Real Madrid won their first Copa del Rey trophy since 1993 after defeating Barcelona 1-0 in extra-time on Thursday.
Jose Mourinho’s squad also won their first trophy since 2008 at Valencia’s Mestalla, thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo’s terrific header in the 103rd minute.
The fixture between Spain’s two biggest clubs is dubbed ‘El Clasico’, but this match was far from a classic, with Mourinho’s side stifling Barcelona with their excellent defence and a crowded midfield.
Barcelona enjoyed most of the early possession but could not break down a stubborn Real side, who had the majority of the first-half chances.
The best of those came 10 minutes before half-time, with Barcelona’s back-up goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto, who was called up to replace Victor Valdes, required to make a low save to deny Ronaldo.
Real nearly opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time when Mesut Oezil’s ball was nodded onto the post by the impressive Pepe, who could only watch as the ball bounced wide after hitting the woodwork.
Barcelona improved early in the second half and Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta went close to scoring the opener, while Pedro did find the back of the net but had his goal correctly disallowed for offside after Messi had set him up, but played the pass marginally late.
Angel Di Maria, who was fantastic for the victors, had a chance to win the game in normal time, but his strike was well saved by Pinto as the match went to extra-time.
The goal eventually came thanks to fine work down the left hand side from Marcelo and Di Maria, with the Argentine producing an inch-perfect cross for Ronaldo, who met the ball with a powerful header to delight the Madrid half of the crowd.
Barcelona tried in vain to equalise and although Di Maria was sent off for a second yellow card in the dying stages of the second period of extra time, they were too late to grab a winner.
The result was the first defeat in a final for Pep Guardiola since he took over as coach of the Catalan giants in 2008 and could give Real a psychological edge heading into their two-legged Champions League semi-final with Barca, beginning on April 27.
The pressure keeps mounting, the rivalry keeps accelerating. Fans of both clubs are anxiously waiting with mixed feelings while the neutrals are ecstatic about a possible four Clasicos. I don’t really think Real Madrid or Barcelona will fail to qualify for the semi-final of the UEFA Champions League. That is out of the question. With a four-goal lead, both clubs have one foot in the next stage.
The two clubs have one more game to play in the Spanish league. Even though that match is very important considering the rivalry I feel the league is over. That match could put Barcelona in front of Real Madrid with 11 point difference. The gap could be narrowed to 5 if Real Madrid wins. Come to think of it, the 8 point gap could still be in play at the end of the day. This Barcelona side will never budge and let the lead go so I say, Barcelona has the league title in their pocket.
Four days after the clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu, the two clubs will meet at Valencia’s Mestalla for the final of the Copa Del Rey. It is a one-off match and Mourinho will surely have the upper hand. After being humiliated by Barcelona in November last year, the special one will by now know what to do against the Catalans. He wouldn’t repeat the same mistake twice. I bet he had sleepless nights like me when Barcelona outclassed us on the field at the Camp Nou.
The Real Madrid players would have also learnt a thing or two. It was the first time that players like Di Maria, Carvalho, Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil were playing against Barcelona for Real Madrid and not any other place than the dreaded Camp Nou where fans easily influence referees and make opposing teams succumb to immense pressure. On a neutral turf with the experience gained by Jose Mourinho and his men after losing 5-0 to Barcelona, I pick Real Madrid to win it. Believe it or not, Mou is a better tactician!
Let’s come to the Champions league. This will also be influenced by what happens in la liga. If Barcelona are 11 or 8 points up, la liga Will be zilch. As a result both coaches will send in second string sides to play the matches before the Champions League encounter. Barcelona will play at home to Osasuna and would not suffer that much. If Real Madrid are 5 points down coming into the weekend preceding the UCL match, they will continue to fight for the title but will as well rest players when they travel to Valencia.
The return leg will be more merriment. I expect a lot of mini-heart attacks. Real Madrid will take on Real Zaragoza at home while Barcelona travel to Anoeta to face Real Sociedad. By this point the league will be more than finalized so all eyes, energies and hearts will be focused on the Champions League.
This will be one of the most devastatingly physical tests that either set of players will have to go through and by May 3 who will still be standing? I still don’t know. Hmmm…. four clasicos in 18 days will be a lot to take in. NB: the English premiership clubs and journalists will all be envious of SPANISH FOOTBALL. All the talk will be centered on these two clubs. Heart aches, heart attacks and even deaths will be involved. I pray no one dies though but I don’t see that not happening. Fans will watch and die on their couches. Mourinho is a great coach but I believe that this will be his toughest time ever as a coach… likewise Pep Guardiola. After these encounters, both coaches will need to be admitted at the hospital to check their mental statuses.
With Higuain and Kaka returning from injuries, the Real Madrid bench is strong. Mourinho can spur his fringe players on to play to their potential. The likes of Granero, Albiol, Garay, Canales and Lass can really help push Real Madrid to win the Copa Del Rey and get to the final of the Champions League. Pep Guardiola will also really on his old guards to pull the squad through a tough period. Thiago, Puyol, Keita will all come in handy. Barcelona have played for a long time. They know themselves very well on the pitch. If this Barcelona squad will be considered as the best ever in the history of the club, this is the time.
The four matches will be like a mini tournament. It is going to be a historic 18 days. I seriously need a cardiologist as we enter into the tournament. Even though it is going to be a football-gasm, there will be a lot of mini heart attacks. Brace yourself for it! Long live Real Madrid… Long live Spanish football. Hala Madrid!!!!