A one all draw tonight was enough to see Football Club Barcelona reach the final of the Uefa Champions League where we will meet the winner from Manchester United and Schalke 04 at Wembley on May 28. The two goal lead from the first leg in Madrid proved to be too much for our opponents to recover. Pedro Rodriguez turned our advantage to three goals early in the second half when he converted from Andres Iniesta’s through ball, and although Madrid pulled a goal back through Marcelo in the 64th minute the final outcome never really looked in danger.
There was a pretty big storm in Barcelona before the game which meant the pitch was generally pretty fast though in the first half there was a little bit of surface water that made play more difficult. Mourinho was of course banned and he stayed in the hotel and didn’t even accompany the team to the stadium but Madrid began with a more attacking 4-2-3-1 with Kaká and Higuaín back in the team and early on it looked like we would see a more open game.
Madrid definitely pressed further forward than in the 1st leg but neither side was taking big risks. After an initial period of very high pressure from Madrid the game settled down to the familiar pattern of Barça bossing the midfield and possession. As we took control we also started to see some late challenges from Madrid and Carvalho was booked after 13 minutes for bringing Messi down. Carvalho protested that it was his first foul but he then went on to commit at least four more fouls, two of which on Messi in the first half might well have been worthy of a second but the referee was very lenient. The first chance came for Barça after Messi’s persistance had won a corner, Xavi crossed in for Busquets whose header went straight at Casillas.
Madrid had very little going forward as Piqué, Mascherano and Puyol were superb in defensive duties, then as the game entered the last 15 minutes of the first half Barça suddenly put together a string of chances. First in the 32nd minute Messi cut across the edge of the area before shooting low but Casillas got down well. Then Messi had an effort wide and then he turned provider setting up Villa but Casillas made an excellent one handed save diving to his left. We were rampant now, Villa forced a way through to create a shooting opportunity for Pedro but the shot from 25 yards went wide. And then in the 36th minute Messi again forced Casillas into making another very good save.
Madrid began the second half with probably their best spell. Higuaín had a goal disallowed after a foul was called against Ronaldo. Madrid will feel hard done by for this as Ronaldo brought down Mascherano as a result of the fact he was falling after making contact with Piqué. Madrid can talk about conspiracies and they may have been a little unfortunate here but I think they need to accept some decisions go against you. However, Madrid coming out to look for a goal meant they were more vulnerable and Barça took advantage in the 54th minute when Iniesta threaded a ball through to Pedro who controlled the ball before sweeping it left footed past Casillas.
Madrid immediately brought on Adebayor for Higuaín and the big striker immediately set about intimidating our players with a series of fouls, and Ozil also came on for the disappointing Kaká. We were looking comfortable again but a moment of over-confidence led to a poor pass from Villa to Xavi, Xabi Alonso intercepted, the ball came to Di Maria whose shot smacked against the post, Di Maria was onto the rebound and he squared for Marcelo to fire past Valdés. The Madrid goal did indeed lead to a few nervy minutes and the unthinkable began to look possible but Madrid created no more chances and within ten minutes of the equalizer we were completely controlling the game again. More Madrid players went into the book as they chased us around and Alonso, Lass, Adebayor and Carvalho all flirted with the red card which would no doubt have made their coach feel better with his conspiracy theories.
I have to say I am quite pleased it ended 1-1 tonight as Mourinho will no doubt be cursing even more the decisions he feels prevented Madrid from getting the “desired” 0-0 score in the first leg. Well who knows what might have happened if the first game had ended like that, but it didn’t and the football gods were not with Madrid or Mourinho this time. We should be proud of all our players and Pep Guardiola for another magnificent season that looks like ending with another Liga and another CL final. To cap a great night Eric Abidal reappeared for the last few minutes to a tremendous ovation. It looks like we might have some competition for defensive places given the excellent form of Mascherano. We’ll have to see how Abidal is over the next couple of weeks but I would dearly love to see him play at Wembley after missing out on the Rome final due to suspension.
Barça: Valdés 7; Alves 6.5, Mascherano 8, Piqué 8.5, Puyol 8 Abidal m90); Xavi 7.5, Busquets 6.5, Iniesta 7.5; Pedro 7.5 (Afellay m92), Messi 9, Villa 7 (Keita m74, 6.5).
Real Madrid: Casillas; Arbeloa, Albiol, Carvalho, Marcelo; Xabi Alonso, Lass; Di María, Kaká (Ozil m60), Ronaldo; Higuaín (Adebayor m55).
Goals: m54 Pedro 1-0, m64 Marcelo 1-1.
Yellow cards: m13 Carvalho, m58 Lass, m69 Alonso, m75 Marcelo, m82 Pedro, m85 Adebayor.