of recent meetings between the two sides: the pre-match sparring, the way the match unfolded, the post-match whining about the referee, and, of course, the final result. Make no mistake: Real Madrid were a heartbeat away from another humiliation in Catalonia: Mourinho has Iker Casillas and Victor Valdes to thank for a scoreline that frankly flattered the Madrid side.
The message from Jose Mourinho in the week before this contest was clear: it was a match that didn’t matter. The SuperCopa was the least important trophy; Mourinho himself claimed that he would bet against his own team if given the chance! While there is no doubt that the SuperCopa is a dress rehearsal for the more important contests to come this season, this tie would serve as a barometer of each team’s early-season form and set the tone for the Clasicos that really matter. This was also the first official contest pitting Mourinho against the man he physically attacked in this fixture last year, lending an extra surreal element to the usual pre-match buildup.
A few eyebrows were raised before the kickoff when the official lineups were announced. Vilanova rested new signing Jordi Alba, preferring Adriano on the left side of the defense. All purpose wrecker Javier Mascherano was preferred over Carles Puyol in central defense. For his part, Mourinho started Callejon over Angel DiMaria despite the latter’s sparkling recent form. More on him later.
Barcelona: Valdes – Alves Pique Mascherano Adriano – Xavi Busquets Iniesta – Pedro Messi Alexis.
Real Madrid: Casillas – Arbeloa Albiol Ramos Coentrao – Alonso Khedira – Callejon Ozil Ronaldo – Benzema
The first half of the match was a cagey affair with Barcelona dominating possession and Madrid in no hurry to chase the ball. Long spells of intricate Barcelona passing were broken up by the occasional Madrid counter, but both teams were starved of real scoring opportunities. The tone of the first half made it clear that this was a two-legged tie, and that Madrid would wait until the Bernabeu to make a decisive move.
The second half got off to a sluggish start, but the match lurched into action in the 53rd minute and within three minutes each team had scored. Madrid struck first on a Ronaldo header in M55, only to see Barcelona equalize one minute later through Pedro! after a delightful assist from Mascherano.
Both teams declared their intent to win the contest at this point, but it was Casillas who was twice left shaking his head in disgust as Barcelona moved ahead on a Messi penalty in M68 and a Xavi strike 10 minutes later. Mourinho exchanged Benzema for Higuain and Callejon for DiMaria in an effort to rejuvenate the Madrid attack, but it so easily could have been 4-1 had it not been for an amazing save from Casillas in M79.
The last 10 minutes of the contest witnessed a deflated Madrid side until an agonizing gift from Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes. Mourinho replaced Ozil with Marcello to assist the Madrid defense in keeping Barcelona at bay. Vilanova countered with Fabregas and Tello to keep up the pressure. But in M85 Valdes failed to control an innocent back-pass from Adriano, got caught in possession and ultimately lost the ball to DiMaria who returned the favor by giving it back via the back of the net.
So in the end, both teams go to Madrid with everything to play for. Barcelona was surely dominant on the night, but the two away goals conceded could return to haunt them. However, if the team plays like it did for much of the second half, there is no way this Madrid side can live with them.
Most of the Barcelona starting eleven had solid performances, but one player delivered an otherworldly display: Andres motherf*cking Iniesta. The man tortured the Madrid defense all night with his silky ball control, winning a penalty and providing an assist to Xavi. Unreal. Pedro also deserves special commendation for the incredible first touch that lead to his goal, and in general for a spirited match. Mascherano, Pique, Xavi and Busquets were all equally impressive. By his standards, Messi had a subdued performance, and for all his bluster, Alexis failed to make a decisive contribution to the Barcelona attack.
- We have a new striker. His name is Pique [he also happens to play in central defense].
- Did you catch the pitch invader? Just as he was about to embrace Messi he slipped and fell on his face. Poor guy…
- Referee Clos Gomez delivered a solid performance, although perhaps a bit lenient on Madrid when the match started heating up.
- The new home jerseys are not nearly as bad in action as I expected them to be.
- Real corner kicks, apparently, are back!