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Despite Madrid's exit from the Champions League, the men in white gave Jose Mourinho enough reasons to think positively about the future

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By KS Leong

The Clasico marathon is finally over. In the final analysis, Real Madrid didn’t perform too badly against Barcelona in the quartet of clashes over the past 18 days, despite their elimination from the Champions League on Tuesday night.

They won one match in extra time, drew twice, and lost just once. But it was that singular defeat that proved costliest of all, and it was the ugliest of the four encounters.

Jose Mourinho’s negative approach in the semi-final, first-leg firecracker at the Santiago Bernabeu, coupled with all the off-field shenanigans in the aftermath of the game, stole the headlines for all the wrong reasons, and it was enough to put his side out of the competition.

But Madrid went some way to making amends in the second-leg, gallantly holding the Catalans to a 1-1 draw, a result which as Iker Casillas pointed out: "A scoreless draw [in the first-leg] along with this 1-1 draw would have taken us through. Real Madrid had no inferiority complex. We played our way and the fans can be proud."

The men in white were still outplayed in the second leg by Barca, who had 64 per cent of possession, completed 631 passes to Madrid’s 261, and amassed six shots on target to just one for Jose Mourinho’s side. But over the course of the 90 minutes, the capital giants didn’t resort to niggling, unnecessary fouls or negative football, and they finished the game with 11 men on the pitch and a respectable draw. That is the one key lesson that the absent Jose Mourinho could have scribbled down onto his hotel-room notepad and pencil.

Indeed, there is a lot for the ‘Special One’ and his entire squad to build on, including his assistant Aitor Karanka who stood in for the suspended Mourinho, and didn’t look at all overwhelmed or intimidated by the occasion, even conducting a half-time team talk that spurred his side on to a dramatically improved display after the break.

Madrid pushed up their defensive line in the second period and had spells when they camped out in the Barca half. They passed the ball around nicely, often working their way forward instead of launching clearances upfield without a target to aim for.

REAL MADRID | Key Player Stats
Xabi Alonso Lassana Diarra
Angel Di Maria
Marcelo
Distance covered: 11.15km Distance covered: 10.38km Distance covered: 10.05km Distance covered: 9.08km
Passes (completed): 47 (33) - 70% Passes (completed): 46 (37) - 80% Passes (completed): 23 (10) - 43% Passes (completed): 39 (27) - 69%
Fouls Committed: 5 Fouls Committed: 8
Fouls Committed: 1
Fouls Committed: 2
Goal.com Player Rating: 6.0 Goal.com Player Rating: 7.0 Goal.com Player Rating: 6.5 Goal.com Player Rating: 6.5

Madrid showed that they do not require a controversial figure roaming on the touchline to inspire them to play well. They also demonstrated that they don’t need the muscle and brute force of Pepe and Sergio Ramos to stifle Barca. Yes, Ricardo Carvalho was stretched – on occasion quite literally – more than he would have liked and he was lucky to escape a sending off, but Lassana Diarra, Alvaro Arbeloa and Raul Albiol all held their own.

Xabi Alonso fought in midfield alongside Lass, but surprisingly the Spaniard had chances to exhibit his exceptional passing range as he delivered a number of telling passes forward, something that he was unable to provide in the previous three showdowns.

IKER CASILLAS
"A scoreless draw [in the first-leg] along with this 1-1 draw would have taken us through. Real Madrid had no inferiority complex. We played our way and the fans can be proud"
Angel Di Maria resisted the temptation to roll on the ground every five minutes, and he looked the only player willing to commit Barca defenders. He provided a sublime assist in the Copa final, and again set up his side’s only goal on Tuesday night after he had hit the post. If Mourinho can continue to nurture the speedy winger and bring the best out of him, then Madrid can rely on the Argentine to become a real creative force for the team.

The same goes for Mesut Ozil. He was once again excluded from the starting XI of another Clasico, but he remains one of the revelations of the campaign. Next season in his second term with the capital giants, expect to see more impressive and consistent performances from the young German.

Barca as always employed the same philosophy, but over this Clasico series we have seen the many faces of Madrid. They were criticised for being overly defensive and cautious on home soil in the league clash on April 16; they took the game to Barca in the first half of the Copa del Rey final, and fought on resolutely until extra time; they were again too negative when all hell broke loose last week at the Bernabeu; but they were more positive in their football on Tuesday night despite facing an uphill battle.

Real Madrid’s hopes of a 10th Champions League crown are over for this term, but they have plenty to be proud of with the way they fought in the second-leg. However, if los Blancos are to take the next step forward, all the beliefs of negativity and siege mentality must be eradicated. Thinking about, and undertaking, positive football is the direction that Mourinho should be considering for this team next season.

 

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