Real Madrid drew first blood this season, taking back the Spanish SuperCopa after a 2-1 victory at the Bernabeau on Wednesday. But don’t let the tame scoreline fool you: this was a night full of high emotion, individual failure and collective triumph. And although it was the Madrid players who hosted the trophy at the end of the evening, the spirit and resourcefulness of Tito’s squad, just as the team was staring into the abyss, should give Barcelona fans reason for optimism.
The prematch buildup followed largely in the same spirit as the first leg a week ago: Mourinho publicly declared time and again that he didn’t care about the trophy. But the atmosphere in Madrid was certainly colored by the team’s performances in La Liga where they see themselves five points adrift of Barcelona after only two rounds, and already reports of tension in the Madrid dressing room started to surface. Despite Mourinho’s cavalier attitude, you can be sure that team management were eager for a performance that would erase these doubts. And when the teams took to the field it was clear that Mourinho had assembled a squad that would take a different approach than the defensive caution of the first leg.
Compared with the match in the Camp Nou, two very different teams faced off against each other on Wednesday. Madrid fielded a squad full of attacking intent and more defensive steel. For their part, Barcelona from the outset were without Carles Puyol. More importantly, Dani Alves pulled out of the team after thigh discomfort in the warmup and was replaced on the right side of the defense by Adriano with Jordi Alba slotting in on the left. This last minute defensive reshuffle would have a profound impact on the outcome of the match. Both teams featured their trophy signings, Luka Modric and Alex Song, on their respective benches.
Barcelona: Valdes – Alves Mascherano Pique Adriano – Xavi Busquets Iniesta – Pedro Messi Alexis
Real Madrid: Casillas – Arbeloa Ramos Pepe Marcelo – Alonso Khedira – DiMaria Ozil Ronaldo – Higuain
The First Half
From the opening whistle it was clear that this was a different Madrid. They pressed Barcelona like men possessed, with their attackers streaming forward to latch onto long passes from the back over Barcelona’s high defensive line. This is an approach that has been effective for teams facing Barcelona in the past, and on Wednesday it almost immediately bore fruit. Valdes was called upon in m6 to save from Higuain; four minutes later the Argentine had the ball in the back of the net after a terrible miscalculation from countryman Javier Mascherano.
The match quickly went from bad to worse with things threatening to spiral out of control for the Catalans. Another individual mistake, this time from Gerard Pique [with help from an ineffective Valdes] allowed Madrid to double the scoreline in m18 through a CR7 bullet. Ten minutes later Adriano was shown a straight red card after bringing Ronaldo down as he bore down on Valdes, and after a half hour of play it was frankly a miracle that Barcelona was still in the contest. Vilanova brought on Montoya for the ineffective Sanchez in m32 in an effort to shore up the defense and avoid humiliation.
But in the final minute of the half came a moment that would turn the match on its head: a seemingly innocuous free kick 30 meters from the Madrid goal gloriously bent into the far corner by savior Leo Messi. The two sides were now level in aggregate goals at 4-4, and one more goal would be enough to secure the trophy for a record fourth consecutive season.
The Second Half
I don’t know what Tito Vilanova said to his players during the half-time break, but whatever it was it worked. With the Madrid players visibly exhausted from their first half efforts, the Barcelona midfield finally clicked into gear and began generating threatening opportunities. A lot of them. An amazing piece of skill from Pedro! in m61 would have scored but for the reflexes of Casillas; Alba almost snuck through the Madrid defense ten minutes later. Madrid, at this point had retreated into a defensive shell, but remained dangerous on the counter, as always.
The final period of the half witnessed key substitutions from both coaches. In m75, Vilanova brought on Alex Song for Busquets and exchanged Pedro! for Tello. Soon after Mourinho introduced Callejon for DiMaria, Benzema for Higuain and Modric for Ozil. Despite the refreshed attack and midfield, it was Barcelona who went agonizingly close to scoring again, first through the impressive Montoya and then through Messi in m91.
Looking back at this tie over the two legs, one conclusion seems inescapable: Barcelona gifted this trophy to Madrid through individual errors that any team would have punished us for. Fortunately, the players responsible have a history which suggests that these are anomalies rather than symptoms of decline. And while Barcelona will surely require a replacement for Puyol in central defense before next season, I have faith that this defense will see us through the current campaign. Collectively, the performance in the first leg, and in the second half of Wednesday’s match, suggest a mental and physical strength that was not always obvious during the Guardiola era. And while the season is still young, I predict exciting times ahead!
- Alexis: please stop diving. And start scoring.
- Is it to early to say definitively that Pedro is back? Mighty impressive display over the two legs of this contest.
- I want to see more of Martin Montoya; he should have started this match.
- I’m sure Jose Mourinho was happy, finally, with the performance of the referee in this match and especially with his lenience when it came to the Madrid defenders.
- Great cameo by Alex Song. Shades of Yaya Toure?
Image: Alberto Martín – EFE