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Hércules’ Italian job on Barça restores Liga intrigue

Spain's football league may be a two-horse race but the champions’ stunning defeat at the hands of a top-tier minnow was a welcome upset.


An unhappy Leo Messi walks away from celebrating Hércules players. Photo: Bleacher Report.

While staff at the Spanish Economy Ministry have been telling anyone who will listen for the last few months that “Spain isn’t Greece”, over at the football federation, they’ve had a rather more tricky time of it trying to convince us that “Spain isn’t Scotland”. Scotland in this context means a country with only two teams that ever look remotely like winning the domestic league. And over the last few years, while Real Madrid and Barcelona may not resemble Celtic and Glasgow Rangers in any way on the pitch, each pair of teams seems to enjoy a similarly vice-like duopoly on the silverware.

So it was refreshing to see league champion and European powerhouse Barcelona humbled 2-0 by newly promoted Hércules on September 11, Catalonia’s National Day, in the champions’ first league loss at their Camp Nou stadium since May 2009.

Nelson Valdez scored both goals for Hércules, either side of halftime, and new signing David Trezeguet would have scored a third in the closing minutes were it not for Víctor Valdés’ superb save.

With Xavi Hernández, Sergio Busquets, Carles Puyol and Pedro Rodríguez starting on the bench, Barcelona looked a shadow of the side that destroyed Racing Santander 3-0 in the league’s opening weekend two weeks earlier. New signings Javier Mascherano and Adriano Correia were used, and looked unsettled as Hércules played a tactically perfect 90 minutes.

With Real Madrid winning 1-0 against Osasuna, Hércules coach Esteban Vigo did the Madrid team a huge favour and his stunningly daring yet correct pre-match prediction of a 2-0 win could have come from the mouth of that team’s new boss, José Mourinho.

In fact, it transpires that Vigo was indeed inspired by Mourinho going into this game. In the lead-up to it, he showed his players a tape of last season’s Champions League semi-final second leg between Barcelona and Mourinho’s Inter Milan, which saw the Italian side frustrate the Catalans to perfection and secure a place in the final despite a 1-0 defeat with only 10 men in the Camp Nou.

“We won Italian style,” admitted Trezeguet. “We learned from how Mourinho’s Inter played and we tried to imitate their style. It worked.”

For Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola this is unnerving news. Not only has the man who destroyed his European dreams last season moved to arch-rival Madrid, he is also inspiring dogged, midfield-strangling copycats.

And yet, this most unexpected of defeats might just be what the blaugrana needed. With eight members of Spain’s World Cup-winning squad returning for domestic duty with Barcelona, many were expecting the team to romp to a third successive league title – possibly even some of the players, too. With new signing David Villa slotting in perfectly and scoring on his debut for the club in the hammering of Racing, it was all looking just a little too easy.

Guardiola’s charges have shown in the past they are capable of picking themselves up from a setback. In 2008, a disastrous start to Guardiola’s Liga coaching career saw Barcelona lose against Numancia and draw against Racing before embarking on a run that led to them being crowned league, European and King’s Cup champions. It is quite possible that this Hércules defeat might snap the side out of any complacency.

And as for the “Scottish” issue, no side has troubled the “big two” since Valencia in 2004 and that won’t change in the near future. But any team in Europe right now could probably only dream of achieving what a little club from Alicante managed in the Camp Nou on Saturday.

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Published: Sep 13 2010
Category: Sports
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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