Apr 21, 2012, 4:37 PM EDT
Man of the Match: A number of Real Madrid players could have earned this honor for efforts protecting goal, but the 73rd minute match winner from Cristiano Ronaldo guaranteed he’d get this recognition, playing a part in both goals, On the second, his contribution was obvious: Ronaldo making a great run to beat Javier Mascherano to a perfectly weighted ball from Mesut Özil before leaving Victor Valdés in no man’s land for an easy finish. What will be forgotten on the first goal, however, was Ronaldo’s speed forced Sergio Busquets to take him down along the left flank. Busquets was booked, the set piece was played out by Barça for a corner, and the ensuing kick got El Real the opener.
Packaged for takeaway:
- As was the case on Wednesday, it took a highly cohesive team effort to beat Barcelona; however, there were four players who stood out:
- Fabio Coentrão was amazing preventing crosses in from Dani Alves’s flank. I don’t know if it redeems the mistake he made in Munich, but oh does it make it seem like a one off. He’ll be many’s man of the match.
- Alvaro Arbeloa also convinced at the opposite fullback position, winning a number of goal kicks.
- Xabi Alonso was a pest sticking his leg out to abduct would be through balls.
- And Sami Khedira was crucial tactically. With Cristian Tello starting wide left for Barca and Pepe still playing very narrow at the right center back position, the channel between them became a Amazon-sized river. Khedira was exceptional tracking runners into the space and covering for Pepe when the big defender followed Barça attackers into midfield.
- And like Wednesday, Barcelona dominated possession (72-28), but unlike Chelsea, Real Madrid was not content to sit back and wait out their ball-hogging opponents. Real had more shots on goal (six to three) and forced seven corners to Barcelona’s four.
- Proponents of Victor Valdés will deny it, but Iker Casillas likely prevents the winning goal. With Özil 35 yards from goal along the right flank, there was only one thing he was going to do: Play a ball into the right of the area for Ronaldo. In the sixth minute of the match, we saw Casillas successfully get off his line quickly to make a save at the edge of the area when Pepe gave the ball away in midfield. Valdés was not as quick reading this play and, pulling up rather than lay out to stop Ronaldo’s shot, allowed the winning goal.
- I’m starting to suspect the rumors of an attitude adjustment happening with Gerard Piqué are true. Down a goal in this one, Piqué was seen warming up, but when it came time to use his last sub, Pep Guardiola chose to send on Cesc Fabregas for Cristian Tello, even though Real Madrid was going to bunker. A number of corner kicks forced at the end never threatened a Real side that only had to worry about Carles Puyol, and without another target on the field, Barcelona gave Real no disincentive to chopping them down every time they got 10 yards into the attacking half.
- Woulda, coulda, shoulda; whatever, today should be about Real Madrid. If Barcelona wasn’t their best, give credit to Real Madrid, who now sit seven points clear in Spain with four matches to play. They’ve set a record for goals in a season (109) and could end the campaign with 100 points. This race is over, and whereas it previously looked like Real was going to carry the indignity of winning league without having taken points from Barcelona, instead they have their first win at the Nou Camp since 2007.
- Suffice to say, this is the biggest win of José Mourinho’s time at Real Madrid. The Copa del Rey win over Barça won silverware, but it didn’t seal a league, and it wasn’t at Camp Nou. Plus, the way Real won vindicates the Special One against skeptics who insisted Real Madrid needed to change their approach. Mourinho has made incremental improvements over the last two years to where a result like today’s is more than a one-off, fanciful possibility. I would still content Barcelona’s more likely to win the next game they play (whenever that is), but Real Madrid winning these matches can no longer be considered surprising or an upset. That wasn’t the case a year-and-a-half ago, and it certainly wasn’t the case when Mourinho was brought in from Inter Milan.
- For Barcelona, it’s the first time they’ve lost two in a row since May 2009 – two league matches conceded after they’d already locked up the title (and were resting ahead of their Champions League final in Rome). The last time there were two clearly meaningful matches Barcelona lost consecutively was February 2007, when Frank Rijkaard’s Barça side lost at the Mestalla to Valencia ahead of a 2-1, home loss in Champions League to Liverpool.
- As it concerns mid-week, Real Madrid played the same team that lost in Munich. You’d think there’d be no changes for Wednesday’s match at the Bernabeu. José’s best XI will just have to find the energy. Barcelona made only two changes, but it wasn’t until they brought on Alexis (who had struggled so much at Stamford Bridge) that they were able to break down Real Madrid’s defense. Guardiola may elect to keep Alexis in his Champions League starting XI, but coming off consecutive losses, mentality will be a bigger issue than selection.
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