Barcelona may well win La Liga, but Real Madrid are becoming the better team

COMMENT
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

Winners and losers. Barcelona’s 2-2 draw at home to Real Madrid in the Camp Nou Clasico on Sunday sees the Catalans remain in control of the Primera Division as they retain their eight-point advantage on Jose Mourinho’s men. Already, Barca look like winning La Liga. But already, they appear to be losing their domestic dominance following the departure of Pep Guardiola.

The tidy transition from Pep to Tito had seen the new man steer his side to six straight successes in La Liga, but the key tests come in the very biggest matches and having lost the Spanish Supercopa to Madrid over two legs in late August, Barca were unable to put their fiercest foes to the sword on Sunday, either.

Perhaps the tide is turning. Cristiano Ronaldo, once petrified of facing the Blaugrana, has now scored in his last five appearances at Camp Nou, also becoming the first player ever to register in six successive Clasico clashes. He drove the opener past a static Victor Valdes and levelled the scores in the second half when put through by Mesut Ozil, just as it had looked like Lionel Messi would steal the show with a double of his own to move within one goal of Alfredo Di Stefano’s all-time scoring record.

MADRID’S CLASICOS UNDER MOURINHO
Competition Date Result
Liga (away) Nov 29, 2010 Lost 5-0
Liga (home) Apr 16, 2011 Drew 1-1
Copa (n) Apr 20, 2011 Won 1-0
UCL (h) Apr 28, 2011 Lost 2-0
UCL (a) May 3, 2011 Drew 1-1
Supercopa (h) Aug 14, 2011 Drew 2-2
Supercopa (a) Aug 17, 2011 Lost 3-2
Liga (h) Dec 10, 2011 Lost 3-1
Copa (h) Jan 18, 2012 Lost 2-1
Copa (a) Jan 25, 2012 Drew 2-2
Liga (a) Apr 21, 2012 Won 2-1
Supercopa (a) Aug 23, 2012 Lost 3-2
Supercopa (h) Aug 29, 2012 Won 2-1
Liga (a) Oct 7, 2012 Drew 2-2

Barcelona had chances to win it late on, but Madrid had given as good as they got in the first half and should have been two up as Karim Benzema hit the post when he really should have scored shortly after Ronaldo’s opener.

Mourinho’s men took the game to Tito’s team and took advantage of some poor positioning from Barca’s defence and midfield in the second goal. Vilanova has received much praise for his tactical nous but on occasions last night, his players were all over the place – except where they needed to be.

Adriano impressed in central defence, but centre-back is stretching the Brazilian’s ‘utility man’ tag too far and he cannot be considered a solution in that role. With Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol sidelined, plus Eric Abidal out long-term and Dani Alves forced off injured, Vilanova reminded the press that he was denied his first-choice back line. But Puyol’s problems are well known and Abidal has been out all year, so the argument hardly seemed convincing and had the club signed a centre-back in the summer, they surely would not be in this predicament now.

In the end, it was problems in defence which blighted Barca’s campaign in 2011-12 – when the Catalans captured four trophies but missed out on La Liga and the Champions League. Already there are concerns this term, although their problems have been masked by their near-perfect start in the Primera Division.

In spite of their start, though, something has changed over the last nine months. In January of this year, Mourinho watched his side lose their third straight Clasico clash. He had tried everything and, Copa del Rey win aside, he had failed. A 5-0 drubbing in his very first Clasico and just one win (in extra time) from his first nine, including five losses, made miserable reading for Real fans and reports of the coach’s departure quickly surfaced. Barcelona were well on top and it seemed as if things would stay that way.

But since then, Mourinho has won two, draw two and lost just one in the Clasico, with the last five clashes highlighting a much more motivated Madrid, while Barca seem somewhat subdued since the beginning of the year and appear to have lost part of their passion and hunger since the departure of Guardiola.

Perhaps Pep got away at the right time, unable to motivate the players as he had done in his first three seasons and worn down under the pressure of Mourinho’s mind games. Tito brings new blood and fresh energy, but lacks the presence of his predecessor. And although results have been good, performance levels have dropped. Of the three Clasicos he has disputed as coach, only the first was entirely satisfactory, although even that ended in disappointment with Victor Valdes’ error handing Madrid a lifeline. In the Supercopa’s second leg at the Bernabeu, the Catalans were picked apart and should have been punished more severely than the 2-1 loss suggested, while Sunday’s showing wasn’t entirely convincing, either, despite dominance late on.

So while winning La Liga still looks likely for Tito’s team, Barca are slowly but surely losing their grip on the game in Spain. As the Catalans’ performances wane under Vilanova, it is now Mourinho’s Madrid who are becoming the better side.

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10 2012
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