ESPN Soccernet - Correspondents - Real Madrid CF
soccernet blog
Real Madrid CF
Posted by Nicholas Rigg on 08/25/2012

So, where do we start with that one?

The post-match analysis was all set to be oh-so easy at half-time. No goals, few chances, no heavy tackles and no eye gouging. Or at least not from what I saw. It was a Clasico that had struggled to get out of third gear. Understandable, perhaps, given it's the last trophy on the wanted list of both Jose Mourinho and Tito Vilanova this season.

Something clicked in the second half, though.

Goals, sublime football, great goalkeeping and bad goalkeeping. In the end it served up a footballing treat that you can never tire of, no matter how many times these sides now meet each season. It set-up a mouth-watering second-leg at the Bernabeu next week, with Madrid needing to claw back a 3-2 deficit to win the first trophy of the season - and the bragging rights.

I never know what to make of the Super Cup in general. Just another warm-up game for the new season? A game that'd be nice to win for morale, but isn't the be-all and end-all of a team's forthcoming season? If it was anything other than Real Madrid against Barcelona, then probably. But last season's two-legged thriller, which the Catalans edged, was the best Super Copa clash for a while, and it heightened expectations for this season's offering, especially with Tito Vilanova, the man Mourinho infamously poked in the eye last year, now in charge at the Camp Nou.

There were no real surprises in the starting eleven or the way Los Blancos set-up in the first-half. With the clash coming between Madrid's opening game of the season, which they drew against Valencia at the weekend, and another Liga match at Getafe on Sunday, both teams were always likely to tinker with their squads, it was just a matter of how much. Jose Callejon, so impressive in the pre-season, understandably got the nod, Karim Benzema was the like-for-like replacement for Gonzalo Higuain in attack and Raul Albiol was a forced change in defence with Pepe, who took a knock to his head against Valencia and spent the night in hospital, not risked. Sami Khedira was restored to the starting eleven in place of Lassana Diarra.

No three-man holding midfield to protect the back four from Messi, just the usual 4-2-3-1. Mourinho, beaten so heavily on the Camp Nou pitch in his first Clasico in charge of Madrid (5-0), wasn't going to revert back to those tactics after gradually chipping away at the Catalans and overtaking them last season, with a victory in Barca putting the icing on the cake.

Los Blancos showed little of their attacking qualities provided in their last two visits to the Camp Nou in a pretty dull first half, however. Barca, too, although bossing the possession and having the best of the chances, were relatively limited in front of goal. Lionel Messi, who hadn't scored in his last four matches against Madrid, missed a good chance but Iker Casillas was rarely tested. As the game wore on you sensed Madrid were the happier of the two teams, containing their hosts and looking dangerous on the break, as, perhaps, their plan of action outlined.

Something changed at half-time. Madrid were more fluent and more adventurous, the game became more open, and the goals followed. While Messi, previously the major tormentor for Los Blancos, hadn't scored in four Clasico contests, Ronaldo's 56th minute header fired the visitors ahead and saw the Portuguese forward become the first Madrid player to score in four consecutive Clasico matches at the Camp Nou. His 'can't play in the big games' tag well and truly smashed.

While the game was more open, there was more space for Barcelona to exploit. And boy do they love exploiting space. In fact they love it so much, they did it straight from kick-off. Javier Mascherano with a pin-point ball to get Pedro through on goal, and the net bulged. It lifted the fans and it lifted the players. It certainly lifted Andres Iniesta, who turned the game on its head. First, he was fouled inside the box by Sergio Ramos - the third penalty appeal against the Spanish international after Alexis Sanchez had two claims, rightly, waved away - and Messi ended that mini drought against Madrid to fire Barca ahead. Iniesta was provide again when he sent Xavi in for 3-1.

Tito's boys were seemingly cruising to victory but Victor Valdes decided to make things interesting. Not a stranger to catastrophic mistakes, the Barca stopper this time took a touch too many in the area and substitute Angel di Maria capitalised by closing him down, stealing the ball, and slotting it into the empty net. This all came after Casillas made a superb save to deny Messi at the other end just a minute earlier. Contrasting fortunes, huh, and Casillas showing just why he's Spain's number one. At 3-2 the game, and the tie as a whole, is very much on.

So what did we learn from the first Clasico of the season? Not a great deal, in all honesty. With the matches coming with La Liga already having started neither manager was eager to field a full-strength side. Expect Vilanova's Barca to continue bossing the possession, and expect Mourinho's Madrid to try and soak it up and hit their opponents on the break. Expect Pepe to return and add a bit of 'bite' to Madrid's back line. Expect Angel di Maria to add some more 'bite' to their attack.

Next week's second leg may give us more of a glimpse of what we can expect from both teams this season, both in terms of their individual approach and in terms of the Clasico matches that will follow in La Liga, and possibly in the Copa del Rey and Champions League. There's something, however small, to play for and not just a trophy, but pride, and the mental boost of claiming victory in the first Clasico trophy clash of the campaign.

Follow me on Twitter @nicholasrigg


  Post your comment
Email Address:
characters left