This Week In La Liga
By Cesar Benoit
Barcelona emerged victorious from yet another enthralling El Clasico showdown on Wednesday, advancing to the semi final of the Copa Del Rey after a 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou.
Following Real Madrid’s 4-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao last weekend, many believed they’d be primed and ready for this 2nd leg quarter final encounter against their arch-rivals – and they weren’t wrong.
Sure Madrid were down 2-1 from the first leg, but the nine-time European champions could come from behind, no? Yes and no.
Madrid played a different style in Barcelona than the previous week’s encounter. Gone was the defensive acumen of Pepe in the midfield. This time, the hand-stamping Portuguese was in his natural defensive position.
Madrid started offensively with Higuain in front of a transferable Kaka and a fresh Ozil. They came out strong and although they hadn’t won in the Nou Camp since 2007 they seemed to have no trouble exposing spaces in the Barca defense. Cristiano Ronaldo ran in lanes. Gonzalo Higuain trotted through the defense with ease. All was well, but still the goals wouldn’t come.
No one should underestimate Barca. Having been under pressure for most of the first half, Pedro put them ahead in the 43rd minute before Dani Alves doubled the lead with a wicked screamer just before the break.
Game over, most would have thought.
But this is Spain, land of drama, land of duende and land of the classical comeback. Madrid wasn’t done. The French striker Karim Benzema came on and gave the Merengues a width they hadn’t previously enjoyed.
Cristiano Ronaldo finally found the net for Madrid in the 68th minute and Benzema tied the match four minutes later. Barca looked shaky for the rest of the game, despite Madrid going down to ten men when Sergio Ramos picked up a second yellow card, but Madrid failed to come up with the winning goal that would see them advance.
It has been seven matches since Madrid has beaten Barca at the Camp Nou, a 1-0 scoreline courtesy of Jose Baptisa. Unfortunately, tonight they fell just short of breaking that spell. But their elimination from the Copa del Rey could be a turning point in Madrid’s season. Yes, they were humiliated again at the hands of their eternal rivals, but they held them at their home, came back against them and managed to come out unscathed.
The league at the halfway point sees Madrid leading Barca by five points, despite their failure to figure out how to beat them – much like most of Europe’s clubs.
What makes Barca so special? Their passing acumen, their amazing ability to hold the ball in key situations, and their magisterial Argentinian Lionel Messi all contribute. They are indeed a special team, but Madrid have fashioned themselves as the spear in Barca’s side. They’re the complete antithesis to the goody two-shoes Barca club that everyone likes – the ball-holding, pass-happy team that’s now so familiar to the world’s soccer fans.
What is in store for the rest of the La Liga season?
Andres Iniesta was injured in the match, which could be a major factor going forward. Can Barca survive that injury? Probably. But Madrids five point advantage means they could conceivably lose to Barca at the Nou Camp (as they did, at home 3-1 in November), yet still win the league. How satisfying that would be for Mourinho, despite not having defeated their Catalan rivals in either a league or Cup match?
The Special One’s tenure at Madrid is currently in question. He’s fought with the press this week, after apparently questioning his defender Sergio Ramos over marking the wrong player during last week’s first leg.
Things have been smoothed over. But will they ever be the same? Are they ever normal in these circumstances?
La Liga. Enjoy.