Real Madrid 0-2 Barcelona: the key clashes
Mourinho v Guardiola
Pep Guardiola had suggested the inflammatory mind games would mean little once the teams took to the pitch, though the simmering antipathy shared by those out on the turf transformed this into a spiteful snarl of a match. José Mourinho’s tactics had been designed to frustrate and infuriate, granting Barça possession deep, soaking up pressure before springing on the counter. This was supposed to be a throwback to Internazionale’s triumph in last year’s semi-final, awkward and disjointed, and the Catalan side’s heckles were duly raised. The melee on the half‑time whistle reflected the ugly contest it had become. Barça needed to react and find a way of imposing their slick play on the occasion, yet Real’s harrying never waned until Pepe’s red card tipped the balance. Then Mourinho was dismissed, ending up sitting in the stands and slipping notes to his bench as the fouls, play-acting and bickering threatened to wreck the evening before Messi’s 51st and 52nd goals of the season did exactly that to Real’s. Guardiola merely braved the catcalls and enjoyed the moment.
Pepe and Diarra v Messi
Mourinho had asked the energetic Pepe and Lassana Diarra to loiter and snap at Lionel Messi whenever the Argentinian was on the ball. That served to clog up the middle, draining the contest of rhythm and sapping the visitors’ impetus, with the Real pair constantly pressurising the ball whenever it fell within his zone of influence. Yet Messi is a force of nature. When he could wriggle into space, he was the game’s only real entertainer-in-waiting. He dropped deep willingly, hoping to spring from the clutter, and conjured staggering passes in inter-plays with Xavi and David Villa to unnerve Real. He drew a foul from Sergio Ramos that ruled him out of the second leg with one trademark dart, with his task potentially made easier by Pepe’s harsh dismissal. That offered more space in which to prompt panic, and his dart across Ramos to convert Ibrahim Afellay’s cross, then jinking run through Real’s backline, took the breath: brief eruptions of football amid the maelstrom.
Ronaldo v Puyol
Cristiano Ronaldo was initially employed as a lone striker though, having threatened one early tantrum after the supply line stalled and Barça’s back five pinged passes contentedly among themselves, Ronaldo was reminded by his manager that this was an occasion to be selfless. Mourinho dragged him out wide early on in the hope that he could charge at Carlos Puyol, who was forced to fill in at left-back by Barça’s current lack of defensive options. It was to the veteran’s credit that he had been rarely exposed, though Emmanuel Adebayor’s introduction at half-time offered Ronaldo the chance to torment him more regularly. There were flashes thereafter of discomfort for the converted centre-back. But for a makeshift defence to have emerged unscathed from the Bernabéu still represented a triumph.
Alonso v Xavi
The midfield pair are their sides’ respective metronomes, setting the tempo from the centre. Yet neither will consider this his finest display. Xabi Alonso was peripheral, his work dominated by defensive duties as he sought to maintain his team’s shape at all costs. His passing, usually so reliable, was often choked in open play and more obviously utilised from set-pieces, though even those disappointed at times. Xavi Hernández reveled whenever Messi was liberated from the mass of bodies to pluck out a pass, but he clearly missed Andrés Iniesta at his side. The rat-a-tat exchanges were rather stifled until Pepe’s departure freed up some space in the middle. He may be more influential in the return.
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