By Kris Voakes
Barcelona did it again tonight. Real Madrid finally turned up with football in mind, but still they could not knock the Catalans out of their stride. While the capital club did earn a draw at Camp Nou in the Champions League semi-final second-leg, the outcome of the tie was never in doubt. Barca simply went about their business in the same refined, almost blase, manner and deservedly march on to a likely match-up with Manchester United in the Wembley final in three weeks’ time.
Faced with opponents who pressed much higher up the pitch than in last week’s first-leg, Pep Guardiola’s outfit never panicked. They knew that Madrid’s need to gamble would soon open the way for chances at the other end, and it didn’t take long for that to come to fruition. By half-time they had seven shots without Victor Valdes being troubled once at the other end. It has been suggested in the past that Barca’s weakness is that they don’t have a Plan B, but right now it seems that no matter what approach opponents take the Blaugrana’s Plan A is enough.
|THE WINNING HAND
“Madrid picked up the Copa del Rey, but it is Barca who will win La Liga and are firm favourites to lift yet another European Cup”
There was only really one scare if truth be told, and that was when Gonzalo Higuain struck soon after half-time only to see the effort ruled out for a foul by Cristiano Ronaldo. It may have been unintentional, but it was enough to impede Javier Mascherano as he attempted to close the Argentine. And besides, if Frank De Bleeckere got anything wrong all night it was in his decision not to send off Ricardo Carvalho for a second reckless tackle.
The Blancos, to their credit, went out of the competition with a bit of a fight at least, and this time not in the physical brutish sense. Their more focused approach and Angel Di Maria’s unselfish pass to Marcelo earned them a worthy draw. They weren’t without their physical edge as Carvalho was one of five Madrid players to find their way into the referee’s book, but we at least had a more digestible end to the four-game saga than we would have seen had last week’s nonsense been repeated.
The hectic 18-day Clasico schedule has now been negotiated, and while the statistics show a win each and two draws, Barca will be the more satisfied of the two clubs. Yes, Madrid picked up the one piece of silverware to be decided in the Copa del Rey, but it is the Catalans who will go on to win La Liga and showed again tonight why they are firm favourites to lift a third Champions League (and fourth European Cup) title in six attempts.
With Manchester United set to join them in 24 hours Barcelona face a repeat of the 2009 final, and it would take a brave man to back against Guardiola leading his side to a repeat victory. The pressure will undoubtedly be on Sir Alex Ferguson to come up with a plan to stop Messi and company, whereas for Barca another demonstration of the application, finesse and focus they have come through the Clasico series with should be enough to officially crown them as Europe’s best once more.