By Kris Voakes
Two pieces of Lionel Messi magic saw Barcelona claim a resounding 2-0 first-leg advantage over Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final, but while the capital club will argue long and hard over the sending-off of Pepe which left them short-handed, it is their coach Jose Mourinho who must take the blame for them not having taken the game to the Spanish champions.
There were flashpoints left, right and centre at the Bernabeu as temperamentally neither club did much for their reputations, and when Pepe saw red for being slightly late as he challenged for a bouncing ball with Dani Alves it seemed only a matter of time before Barca would break the deadlock.
But never in the match, with 10 men or 11, did Real Madrid take control. That they lost could be partly blamed on the referee and/or the Portuguese defender-cum-midfielder. That they were second best throughout and were never going to win was the fault of Mourinho.
|"That they lost could be partly blamed on the referee or Pepe. That they were never going to win was the fault of Mourinho."|
The last two Clasicos had seen real progress from the Whites in their bid to close the gap on a Barcelona side who took them apart at the Camp Nou back in November.
But whereas in the home league fixture they had nothing to really play for other than regaining some respect, and in the Copa del Rey final they had the ability to play off the back foot, tonight they had to win. They had to take the initiative in order to travel to Catalunya next Tuesday with a meaningful lead.
Instead Mourinho let old habits die hard. This was not the performance of his Inter side at San Siro at this stage last season. This instead was the display of a team who had been sent out with too little positive intent.
With a place in the most prized game in modern football at stake, the ‘Special One’ did nothing special. He did nothing positive. In the last two meetings against Barcelona it could be claimed that Madrid had made real progress, but that was completely negated in the way the home side approached their latest battle.
|"At one point Ronaldo got so annoyed with how deep his team were defending he gesticulated wildly for them to help him out before standing sulking in the centre circle."
But for Messi’s late double this was a game which maintained the viewers’ attention for little more than the sporadic pushing and shoving. While Barca knocked the ball about like Barca do, Madrid did nothing to leave their own stamp on the game.
At one point Cristiano Ronaldo got so annoyed with how deep his team were defending he gesticulated wildly for them to help him out as he chased lost causes up front. He spent the next 30 seconds stood sulking in the centre circle.
Mesut Ozil buzzed around and looked as though maybe he could be a difference-maker, but his reward was a spot on the bench for the second half. None of the home midfielders ever looked to really take the game on in the way that their opponents did. This was clearly part of the plan, but at no point did it look like working. It was only inevitable that ill-discipline followed.
As Mourinho prepared for the trip to Spain for last year’s final with Inter he pointed out to the assembled media who talked of his team’s negative style that “at San Siro, we smashed Barcelona with great football” and was met with nothing but agreeable nods of the head.
Twelve months later and he can have no such response. The king of the pragmatic victory took one step backward, but failed to take any forward. Messi’s majesty may have left Mourinho’s side with little to no hope of making it to Wembley, but next week the Portuguese coach will be sulking in the Camp Nou stands rather than running across its pitch. And while the merits of his expulsion are open to question, the sulking will be self-inflicted.