Leo Messi scored two late goals to give Barça a massive advantage going into next Tuesday’s second leg at Camp Nou. Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid again played defensive tactics that were not worthy for a club with such a history but this time his tactics backfired as Pepe was sent off for an ugly studs-up challenge on Dani Alves in the 61st minute. Barça took advantage of the numerical superiority, Messi first stabbing home Afellay’s cross in the 76th minute before scoring a second of such beauty and class the likes of which the Bernabeu hasn’t seen since Ronaldinho’s double in 2005.
Mourinho was also sent off for protesting Pepe’s red card, or rather for giving the German ref Wolfgang Stark the thumbs up but with such an ugly curl of his bottom lip that I don’t think Uefa will be questioning Stark’s decision. He will no doubt complain about the ref but not many will feel much sympathy for him as today football came out on top. Madrid offered very little going forward and it seemed that they would be quite happy to settle for a goalless draw. Could Mourinho have been playing for penalties from the start of the first leg? Bizarre. Madrid sat so far back in the first half there were moments where Barça could just pass the ball in our own half without any pressing from Madrid’s forward. The tactics meant there were very few chances in the first half. After early long shots from Xavi and Ronaldo, Villa had the first good effort cutting in from the right where he played in the first half, before sending a low shot inches wide of Casillas’ far post. There had been plenty of talk about the referee but the first controversial decision went Madrid’s way when Ramos was not carded for handball in the 4th minute, though in the second half Busquets was also let off for a similar offence. Barça were playing with extreme patience and there were few risks pushing defenders forward and Alves was rarely seen going forward as he didn’t want to leave any room for Madrid’s possible counter attacks. Messi carved out a half chance for Xavi after 24 minutes which Casillas needed to dive low to save and that was about all we managed in the first half but Madrid were worse with the only tactic seemed to be for Di Maria to try and win free kicks but we were fortunate that Ronaldo had an awful day with his free kicks. However, just before half time Valdés failed to hold a Ronaldo long shot but his second save from Ozil turned out to be unnecessary as Ozil was offside. As the players left the pitch Pinto got involved in some pushing by the tunnel and earned himself a red card. I can’t say I saw it very clearly but he will now miss the 2nd leg.
Would Madrid try and do anything differently in the second half? It seemed that they tried to pick their moments to pressurize our defenders higher up the pitch, Adebayor replaced Ozil during the break and his aggression threatened to unsettle Piqué, Puyol and Busquets. In the 50th minute Busquets got caught in possession and Madrid had their only real moment of danger, Ronaldo got into the area but Puyol got back to block the shot. However, Madrid’s raised aggression had it’s consequences, first Ramos was booked for a foul on Messi which means he’ll miss the return at Camp Nou, and then in the 61st minute Pepe followed through as Alves cleared and he caught Alves’s shin with his foot raised and studs up. The ref had no hesitation in pulling out the red and thus ending Pepe’s part in the tie, and Mourinho also got sent to the stands.
There was one more free kick for Madrid and Alonso found Ronaldo’s head but Ronaldo’s head did not find the target, and from then on it was all Barça. It was a slow dismantling of Madrid, but we continued to stay patient and wait for the chance. We almost scored in the 68th minute when Villa, now on the left, cut in and Casillas did well to parry and then Pedro twisted sacrobatically in an attempt to head in the rebound but he couldn’t force the ball in. Guardiola then brought on Afellay for Pedro and the substitution turned out to be decisive. In the 76th minute Xavi opened play to Afellay on the right, Afellay found a great change of pace to get past Marcelo before crossing low for Messi to turn the ball past Casillas at the near post. We might have sat back on the victory but Messi had smelt blood. In the 87th minute he set off on a run from 45 yards out, his acceleration saw off Lass, he then skipped past Albiol and into the area, with Ramos and Marcelo in close proximity Messi kept his head to squeeze the ball past Casillas and inside the far post. Only one word for it: GOLAZO!!!
The great thing about football is that after the defeat and disappointment of last week in Valencia, today we can enjoy and celebrate a historic victory. The doubts are all cast aside and we can once again salute the genius of Pep and Messi and the team. Don’t forget we did this without Iniesta though Keita did a good job in midfield. Of course the tie is not over (whatever Mourinho might say to the contrary) but the lead is extremely healthy and the good news is we still have nobody threatened with suspension for the final. We should be extremely happy tonight and we can look forward to finishing the job next Tuesday at Camp Nou.
Real Madrid: Casillas; Arbeola, Ramos, Albiol, Marcelo; Lass, Pepe, Alonso; Ozil (Adebayor h/t), Ronaldo, Di Maria.
Barça: Valdés 7; Alves 6.5, Mascherano 7.5, Piqué 7, Puyol 7; Xavi 6.5, Busquets 6, Keita 6.5; Pedro 6.5 (Afellay m71, 7.5), Messi 9.5, Villa 7 (Sergi Roberto m90).
Goals: m76 Messi 0-1, m87 Messi 0-2
Yellow cards: m40 Arbeloa, m44 Alves, m53 Ramos (misses 2nd leg), m56 Mascherano, m82 Adebayor.
Red cards: m45 Pinto, m61 Pepe, m62 Mourinho.