El Classico: Real Madrid Still Not A Team – And It Showed.

When Cristiano Ronaldo looks back at his first year playing in Madrid’s white, he will reflect on the 4 games where Madrid came up short – the one’s against Lyon and of course, the ones against Barcelona. And he will wonder about the possibility of future glory at the Bernabeu.

The Bernabeu will be the setting of the greatest footballing glory to be had this year. We know for sure it won’t be Real Madrid vying for it. Last night, we were given a pre-taste of who it might be instead. Enough has been said about Barca and undoubtedly more will be. 8 of the players on the pitch for Barca were home-grown.

The first 30 minutes were hard fought, to say the least. Not a classic, but hard fought and intense. Tackles and lunges all around, yellow cards flashed and Madrid effectively trying to muscle Barcelona off their game. Possession was fleeting for both sides. It was a bit nervy and a few over the top tackles went unpunished. Skill was at a premium. No clear cut chances fell to either team. Marcelo produced some moments of pace and penetration but though he and Ronaldo had the ball deep in the Barca territory, their direct running didn’t end with the killer pass that could have created a real opening.

Tempers were starting to fray and Xavi was cautioned for protesting too hard. He had been preceded in the referee’s book by Pique, Messi, Xabi Alonso and Raul Albiol, though Pique’s was strangely rescinded.

Then it happened. Messi was fouled and a quick freekick saw him play the ball to Xavi and dart into the box to receive the ball that was played perfectly over the defence. A neat chested first touch took him past inside the wrong footed Raul Albiol and his next touch saw the ball prodded past Casillas. Messi’s 40th goal of the season had set Guardiola on his way to yet another record: the first Barcelona manager to record 4 straight wins over Real Madrid.

The second goal was almost anticlimactic as Pedro Rodriguez sped onto a through pass from Xavi (who else!) and coolly slotted past Casillas, in the second half.

Ironically, played into a similar position, Van Der Vaart proceeded to shoot straight at Valdez at the hour mark. It was yet another snatched shot in a long list and another chance wasted.

The reason Madrid lost the game had less to do with Messi’s skill or any individual player’s skill. This was a game where Madrid came up short on team work. Right from the outset, they seemed to be more on edge. They miscued shots, allowed their nerves to get the better of them. Madrid were often untidy in possession and never looked as coordinated as they needed to be.

Real Madrid seem to have decided that pace was going to be their weapon and often ended up playing at a tempo that prevented their own game to have any fluency.

The first shot of any note from Madrid came in the 52nd minute, when Ronaldo and Marcelo combined for the latter to test Valdez, who saved competently. Ronaldo also had a shot nominally on target, but it was straight at Valdez and no trouble at all.

Conspicuously absent in the game was any kind of sporting spirit. There were any number of petulant, spiteful challenges. No opportunity to barge into an opposition player or fall on a prone opponent was passed up. No opportunity was consequently wasted to get an opponent into trouble. Sergio Ramos and Puyol might be partners at the heart of the Spanish defence, but Puyol was stopped in his tracks by a Ramos elbow and proceeded immediately to roll around

Barcelona were physically bullied and consequently less fluent then normal but they were much better with possession, played the ball to feet and kept their heads.

The referee was not looking to be unobtrusive. 8 yellow cards were flashed in the game. And though nobody was sent off, it was a game littered with petty fouls, and to be fair, the ref mostly had little choice.

Casillas was singularly responsible for keeping the scoreline from being embarrassing – as he stopped Messi from twice in one-on-one situations, in the last half hour of the game.

Raul came on for his last Classico, but during his half hour on the pitch, he was rarely found by a team mate, though he lurked with intent in the Barca box. The wavelength was all wrong. Guti was also on the pitch but by then Xavi and Iniesta were working their magic and Guti found little joy, despite being a positive influence.

Madrid lost their cool and their discipline towards the end, typified by Ezequiel Garay’s lunge on Dani Alvez. It wasn’t to be their night as a late goal by Raul was disallowed because of an arguable handball by fellow sub Benzema. Benzema thought he’d been fouled, but ironically, it was Raul who pushed Benzema in trying to get to the ball!

When the final whistle blew, Guardiola’s pre-match jibe – of respecting Real Madrid as the “second best team in the world” was proven all too true. Madrid had never looked like being Barcelona’s equal in this game.

Cristiano Ronaldo and indeed the Real Madrid hierarchy must think hard about becoming a team first and a champion team later. They are repeatedly trying to do this the wrong way around. Usually, they can get away with it. Today wasn’t one of those days.

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