La Liga: Double defeat of Barça leaves Real Madrid dreaming of glory
Convincing Clásico wins in the Copa and the league give Mourinho’s players confidence ahead of Manchester United clash.
By Halima Ali
With two games against Barcelona and then Manchester United to contend with in the Champions League, it was widely said to be a season-defining week for Real Madrid and José Mourinho. In what has been a poor season for them so far, trailing the Catalans by a huge gap in the league, Los Merengues were well aware that their season could spectacularly implode and be over by the beginning of March.
The record-breaking team that won la liga with 100 points last year threw away their title aspirations this year before Christmas and as the Champions League and Copa del Rey draw was made, it was apparent that the outcome of their season would rest on the outcome of a Clásico, or rather, two.
But while many predicted disaster for Mourinho and his team, instead, it is Barcelona who appear to be in free-fall.
Madrid travelled to the Camp Nou a week ago knowing that in recent years they have fared better at the ground of their eternal enemy than at the Santiago Bernabéu. What they could not have known was just how they would triumph.
Two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and an impressive header by Raphaël Varane – who seems to enjoy scoring with his head against Barcelona – secured an emphatic victory in front of the Catalan home crowd to send the visitors into the Copa del Rey final, with a 4-2 aggregate. The hosts’ only goal was struck by Jordi Alba in the dying minutes. It wasn’t just that they lost, it was that they did not put up a fight.
There was talk of looking forward to the Bernabéu game, but no fighting talk behind it. Though it would mean little in terms of a title race, the pride remains and while Barça had the opportunity to exact immediate revenge, they did not take it.
In a rare Saturday afternoon kick-off – timed so that the hosts could play at the same time as their Champions League rivals Manchester United – and with Madrid’s sights firmly on European competition in midweek, Barça faced a diminished home side with Ronaldo, Mesut Özil, Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso rested, while Ángel di María missed the game through suspension.
The hosts took an early lead when Karim Benzema turned home Álvaro Morata’s cross at the far post after only six minutes and while Lionel Messi soon pulled one back when he scored in his 16th straight liga game – equalling Alfredo Di Stéfano’s Clásico record of 18 goals – Sergio Ramos headed home Luka Modric’s corner to clinch the points for Madrid eight minutes from the end.
Amongst fans in the Spanish capital, there was euphoria. No trophy has been won, the league is still 13 points adrift of them, but this was the first time Madrid had defeated Barcelona twice in a row since 2008, and while there were three big games to face, two had already been seen to with ease, sending them to Manchester full of confidence.
For Barcelona, it truly would be crisis time if they did not have such a big lead in la liga – they remain 11 points clear of their nearest rivals, Atlético Madrid.
They are out of the Copa del Rey but more worryingly, they have now lost their third game in four matches with a 2-0 deficit against AC Milan to overturn in their second-leg Champions League tie, and are unrecognisable from the swashbuckling side they have been.
The problems have put paid to the notion that Barcelona could manage themselves. Coach Tito Vilanova has been away since the New Year receiving cancer treatment, and since then their form has dramatically dipped. Whereas in the first half of the season, Los Cules seemed utterly unstoppable, following the Christmas break, the flaws have been evident.
Messi too has gone awol. Though he continues to score, when it matters and when his side need him the most, he is failing to come to the rescue. Suddenly Barcelona look fallible.
Meanwhile, Madrid will face their biggest challenge tonight, as they take on Manchester United at Old Trafford in a game that Mourinho stated the “world will stop” to watch.
“We come here after two victories but if we come here after two defeats, our feeling would be the same,” he said in a pre-match press conference. His words however, do not ring true.
His team go to the Theatre of Dreams brimming with confidence, knowing they have seen off Barça with ease and sounded alarm bells in the Camp Nou. Barça, meanwhile must pick themselves up. They have a week to turn it around, seven days to prepare for what could be their season-defining clash against the Italian side.
Real Madrid 2 – 1 FC Barcelona
Sevilla FC 4 – 1 Celta de Vigo
Real Sociedad 3 – 3 Real Betis
Málaga CF 0 – 0 Atlético Madrid
RCD Espanyol 0 – 0 Real Valladolid
Granada CF 1 – 2 RCD Mallorca
Valencia CF 2 – 2 Levante UD
Osasuna 0 – 1 Athletic Bilbao
Deportivo La Coruña 0 – 0 Rayo Vallecano
Getafe CF 2 – 0 Real Zaragoza
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