‘Underdogs’ Barcelona once again proved that Jose Mourinho has plenty more to do before he can finally overthrow the La Liga monarchy as his Real Madrid crumbled to a 3-1 defeat.
Karim Benzema may have scored the quickest El Clasico goal after just 23 seconds but Barҫa scored 3 more to give Pep Guardiola and the Catalans the bragging rights once again through Alexis Sanchez, a deflected Xavi strike and a Cesc Fabregas header; yet the result could have been quite different had Cristiano Ronaldo not missed two glorious opportunities for Real, the very reason Mourinho used as his excuse for losing.
“Luck plays a part. When it was 1-0, we could easily have gone 2-0 up and maybe under normal circumstances we would do, but Cristiano has put it wide,” the Real manager bemoaned.
Guardiola, on the other hand, acknowledged his team’s feat but remained cautious of their fierce rivals. “I am delighted with the performance. Madrid will recover. To win here, you have to play a very good game and we have done that. But there is still much to do. There are no champions in December”.
Madrid, who led the table coming into this one, proved they had the momentum and capitalised on a slack Victor Valdes pass in the opening 30 seconds. Di Maria intercepted the ball and passed to Ozil who saw his shot blocked by Busquets, only to fall to a grateful
Benzema to lash into the roof of the net from 6 yards.
A perfect start. Or was it? Sure, Mourinho would have liked an early goal but that early? It meant a Barcelona onslaught for nearly 90 minutes, counter attacking when appropriate. In reality, it only made the game easier for the visitors who knew they had to attack and then play possession football with a lead.
But it seemed Mourinho had his tactics spot on as Diarra, Alonso and Coentrao harried the Barcelona midfield throughout the first half persistently with the visitors notably shaken by the early strike. Despite having a Messi shot saved well by Casillas down low, Real dominated.
Battling with Messi for the Ballon D’or, the match was also Ronaldo’s chance to shine with his team controlling proceedings, but his opportunity to impress was spectacularly spurned when he shot wide from the edge of the box after a fantastic reverse pass from Benzema, with Di Maria in space. His attempt to coolly slot the ball into the corner instead of smashing it as he usually does failed otherwise he would have had an 18th league goal this season.
It would prove to be a miss he’d regret as on the half hour mark, despite being hassled and fouled by a number of opposition players, Messi expertly fed in Alexis to rifle home the equaliser from the edge of the penalty area, putting Ronaldo’s earlier effort to shame.
Alexis’ goal proved to be the final chance of a very watchable game, the first in many, almost as though two teams had actually come to play football. Bookings were very infrequent in comparison to past El Clasicos which have contained so many yellows you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching an episode of the Simpsons!
The second half began in a much less frenetic fashion though it only took another 8 minutes for a goal to elapse. Xavi, on his 600th appearance for Barҫa, pounced on a poor Madrid clearance by firing a hip-high volley from 25 yards which wrong footed Iker Casillas after deflecting heavily off of Marcelo and via a post.
Mourinho’s tactics were now deemed redundant after working so well for portions of the first half. His players had rushed Barҫa into conceding possession on numerous occasions, especially from the short goal kicks which led to the first goal, as the visitor’s policy of playing Alexis and Fabregas out wide failed to make an impact. Now they had the lead, Madrid were under pressure to attack and get
back into the game.
Once again, Ronaldo could have changed the course of the match but his free header failed to even trouble Valdes from 8 yards as Madridistas put their hands to their heads in shock. Barcelona then compounded Ronaldo’s misery with a goal from a clinical counter
attack a minute later. Messi surged towards the petrified Madrid defence, laid the ball off to Alves to whip a ball in for Fabregas to nod home. No one would have enjoyed that goal more than the self-confessed Catalan who wheeled away in celebration having all but sealed a vital victory.
He and his winning teammates now fly off to Japan for the World Club Cup as Mourinho and Madrid once again plan the demise of their stern rivals. They can return to the top of La Liga by the time Barҫa fly home by winning their game in hand, but once again Mourinho hasn’t quite got it right against his previous employers.