"We gave a very good performance. It's a shame really, but feeling we were superior is important." - Xabi Alonso.
Okay, let's first get the negatives out of the way. Madrid are out of the Copa del Rey, the competition they were defending this season after last year's triumph. They bowed out over two-legs against old foes Barcelona, who again bag the bragging rights. For neutrals looking at the scoreline and the headlines, it'll be a case of just another Clasico win for Barca.
It was anything but 'just another win'.
As Xabi Alonso says above, Los Blancos can take plenty from their performance at the Camp Nou. Madrid deserved to win the game. Deserved? Or threw it away? They certainly had the best chances, they certainly had Pep's boys against the ropes late on, and they certainly, for a change, had the heart.
While the history books will chalk this down as a victory for the Catalans over the two-legs, the second-leg tie could just well prove to be a psychological victory for Jose Mourinho and his men in the long run.
While Madrid has taken a predominantly defensive approach in games against Barca of late, an approach that has even seen some Madridistas and some famous Madridistas at that have a go at the 'Special One', Wednesday night's game saw Los Blancos hold no fear against a side that has very much enjoyed the upper hand in recent seasons. It was an approach that has seemingly won at least part of the hearts and minds of Real Madrid fans and it was an approach that Mourinho must adhere to in future Clasico contests.
Madrid could have been 3-0 up before Barca opened the scoring through Pedro. Gonzalo Higuain, in particular, was guilt of missing some excellent chances for the visitors as the Barca defence had arguably their toughest 90 minutes of the season so far. Their attacking performance would have been little consolation at half-time with Barca somehow claiming a 2-0 lead, Dani Alves scoring the second in sublime fashion.
While Madrid excelled in the first-half, scoreline aside, it was the comeback in the second half that gives most optimism for the future. It was a tricky situation. Madrid needed to come out and attack to get back in the game but that attacking could have also left them wide open to more Barca attacks - and a potential damaging scoreline.
The tactics, however, were spot on, but it was the heart shown by those in all white that helped turn the tide. It would have been difficult for any side in any match to find themselves 2-0 down having played so well. This is Madrid and Barcelona we're talking about, though. In past Clasico games the heads of Madrid players have dropped after seeing Barca score. A sense of 'here we go again', a sense of defeat. It seemed like it was becoming a habit after the first-leg collapse at the Bernabeu, but Wednesday night's performance goes some way to showing that Madrid are mentally strong enough to compete, despite suffering set-back after set-back against the Catalans.
Strangely, then, Madrid can take more from the game than Barcelona. Their performance stands them in good stead for the return Liga match in April and any potential Champions League duel. It stands them in good stead for an historic season at the Bernabeu. It should also be noted that Barca are set to play two more matches than Madrid in February, something that could have an impact on their league form with tiredness undoubtedly starting to creep in as the season progresses. The Copa del Rey was, after all, the third on the list of priorities for both clubs this season.
As for the line-up and tactics on Wednesday? Coentrao at left-back is yet to totally convince me. He fills the gap well and is good at linking-up with the attack (as is Marcelo), but he was often caught out at the back on a couple of offside decisions - one or two which he got lucky with. He just wasn't in-tune with the rest of the back four when playing the offside trap.
After a season of 'Benzema or Higuain?' I think Mourinho will revert back to the Frenchman after Wednesday night. The chance after just ten seconds summed up Higuain's night - poor finishing. The Argentine could have scored a couple in the first half, chances I think Benzema would have taken. Benzema has been the more consistent of the two strikers throughout the season in my opinion.
Mesut Ozil - brilliant. While the focus is often on Ronaldo and how he 'goes missing' in Clasico matches, Ozil more often than not rises to the occasion; he was outstanding on Wednesday. The German international has suffered dips in form this season but his passing and vision was exceptional at the Camp Nou. An inch lower and we'd have been talking about 'that' shot for years to come.
Pepe - while it was always going to a difficult night, of Figo proportions, for the Portugal defender in the atmosphere of the Camp Nou after last week's first-leg shenanigans, I can't help but feel he'll be moved on come the end of the season. Pepe has been the one Madrid player who has seemingly embodied Madrid's recent style of defensive, hard tackling play, and it's something that could hold Madrid back. Whether Mourinho will defend his countryman or ease the tension by finding a replacement for next season, only time will tell.
One last thing. Many, Iker Casillas included, were worried that too many Clasicos would lower the excitement levels of one of the world's biggest games. Not for me before this head-to-head, and not for me after. There was still play-acting but it was nowhere near the levels of previous matches. Defeat aside, it was a great game with some great skill and great chances. It pains me to say it but Alves's strike was superb. The only thing that would have made it perfect would have been a Madrid winner.
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