Second half goals from Carles Puyol and Eric Abidal gave Barça a 1-2 victory in tonight’s Copa del Rey first leg tie at the Bernabeu. As in the league clash last month Madrid again took an early lead only to be destroyed once more by the quality of Barça’s passing game.
The contrast in the style of the two teams was evident as Barça kept the ball while Madrid resorted to some blatantly unsporting behaviour which will only bring shame to their name. Pepe was particularly guilty and it is really quite remarkable how he wasn’t sent off but I’m sure if the referee Sr. Muñiz Fernandez looked back at a recording of the game he would see that there were strong cases also to send Coentrao, Alonso and Carvalho for an early bath.
On seeing the starting XI from Madrid with Pepe back as a destroyer in midfield Mourinho’s intentions were clear. Madrid would work very hard to try and close down any space near their penalty area while trying to break quickly. Little had come of the early exchanges but in the 11th minute we lost the ball and Benzema sent a quick ball forward to Ronaldo on the left. Piqué came across to cover with Alves supporting him but Ronaldo did a quick stepover and went outside Piqué, the angle wasn’t great but Ronaldo’¡s low hard shot caught Pinto cold beating him through his legs by the post.
Were Barça ruffled by this goal? Not in the slightest. Three minutes later Iniesta forced Casillas into his first save and then soon after that Cesc’s delightful chip forward gave Alexis, with his back to goal, the chance to flick the ball on with his head, the ball looping over Casillas but coming back into play off the top of the post. Madrid tried to knock us off our stride with some heavy challenges. Coentrao had been let off a yellow as early as the 10th minute after a lunge at Alexis, then in the 17th minute Pepe gave the first of his disgraceful challenges, arriving very late to stamp on Busquets’s foot and he was lucky to only see yellow.
With the goal advantage Madrid’s attack was pretty non-existant. Ronaldo did get one more run forward after Alves lost the ball but he wasted the chance passing the ball straight at Abidal. Meanwhile at the other end Barça started making more chances. It wasn’t easy to get through the energetic back lines of Madrid, but the gaps started to appear. First Fabregas sent Messi into the area on the left and Casillas had to get down to make a good save from Messi’s low effort. Then Messi sent a magnificent diagonal pass to Iniesta on the left but Iniesta crossed instead of shooting and the defence intervened. And as we kept up the pressure Xavi threaded a ball into Alexis on the penalty spot and he laid it off to Iniesta in space but Iniesta’s shot wide was poor.
Casillas was forced into spectacularly running out of his area to head clear after another well-intentioned forward pass from Messi while the Madrid defence were often reduced to hoofing the ball anywhere. One moment near the end of the first half demonstrated perfectly the difference between the teams as Sergio Ramos whacked a ball up into the clouds and Andres Iniesta controlled the ball with a touch of exquisite delicacy when the ball finally came down. There was still time for more controversial decision before half time as Alexis was called incorrectly offside when going through one-on-one with Casillas, and Lass also escaped without a booking after an unsporting foul on Busquets.
That we could go in a goal down at half time seemed a real injustice. The lack of skill and ideas from Madrid was remarkable and clearly demonstrated when they managed to kick the ball into touch just six seconds after kicking off the second half. Barça kept to their game and kept moving the ball and moving the ball. However, when the goal came it was not from a typically elaborate Barça passing move but from a simple corner on the left. Xavi flighted the ball over most heads towards the far post where captain Carles Puyol got in front of the dormant Pepe for a spectacular diving header past Casillas.
Puyol had scored from a corner in the same goal in our 2-6 win at the Bernabéu in May 2009 and on the merits of the teams we might have had a similar score tonight. Fabregas chipped in another great assist for Iniesta whose shot clipped off Ramos before cannoning off the top off the post. Madrid did manage one brief period of possession which led to Altintop’s cross finding Benzema at the far post and he was also denied by the post, but now it was really all Barça.
Pepe who played like the school playground bully was then caught out by the camaras clutching at his face trying to get Cesc booked. Mourinho didn’t have a clue what to do so he brought on Ozil and Callejon but one wonders at his instructions when Callejon managed to get booked for fouling Messi less than two minutes after coming on. However, the games most shameful moment then came as Pepe went over to the floored Argentinian and in an act of sneaky cowardice deliberately trod on his hand. – Pepe, you are a disgrace to yourself, a disgrace to Real Madrid and a disgrace to football. Please hang up your boots and go and do something more positive with your life. Pathetic!
It was a clear sign of Madrid’s desperation, the fouls started coming more frequently as Madrid struggled to contain us. However, there is no containing the three times Ballon d’Or Leo Messi, in the 77th minute Messi waited for his moment before chipping a splendid pass into Abidal, yes Eric Abidal, our left back who has only scored once before for us, and Abidal controlled with his chest before stabbing the ball past Casillas into the far corner. Barça had again gone to the Bernabéu and danced their way past the challenges of Los Blancos, now Abidal and Alves performed a dance to celebrate the goal. And me with a grin from ear to ear.
Poor Madrid. The frustration they must feel in the face of such obvious superiority will be very hard to live with. Granero came on as a final sub for Madrid and he committed a foul within five seconds. The fouls in the last ten minutes continued to come with one from Carvalho on Messi that should really have merited a straight red and Madrid managed not to concede again.
Let’s not mince words here, Madrid and especially Pepe were a disgrace. The fact that the yellow card count was Madrid 4 Barça 3 is really quite unbelievably given what went on. But despite all the negative tactics and bad refereeing calls we still managed to get an excellent result to take to Camp Nou next Wednesday. We never allowed ourselves to get provoked, though I did think Cesc was going to lose it for a minute, and that shows a lot of character given the provocation. Barça have played seven times at the Bernabéu under Pep Guardiola and we have five wins and two draws. This is now the third time we have gone there this season and each time Madridistas try to build it up as the time they will beat us and therefore confirm that Barça are at the end of our winning cycle, and each time they fail. Tonight I am very proud to be a culé, we have to finish the job next week but we can hold our heads up high knowing that whatever Real Madrid may do to other teams they cannot do it to us. And from tonight’s evidence they are still a long way from matching us.
Real Madrid: Casillas; Altintop, Ramos, Carvalho, Coentrao; Lass (Ozil m66), Alonso, Pepe (Granero m80); Ronaldo, Higuaín (Callejon m66), Benzemá.
Barça: Pinto 6; Alves 7, Puyol 9, Piqué 7.5, Abidal 8, Busquets 8, Xavi 8.5 (Thiago m86), Iniesta 7.5, Fabregas 8 (Cuenca m88), Messi 8.5, Alexis 7 (Adriano m82)
Goals: Ronaldo m11 1-0, m49 Puyol 1-1, m77 Abidal 1-2
Yellow cards: m17 Pepe, m19 Piqué, m55 Busquets, m59 Coentrao, m68 Callejon, m79 Puyol, m87 Carvalho