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El Clasico 3: From Valencia with Love

Ronaldo vs Messi

After showing a steel of nerves, shrewd and incredible counter-attacking football on Wednesday to defeat their arch rivals for the Copa Del Rey, Real Madrid went to Valencia and did another thing worthy of mention….if not praise. Jose Mourinho tried his luck at the Mestalla and it paid off immensely.  I even wrote on twitter that, Mestalla is now the home ground of Real Madrid. Many are the people who said that was an understatement. Not only did the score line make Madridismo happy but Mourinho found impressive reserves as well.

Nine changes brought nine goals – six for Madrid, all from the trio of Kaka, Benzema and Higuain. The trivote has worked for Real Madrid against Barcelona in the two el clasicos gone by. This time around, it wasn’t a trivote but a magnificent trio of skillful players who could do anything and everything with the ball at their feet.

Valencia did not help matters as their defense crumbled against Real Madrid in the first half.  “I’ve never suffered such shame on a football field,” was coach Unai Emery’s angry assessment after the game. “We played like a team who is 15th in the league.”

Except Valencia are not 15th on the league table. They are one of the clubs who will accompany Real Madrid and Barcelona to Europe next season. They are the 3rd on the league table in Spain.

One, two, three – Benzema, Kaka, Higuain. It was simple, yet a counter-attacking masterclass; honed on the training ground, executed on the battleground; and in truth, few sides would have coped. The movement was exquisite, the understanding exemplary, the combinations sublime. Confidence oozed; class bubbled. Madrid’s attackers were sublime and lethal. Each one knew where the other was. It was like they were connected as with the case of twins. They exploited the space, got behind the full-backs, made good use of the flanks, passed intuitively, gelled impressively and finished ruthlessly – with pace, power and panache.

Benzema was lethal. He did a lot of runs. His work rate has improved tremendously and he isn’t the man we saw some months back. He has the zeal to excel now and he isn’t lazy. Adebayor I must say has helped in the development of Benzema. As soon as he came in, we saw a great change in the attitude of Benzema. He was as if a man possessed by evil spirits to do the impossible. Only this time, what Benzema did, does and will do isn’t an impossible mission. He has the talent and will surely make it at Real Madrid. He wouldn’t be an example of Gilardino at AC Milan.

Higuain was devastating. His pace and positional play is something worthy of emulation. He is  and will be useful in Mourinho’s counter-attacking play. He has been missed by all Madridismo but he proved again that even after injury, he can score hat-tricks. Something all Madridistas will be happy about. Renaldo, the El Fenomeno has a competitor now.

Kaka was everywhere. This could have been one of Kaka’s best games ever since he joined Real Madrid. He scored two and assisted two. This was the Kaka of old. This is the Kaka that I don’t want to see leave Real Madrid. He will surely do well as Benzema has exemplified.

And together, they were magnificent and unplayable. Mourinho watched in delight. “We played spectacular football,” he said afterwards. “We were absolutely fantastic.” It is going to be another 2 weeks of Champions League football between Real Madrid and Barcelona. The remaining clasicos will be a joy to watch. Barcelona are now giving Real Madrid the needed respect as was depicted from Busquets press conference yesterday. “They are a great team and perhaps the worst rival we could have faced right now in the Champions League because they know us, they have a great coach and there is great rivalry,” he said.

Barcelona is the team to beat. A silky attacking football, players with the greatest of techniques and a coach who makes things happen out of nowhere.

It is time to observe another 180 minutes of clasico action. Injuries are piling up. Coaches are mapping up strategies. Formations will keep on varying. Cards will flow. Only the strong will survive!

El Clasico 2: Real Madrid triumph!

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.

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