Barça came from behind to beat Real Madrid tonight in a thrilling Supercup first leg at Camp Nou, but the victory was somewhat spoilt near the end when a dreadful mistake from Victor Valdés allowed Angel Di Maria to score a late goal to make the final score 3-2 which leaves the title very much in the balance for the return game next Wednesday at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Tito Vilanova’s only minor surprise was to include Adriano at left back instead of Jordi Alba, but I imagine he wants to send a message to Alba that he has to fight for his place. With a midfield of Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta, and a front three of Pedro, Messi and Alexis Barça looked pretty close to our strongest possible line-up, Madrid, of course, were without Pepe with Albiol coming in to partner Ramos at the back, Mourinho only real surprise was to play Callejon in place of Di Maria, while Benzema was preferred over Higuian to start up front.
Even with the late 10.30 kick the temperature in Barcelona at the time of kick off was 29ºC and with a humidity level at 70% the conditions were not the best for running around for 90 minutes. Even so, both teams came out with the intention of playing pressing though Madrid concentrated on trying to find the quick counter while Barça played the patient build-up and thus enjoyed far more of the possession.
The first one-on-ones looked favourable for Barça with Busquets showing skill to get away from Benzema, and Piqué quickly robbing Ronaldo, though the first moment of danger came in the sixth minute when Ronaldo turned away from Mascherano but Piqué was alert to intercept the intended pass for Benzema.
After eleven minutes Alonso was booked for a foul on Busquets but a minute later when Alonso again clattered the same player the ref Clos Gomez kept his cards in his pocket as he did when Coentrao fouled Pedro a minute later, and then he didn’t even give a foul when Albiol blocked Messi with a body check as the Argentinian went for Pedro’s return pass.
The fouls were breaking our rhythm a bit and we were failing to penetrate but Piqué managed the first shot of the game, firing wide from 30 yards after 17 minutes. This led to a better period from the home side and a couple of minutes later Xavi found Alves forward on the right and the Brazilian sent a low cross that reached Messi 15 yards out but his whipped shot flew just wide of Casillas’s right-hand post.
There were further fouls from Albiol on Pedro and from Arbeloa on Xavi with no cards coming out, from the second foul Messi’s free-kick was deflected out for a corner. We were still missing the final pass, there was a good combination between Alves and Messi but the last pass from Alves was headed clear, then Alexis missed the throughball to Xavi after intercepting Ramos’s poor pass. Then in the 29th minute Messi skipped past a couple of tackles in a horizontal run across the edge of the area but when he found the space to shoot he pulled his shot back too much, missing the far post by a couple of yards.
There was very little from Madrid now though Benzema managed to win a corner after holding off Adriano. Though a minute later Barça had the best effort so far after Alexis found Pedro on the edge of the box and Casillas had to make a good one-handed save to turn the shot over. Valdés, at the other end, had had nothing to do until making a good punch clear from a cross on the left in the 35th minute.
Four minutes later there was the first penalty appeal of the night when Alexis went down after knocking the ball past Ramos, it appeared as if Alexis stuck his leg out, looking for the contact: the referee gave Barça a consolation prize of a corner. There was more pressure from Barça but Xavi’s 25-yard drive went just over. Clos Gomez continued to be lenient after a foul by Albiol on Xavi after which Xavi’s free kick clipped off Arbeloa’s head for a corner, then the first half ended with a yellow card for each team: Arbeloa for bringing down Busquets, and Mascherano after fouling Coentrao.
It seems that Mourinho tried a little gamesmanship by sending out his team late for the second half, leaving the Barça players waiting in the heat for around a minute, however, the game resumed the same pattern with Barça looking more in control. Albiol finally went in the book after yet another foul on Busquets but there was some payback when Pedro caught Coentrao, jumping with a raised arm.
The second penalty appeal came in the 54th minute when Alexis controlled well to get into the area and as he went by Arbeloa, the defender raised a leg which caught Alexis and brought him down. This time it looked a clear penalty but Clos Gomez waved play on. Then, completely against the run of play Madrid took the lead after winning a corner on the right. Ozil swung the cross in and Ronaldo managed just to get in front of the otherwise excellent Busquets and head firmly past Valdés.
It seemed a massive blow but Barça hit straight back. Mascherano sent a splendid diagonal pass forward for Pedro who outran Coentrao and beat Casillas with a low shot into the far corner. Mourinho complained after the game about Pedro’s position but if he was offside it was a question of a centimetre or two and there was certainly nothing clear about the decision.
With the score at 1-1 the game began to open up more and there was danger in both areas. Messi went on a run before sending Alves into the area and Casillas had to make a fingertip save to turn Alves’s shot round the post, and from the corner Piqué sent a powerful header wide. Then Mascherano twice managed to get in the way to block successive shots from Higuain and Callejon.
Barça got the next break in the 68th minute when Iniesta found himself on the right of the area to receive from Alves, and when Iniesta cut back inside Ramos clearly brought him down and Clos Gomez this time pointed to the spot. Messi did not have his most influencial game but his penalty was firm and inside Casillas’s left-hand post while Casillas dived the wrong way to his right.
Madrid tried to find a way back through a tremendous long ball from Alonso to Ozil but despite a pretty good control Ozil just let the ball run a little too far allowing Piqué to cut out the danger. Sensing it was his night Piqué began to surge forward, appearing on the left wing at one point and trying a flick on the edge of the box in another. However, it was our classic midfield trio of Busquets, Iniesta and Xavi who combined to put Barça further ahead, Busquets sent an excellent quick ball forward for Iniesta who had time to turn and run at the defence, skipping past a couple of challenges before slipping a delightful ball through for Xavi to beat Casillas from close in.
It all seemed too good to be true and perhaps it was. The rhythm dropped near the end as both teams tired after a splendid effort from both sets of players. Then in the 85th minute Adriano cut out a hopeful through pass, knocking the ball back correctly to Valdés – what happened next was almost inexplicable as after a bad first touch with his feet Valdés tried to recover the situation but only got in a bigger mess, losing the ball to Di Maria who scored gleefully into the open net.
It was a dreadful shame after such an excellent performance to come from behind, and obviously 3-2 is much harder to defend than 3-1. Curiously, it is the same score as last season’s Supercopa game at Camp Nou when Mourinho infamously fingered Tito. However, on that occasion it was the 2nd leg and the result earned Barça the trophy having drawn 2-2 in the Bernabéu. Next Wednesday we will need a similar result or better to lift the first trophy of Vilanova’s era. Let’s hope the game is a good as tonight’s thriller.
Barça: Valdés 5.5; Alves 7, Piqué 8.5, Mascherano 7.5, Adriano 7; Xavi 7.5 (Fabregas m83), Busquets 8, Iniesta 8; Pedro 7 (Alba m87), Messi 7, Alexis 6.5 (Tello m72, 6).
Madrid: Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Albiol, Coentrao; Alonso, Khedira; Ozil (Marcelo m82), Callejon (Di Maria m66), Ronaldo; Benzema (Higuain m61).
Goals: m54 Ronaldo 0-1, m56 Pedro 1-1, m70 Messi (pen) 2-1, m77 Xavi 3-1, m85 Di Maria
Yellow cards: m11 Alonso, m44 Arbeloa, m45 Mascherano, m50 Albiol.