A couple of big-name matchups in 2nd legs of domestic cup competitions coming up later today: (1) Carling Cup semifinal - Manchester City vs Liverpool - 8:45pm CET / 2:45pmET / 7:45pm GMT (USA TV: FSC); and (2) Copa dey Rey quarterfinal - Barcelona vs Real Madrid - 10pm CET / 4pm ET / 9pm GMT (USA TV: ESPN Deportes, GolTV, ESPN3.com)
After watching the second half of yesterday’s Clasico, I’m beginning to see Mourinho as Salieri to Guardiola’s Mozart. When a team of Madrid’s caliber gets schooled and forced into errant passes and frantic individual dribbles on offense and desperate tackles on defense, huffing shadow-chasing and hapless outreached hands pleading for offside calls that won’t come, the opposition must be touched by the divine; the divine stringing of passes, la pelota always kept just a fleeting inch away from Madrid’s lunging cleats, and importantly, the divine total defense, which at one point saw Özil attempting to dribble into the box only to be surrounded by seven (7!!) claret and blue shirts.
That is the intensity of Barca’s defensive strategy, immediate ganging up on the person with the ball, so that even if an opponent manages to dribble past one, or two, they never have the time to look for the pass because there will immediately be the third, and then its back to eluding the first again. Barca’s players attack at a leisurely tiki-taka pace, and save their bursts of speed for reclaiming the ball. This zealous, jealous demand for the return of the ball is as much part of the secret of their possession as it is their immaculate passing.
I want to see a team really try to take Barca on with their own style, pass for pass, tik for tak, rather than Mourinho’s vainglorious attempt to find an alternative way, trying fire against water, then air and iron, his mad doomed search for an antidote when perhaps what he needs is a vaccine?
[Editor’s note: If you missed the match, read Sid Lowe’s match report or his subsequent blog post (“Real Madrid damage image, reputation and status in defeat to Barcelona“). Or better yet, watch the video highlights below (at least before they’re taken down due to copyright infringment) or stream the full match from ESPN3.com’s archives.]
Less than a week after their hard fought tie in league play, Madrid and Barça met in the final of the King’s Cup. Mourinho sent his defensive set into the midfield again, then put in Özil from the start for an added touch of creativity in attack, and sprinkled the whole side with an extra dose of aggression dust.
The force of Madrid’s tackling and their quickness in closing down the Barça players immediately unstabilized the usually unflappable Blaugrana. On the strength of their defense and their quick counter attack, Madrid had far the better of the first half. Pepe seemed to be everywhere and Ronaldo did very well as the lone striker up top (even with Mascherano shadowing his every move). The game moved quickly up and down the pitch, but Barcelona weren’t finding any joy past the midfield circle and it wasn’t until nearly the 40th minute that they finally caused an overload close to goal (the chance fizzled without them manufacturing a shot).
Their one foray aside, Barcelona were lucky to get to the halftime whistle tied at zeroes, especially after Pepe’s towering header above Dani Alves smashed against the inside post and deflected at an agonizing angle across the goal mouth.
The second half was a different game entirely. Barcelona were rejuvenated by whatever spanking Pep Guardiola gave them in the dressing room, and they came out with the sort of belly fire you expect from the best team of their generation. Suddenly the game was stretched (in part because Madrid were pushing more into attack, but also because Xavi and Pedro were drawing out Pepe and Khedira more successfully) leaving Iniesta room to move through the middle.
It was in fact Iniesta who turned the game in Barça’s favor. In the first half, the playmaker forced passes into Messi and Villa only to find them sitting inside a trap. In the second half the tiny balding Spaniard held the ball and ran past the first defensive line of Madrid, then worked in closer proximity to his strikers so they could work the tiki taka. As soon as they found their rhythm the counter attack of Madrid started to look more like desperate clearing rather than pointed reply.
If not for Iker Casillas, Barça would have gone ahead in the second half, and considering the state of Madrid at the time they would probably not have found a way back. Spain’s number one tapped away a lovely chipped ball by Pedro and pushed aside an Iniesta strike destined for the corner.
It looked as if the game would head for extra time, until Madrid managed an odd man rush at the very end of the 90 minutes and di María found himself free to test Pinto from just outside the box. Valdés’s stand-in managed to palm the floating attempt above the bar and it was onto the next 30 minutes. More of the same for the most part. Hard tackling from Madrid but Barcelona with better control, though the chances had dried up.
Then just past the 100 minute mark Madrid found their way through the center of the pitch by way of another Pepe tackle. Marcelo swung the ball out to di María who got a toe in front of Alves to lift a far-side cross to the slicked head of Cristiano Ronaldo. The glistening head of the Portugese directed the ball past the unbalanced Pinto — Madrid 1 – 0 Barcelona.
Substitutions were made by both sides in the final fifteen minutes, but the score remained the same, and Real Madrid walked away with their first Copa del Rey in eighteen years. Then, Sergio Ramos dropped it under the party bus on the way back from the airport…
We’ve been digesting Saturday’s Real Madrid-Barcelona 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu–just the first installment of this month’s 4-part El Clásico series; the second is coming up this Wednesday with the Copa del Rey final, to be contested on neutral turf–at the Mestalla in Valencia. In the meantime, it’s always entertaining to see how Madridista tabloid Marca spins the latest big result.
There’s much to savor in this cover. The screaming lead (“Con 10 se juega mejor”) seems pedestrian enough. Translating to “It’s better to play with 10” (or “We play better with 10”?), Marca is seemingly remarking simply that Madrid played better after losing Albiol to a red card and playing a man short for the final 40 minutes of the match.
But it turns out the headline may actually be an allusion to an aphorism attributed to the legendary manager Helenio Herrera–which leads to something of a Möbius strip of historical resonances: Herrera, nicknamed Il Mago (“The Wizard”), is best known for managing Barcelona (1958-1960) and subsequently Inter Milan (1960-1968). His Barcelona sides successfully challenged the 5-time European champions Real Madrid on the domestic front. Then in Milan he gave birth to Catenaccio and led “La Grande Inter” to two consecutive European championships (1964 and 1965). Inter didn’t conquer Europe again until last year–led by Jose Mourinho of course, defeating Barcelona along the way in the semifinal, which led to headlines such as “In José Mourinho Inter finally have a true heir to Helenio Herrera.”
(For more on Herrera, confer this post on The Equaliser (which also has a post about La Grande Inter); Chapter 9 of Simon Kuper’s Soccer Against The World, titled “A Day with Helenio Herrera”; the chapter of Jimmy Burns’s Barça: A People’s Passion covering Herrera’s tenure at Barcelona, titled “El Salvador”; or this post titled “The Really Special One – Helenio Herrera.”)
Back to the Marca cover: Mou(rinho)’s comment on the matter gets put across the top (“Me cansa jugar siempre contra ellos con diez jugadores” / “I am tired of always playing against them with 10 players”), and Marca asks whether the “roja directo” (straight red) for Albiol versus no yellow (“ni amarilla”) for Alves on the respective penalties represents a double standard (“¿doble rasero?”).
Of course it’s CR7 and Messi that dominate the image–another fine piece of photoshopping. Ronaldo striding with the ball, looking up, clawing at the air like some sort of big cat (perhaps an allusion to Mourinho’s hunting with cats?), while Messi shuffles behind him, eyeing the ball, looking disturbed/disturbing.
But we also rather like the little image of Guardiola and Mourinho inserted at the top: the two managers with their backs to each other, pistols in hand. One round of the duel completed–three more to go.
Among the football headlines in Spain this weekend: “Con perro cazas; con gato cazas, pero menos“–aphoristic words of wisdom gleaned from the Jose Mourinho’s press conference yesterday, which translates roughly to “You hunt with a dog; with a cat you hunt, but less so.” Remarkably, this isn’t the first time the Special One has made the news for canine-related matters.
The comments about hunting with cats vs dogs had something to do with the injury to Higuain (el perro, we presume), which has left Benzema as el gato–Mourinho’s only option at striker.
Real Madrid mouthpiece Marca transcribed some Mourinho’s monologue, which gives the context:
Soy entrenador y entreno a los jugadores que tengo a mi disposición. El tema del fichaje es un tema de la gente de arriba. Yo ya dije que era difícil afrontar la temporada sólo con Benzema e Higuaín, ahora sólo con Benzema será aún más difícil. Si vas a cazar y sólo tienes un gato, tendrás que salir con el gato porque solo no puedes ir. Si vas con un buen perro, cazas más. Si vas con un gato, cazas menos pero cazas.
Watch and listen to some bits of the press conference:
With both media scrutiny and fan grumblings intensifying, Real Madrid needed to snap out of their early-season daze and start hammering opponents. It’s not that they haven’t been creating chances, they just haven’t been finishing. (They haven’t looked exactly dominate in their matches so far either, and have been lucky that no team has gone up on a quick counter before throwing up a rigid defense.)
That started to turn with the game against Ajax, where Mourinho was heard to remark “One day, some poor team will pay for all these chances that we have missed,” and has culminated with Real’s 6-1 demolition of Deportivo de La Coruña. Ronaldo was responsible for the first goal, joined by the cast you’d want in support: Ozil (his first for the club), Di maria, Higuain, and Ronaldo again. Yes, Ronaldo in fact supports himself. Do you doubt this?
This after a week when Jose Mourinho locked the doors on the practice facility to outsiders, and severely limited press access and interviews. A special touch from the special one, creating a “bunker mentality”, the us-against-the-world connection among his team that he’s instilled at every one of the clubs he’s managed. His only messages out of the stronghold have been in support of his players, serving to boost their confidence while giving them some breathing room away from the Spanish media’s intense eye.
Real Madrid are now sitting in third place, above Barça, with no losses and a +10 in the goals column. An easy opponent seems just what they needed to find their flow. Will they be able to continue the trajectory against mid-table side Malaga?
I must admit, I am falling for the yet-nascent psychodrama that is Mourinho in Madrid (“MiM” from now on). So I eagerly clicked thru when online footy mag fourfourtwo.com‘s La Liga Loca blog led with the headline “Mourinho Finally Gets Mad“, and kicked off the post with some purple prose:
For months now, the Spanish press have been performing their solemn duty of trying to make José Mourinho go completely postal, but sadly with little success.
However, on Monday evening, it was joy to the world and ding dong merrily on high as, after a trying period of four press conferences a week for the Bernabeu boss, hours and hours of provoking, probing and pressing finally brought some decent results – not only did Mourinho completely lose his rag, he also found it again and then set it on fire…
La Liga started on Saturday, with Mourinho’s boys visiting last season’s fifth place side Real Mallorca. The result was a nil-nil draw with Los Bermellones from Majorca (situated on an archipelago in the western Mediterranean) holding firm and creating some good chances on the break.
But it’s Madrid that I, and everyone else, is focusing on today. A team full of superstars and the “special one” at the helm. What a spectacle in the making, but can they bring the flair to the field?
Mourinho is known as an amazing tactician and motivator, and he has an unique ability to handle the egos and insecurities of superstar squads, but his failing is in his rigid and often boring style of play. The big question for this season isn’t whether Real will win, it’s about how they’ll win. It won’t be enough to put up three points each week, or even to win the league over Barça, if they don’t do it with style.