Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Supercopa - Chapter I

100 days after the hot run of Clásicos last season, Real Madrid and Barcelona met last Sunday in the Supercopa. Even though a Clásico is always a very important game, from the comments from both sides, it was evident that this is the least important trophy of the season. José Mourinho defined the trophy as the least important of the season, but the most important of the summer. Pep Guardiola announced that his team was short in the preparation, but stating that this fact would never be an excuse and highlighting that the best team will win the trophy. With these precedents, the game was about to start.

But, despite the final outcome of the trophy will not be useful to take conclusions, no one wants to lose against the eternal rival. In fact, the Santiago Bernabéu showed a fantastic image, packed, full of flags and the lungs of the madridismo working at full use since the doors of the stadium opened. José Mourinho presented the model lineup of the previous season, the same lineup that got trashed in the Camp Nou 5-0 last year, forgetting the experiments of the run of Clásicos last year. On the other hand, Pep Guardiola had to do lots of changes in the initial formation of the team. With Puyol still injured and Piqué not in his best conditions, Barcelona did not have any specific central back to face the most effective attacking line of the World. Aside the problems in defense, the main concern was in a midfield that did not have the compass of the team, Xavi Hernández, nor the man that holds the system of the team, Sergio Busquets. Instead, he gave Thiago Alcántara his first chance in a big game and tested Keita as anchor man.

Since the first second of the game, it was evident that Mourinho and his team had forgotten the mean image shown last Spring. Instead of assuming the minor team role, the madridistas wanted to impose their football and their image could not have been better. Real Madrid pressured all over the field, making impossible for Barcelona to connect 3 passes in a row. When the merengues had the ball, their blizkrieg attacks were unstoppable for a shaky Barcelona. Real Madrid only needed 3 passes to put the ball in the danger zone, where the dinamic Benzema and Özil were extremely dangerous. The first dangerous action was a fantastic header by Karim Benzema, which was not a goal because Victor Valdés flew where not many goalkeepers can. But it was evident that Barcelona could not resist that pressure much and a direct ball to the right flank of Real Madrid's attack was taken by Benzema, who toyed with his fellow countryman Eric Abidal and took advantage of the late help of Mascherano to pass the ball between the legs of the Argentinian for Mesut Özil, who executed without mercy. The celebration of the goal said it all, a 90% for Benzema and 10% for the German.

Barcelona was desperate and, given the situation, Guardiola betrayed one of his untouchable commandments. He asked his goalie and defensive line to kick long balls to avoid the pressure of Real Madrid in order to stop losing constant risky balls in dangerous zones. The result was a very strange situation: the ball possession of Real Madrid was higher than Barcelona's. Who would have thought? The defense of Barcelona was shaky, Thiago and Keita were out of the game and Iniesta could not create by himself. The forwards spent more time helping in defense than attacking the rival. The aggressive pressure of Real Madrid was working, despite the tackles of Alonso and, especially, Khedira were sometimes in the border of the rules.

Within the minutes, Real Madrid lowered the level of pressure (it was impossible to keep that rythm for so much time), Ronaldo got lost in individualistic actions, Özil started to disappear from moments and only Benzema kept being a constant danger. But, in one way or another, the game had only one owner: Real Madrid. The relief was not enough for a mediocre Barcelona, who just offered a high dose of attitude to stop Real Madrid.

And, probably the first time Barcelona crossed the midfield in a creative action, the ball ended up in Messi's feet, who attracted several defenders around him. The Argentinian opened the ball to his left flank, where David Villa faced Sergio Ramos. Even though we all saw that action from Villa one million times already, he did it again. Villa cut in and shot the ball to the long post. A piece of art. A fantastic goal that could not have been more unfair, given the game we were all watching. After 35 minutes, it was the first shot of Barcelona... and the result was 1-1. The Bernabeu got quiet, surprised by the tie... and, when the game was about to reach the half time, in a lost and strange action, Leo Messi could escape from several rivals, with a mix of talent and luck, to face Iker Casillas. The Argentinian did not forgive: 1-2. Two shots, two goals. Unbelivable for madridistas and barcelonistas.

The half time was not a solution for a shocked Real Madrid. Quite the opposite, Barcelona enjoyed their best minutes at the beginning of the second half. With more spaces, Thiago started to appear and connect with Iniesta, Alexis started to win all the battles against Marcelo and the 3rd goal of Barcelona was closer than ever. But somehow Barcelona got paid with the same bill. When Madrid was struggling to play their football, a messy action in Barcelona's box after a set piece ended up in Alonso's feet. The Basque midfielder used precision over power and kicked the ball through a forest of legs of Barcelona players. When Valdés saw the ball, it was already in. 2-2 and 35 minutes to play.

Guardiola risked Xavi and Piqué to give the team more stability. On the other hand, the goal of Real Madrid was an impulse for the home team, but the efforts of the madridistas were unefficient, sometimes due to the lack of precision in attack, sometimes due to excessive individualism. A tired Barcelona, without lungs and legs to attack, chose to keep more ball possession to let the minutes pass. The last minutes of the game was a kind of revival of what we saw last year. Possible penalties here and there, Pepe and Alves in their own roles, fights, constant fouls and protests.

The madridismo will probably regret the result, since they were superior, especially in the first half. If they want to see the positive side, they already know that it is very difficult not to succeed next time in similar circumstances. If they want to be negative, they will wonder what they have to do to defeat Barcelona, since it was an impossible task, even in their best day. The barcelonistes have reasons to be worried, the lack of preparation was evident, a big dose of luck (or efficiency) may be enough once against Real Madrid, but they will have to show much more if they want to defeat their rival for the first time in the Supercopa. But, at the same time, the culés must be proud of their attitude and competitiveness, which were high enough to achieve a really good result in the Bernabéu... once more.

The 2-2 gives Barcelona the favorite condition. Real Madrid knows that they will probably have to win in the Camp Nou, if they want to achieve this title. But, looking at the first game, it does not look impossible. A great game in front of us: Chapter II, tomorrow night.

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