Spanish Super Cup: A Tale of 2 Cities
Madrid and Barcelona are the two largest cities in Spain with conflicting political and socio-economic ideologies.The Spaniards perceive Barcelona as the face of Catalan ideology and Madrid as a Castilla centric establishment. These differences in ideologies evolved through the early 20th century and gave birth to the El Clásico where football institutions representing these 2 cities fight amongst themselves to settle a score or two. Real Madrid C.F. and F.C. Barcelona is arguably the largest and richest football clubs in the world. They have the very best players of world football playing for them. When these two titans clash, one can expect to experience football of the highest standards with both teams with winning as their only option. This is arguably the biggest rivalry in world football.
Since the 2008-09 season, the Catalonian outfit gained an upper hand on Real Madrid. Barcelona outclassed their traditional rivals with relative ease and composure. Real Madrid suffered heavy defeats during this time. The Los Blanco pride took a hit. The 31 time La Liga champions were humbled time and again. Towards the end of the 2010-11 season, Real Madrid regained some sort of pride and ended the season with 2 draws and 1 win out of the 4 El Clásicos played in the month of April, 2011. They defeated Barcelona to lift the Copa Del Rey under Jose Mourinho after 18 long years and a major trophy of any kind in 3 years.
Real Madrid wasted no time and started their preparation for the 2011-12 season. They signed Nuri Sahin, Hamit Altintop, Jose Callejon, Raphael Varane and Fabio Coentrao by the month of May and started pre-season trainings with the entire squad. Barcelona on the other hand signed Alexis Sanchez from Udinese and had to wait till mid-August to confirm the return of Cesc Fabregas from Arsenal.
Real Madrid kick-started their pre-season against LA Galaxy with a 4-1 win. They played against 8 teams, winning all the fixtures, scoring 29 goals and conceding 6 goals. This was the kind of start that Jose Mourinho was looking for. Barcelona had a rough start to their campaign owing to the commercial nature of their ties under difficult conditions and Josep Guardiola hardly getting any practice sessions with the entire team. Their first match against Hajduk Split ended with a dull 0-0 draw. Out of the 7 pre-season matches they won thrice and lost twice. Barcelona could score only 13 times.
The 2011 Spanish Super-Cup
Traditionally the Spanish Super Cup is the season opener for a new Spanish Football Season played over two legs between the winners of the Copa Del Rey and the La Liga Champions. The 2011-12 Super-Cup was an El Clasico. It was the perfect opening to the new season with two world class team showcasing their talent over 2 legs.
Real Madrid was ready to leave behind the disappointment of coming second best to their archrivals and give Barcelona a run for their money. On the other hand Barcelona was keen on extending their domination of club football with finesse.
Unlike the previous encounters the pre-match feisty exchanges between the 2 managers were non-existent with Jose Mourinho keeping away from pre-match and post-match press conferences for the first time since April, 2011. This Super-Cup fixture was an opportunity for Jose Mourinho to show the world how far they have improved since their 5-0 drubbing on November 2010 at the Nou Camp. He displayed immense courage and determination in fielding the same eleven that received the 5-0 thrashing, for the first leg of the Super-Cup at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu.
This El-Clasico was different. Statistically, all the teams under The Special One excelled and reached its pinnacle in its second year. This being Jose’s 2nd year at Madrid, he had spent enough time with the club and its players strengthening the weak links in his team and devised a strategy to match Barcelona’s flamboyance. He dropped the heavily defensive approach with swift counter attacking as a strategy and adopted a much more attacking route that involved pressing deep into the Barcelona half and winning the ball back as soon as possible.
The pre-match ceremonies completed with Josep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho sharing cold handshakes, barely looking at each other and making it clear to the whole world how much they “love” one another. The match started with a breathtaking pace with Madrid dominating Barcelona from the first minute. At least 5 players were pressing hard deep inside the Barcelona half, making life difficult for 2 centre backs, Javier Mascherano and Eric Abidal. Barcelona thrives on ball possession and this is where Madrid attacked. Karim Benzema was working overtime, chasing down Barcelona players along with Ronaldo, Ozil, Di Maria, Alonso and Khedira. This constant rushing forced miss passes from their flamboyant opponents. Madrid was hungry for a win and they were working hard to earn their victory. Barcelona was not allowed to settle down. After just 13 minutes the whole Bernabéu crowd screamed with joy when a clean number 9 run from Karim Benzema drew both the fullbacks towards him leaving Mesut Ozil in acres of space; Ozil finished the move with a nifty little tuck-in, beating Valdes from the perfectly weighted Benzema pass. This was the perfect start for the home team. The game progressed with Real Madrid creating multiple open chances but failing to score. The lack of finishing in front of the goal from Madrid was the only thing that saved Barcelona from going down a couple of goals within the first 30 minutes. But, this Barcelona side is something special. The beauty of this side lies in the different ways in which they can adapt to various situations.
They have 3 of the world’s best players in their ranks; Messi, Xavi and Iniesta and have a world class striker in David Villa. Individual performers of the highest technical abilities are available at their disposal. Out of the blue, on the 36th minute a casual layout from the centre of the field from Lionel Messi found David Villa on the left wing. Villa cut inside Ramos on the edge of the box and fired a stunning right footed strike with the right amount of spin and power. A diving Iker Casillas saw the ball curve and dip around him to reach the top corner. This was the first shot on goal for Barcelona. The stunning strike got Barcelona level at 1 each. Real continued with their game, shaking off the disbelief from their face. The first minute of the first-half injury time silenced the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu crowd even further. A delightful one-two between Andres Iniesta and Alexis Sanchez found Lionel Messi who skipped passed the Real defense before sliding pass Casillas scoring the second goal for Barcelona. Pepe slid and slipped in vain as the whole Madrid squad saw the Los Blancos going down 2-1 against the run of play. Shoulders dropped as the referee signalled the end of the first half. Jose Mourinho found it difficult to hide his disbelief. The players disappeared in their respective dressing rooms for the half-time break. Now, 15 minutes is what The Special One would get to motivate his team and convince them that they were good enough to beat this Barcelona side. During the break, Barcelona officially announced the return of Cesc Fabregas to the Camp Nou.
The 2nd half started with the Madrid crowd getting behind the team with a loud cheer. Angel Di Maria was substituted with Fabio Coentrao to add a little more pace to the game. 10 minutes inside the 2nd half, the team responded. A loose clearance from a corner found Xabi Alonso on the edge of the box. Alonso struck a powerful shot along the ground towards the left of Valdes and the whole Bernabéu crowd erupted in joy. Real Madrid was level 2-2 with another 35 minutes to the final whistle. Barcelona immediately reacted by substituting Thiago with Xavi. Real replaced a visibly tired Khedira with Callejon. With Xavi, Iniesta and Messi on the pitch, the Barcelona side looked menacing. Guardiola introduced Pique into the match at the 60th minute, replacing Adriano to strengthen the faltering defense. Towards the 80th minute, Benzema’s lack of finishing saw him substituted with Gonzalo Higuain. Real Madrid finished the match 2-2 with more than 50% ball possession. This was the first time in 3 years that Barcelona came second best in ball possession. For a change the El Clásico ended without any incident and no one getting sent-off. Barcelona was completely outplayed in the first leg but they got their job done due to some individual brilliance and returned home with a draw and 2 away goals.
The Camp Nou has been a fortress – the home turf of the Catalans where they maul their opponents with ruthless precision. It is not only the 3 points or a match that one loses in the Camp Nou. Here, a visiting team goes down tactically, physically, mentally and morally. The 2nd leg of the Supercopa was played at the same venue 3 days hence.
The performance from the Los Meringues in the first leg exposed the lack of defensive integrity amongst the Barcelona back four. The improved level of fitness and tactical changes from Real Madrid looked menacing. The second leg started with Real Madrid looking favourites to cause an upset in the backyard of their fiercest rivals. The plan was the same; press the Barcelona midfield with 5-6 players and keep a high defensive line. The match started evenly. Lionel Messi was playing deep and occasionally darting forward with acceleration making life difficult for his makers. The high defensive line proved costly as Messi carried the ball from his own half, skip-passed the defensive midfielders and sneaked in a through-pass behind the Madrid defense. Iniesta found himself one-on-one with Casillas. Barcelona was up 1-0 within 15 minutes. Real Madrid responded within 5 minutes; when a Benzema cross found its way through a crowded Barcelona box to Ronaldo, who equalized with a neat touch.
The match progressed with both teams creating half-chances but failing to capitalize. At the end of the first half, Barcelona won a corner. The loosely cleared corner kick was picked up by Messi who passed it to Pique in the Madrid box. A cheeky little back heel from Gerard Pique found an accelerating Lionel Messi to complete the neat one-two. Messi completed the move by sliding the ball past Casillas in to the Real Madrid net. Real Madrid was down 2-1.
At the start of the 2nd half, Mourinho replaced Khedira with Marcelo to bring a little more pace into the game. Barcelona on the other hand were more keen on seeing out the tie and preserve the lead. The pace of the game dropped considerably. An ineffective Angel Di Maria was substituted with Gonazlo Higuain and later on Özil got substituted by Ricardo Kaka. Barcelona sent in a defensive player, Adriano to replace David Villa. At the stroke of the 80th minute, a poor corner kick from Kaka found its way inside the Barcelona box. Benzema fought inside the crowded goal line to score the Madrid equalizer. Suddenly the game sprung into life. Guardiola responded by bringing in the new recruit, Cesc Fabregas and substituted Pedro with Kieta. Cesc Fabregas was cheered on with a thunderous applause as he found his way to the pitch. Barcelona still had a trick up their sleeve. The 87th minute saw another brilliant Messi winner. Messi released Adriano on the far right of the field from the edge of the box. Adriano put in a measured cross inside the Madrid box where a darting Messi flung out of nowhere and volleyed the ball into the net. With 3 minutes remaining, this was the final nail in the Madrid coffin.
At the end of the 2nd half, a cynical foul from Marcelo on Cesc Fabregas started a brawl on the pitch. Soon all the Barcelona players flooded the pitch with the Real Madrid players joining the mêlée. Punches were thrown at each other. A normally calm Mesut Özil went berserk when he was punched by David Villa. The Barcelona reserve goalkeeper, Jose Pinto was at his usual best pushing and shoving the Madrid players. Amidst this mundane chaos, which has become a part of almost every El Clasico, the actions of Jose Mourinho were interesting to say the least. Mourinho poked Tito Vilanov in the eye who in turn returned the favour with a slap on his back. Finally the match ended with Mesut Özil, David Villa and Marcelo being sent off.
Criticism poured in from Barcelona. The players and the president gave statements how Jose Mourinho is destroying Spanish football and how Casillas and Alonso have gone crazy under The Special One.
The road ahead
Real Madrid C.F. and F.C. Barcelona are the two best teams in Spanish Football. They are miles ahead of the remaining 18 teams in terms of the quality of football they play. The El Clásico is the only fixture where both team face worthy opponents. In the recent times Real Madrid have come second best in these encounters, but, this year they have come a long way. They have a better team physically and tactically. The Supercopa fixture proved that they are in the perfect condition to challenge the reigning champions of the La Liga.
Barcelona just continued their sublime form. Although their team game was not up to the mark, individual performances solved their problem. The defensive line can be a big worry. Josep Guardiola chose to reinforce the already crowded midfield by bringing in Fabregas and Sanchez instead of bolstering the defense. The recent fixtures exposed their lack of depth in defense. Pique and Puyol are the only 2 natural centre-backs. Their lack of integrity in the defense has been overcome with their brilliance in the midfield.
The La Liga is up for grabs. Real Madrid is going to pose a serious challenge to regain the domestic league. In Europe both the teams look dangerous. The other teams in the European competitions may ignore the threat from these two Spanish outfits at their own risk. The football fans will be eagerly waiting for more mouth-watering fixtures this season.
Tamal Kanti Santra loves Spanish football and is a die-hard Brazil fan. He is an amateur writer taking keen interest on the technical aspect of the game. You can follow Tamal on twitter @Tamal_Santra