by Robert Barter (@RobertBarter16)
November 29th, 2010. The return of the special one.
From interpreter to head coach, José Mourinho was back in Barcelona, and not only was he enjoying the best start of any coach in the history of Real Madrid, but the Champions League semi-final of the prior season added more fuel to an already blazing fire.
There, his Internazionale eliminated Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona in one of the most exhilarating ties in the competition’s history, a 3-1 home win followed by a 1-0 loss at the Camp Nou, a defeat he would label as the ‘most beautiful defeat of my life’, ensuring their passage to the final, their first in 38 years. Having delivered the treble for Inter, the first in history for an Italian club, President Florentino Pérez wavered a record-breaking compensation deal for a manager to replace the outgoing Manuel Pellegrini.
Heading in to the first league Clásico of the season, the anticipation was immense. It was the typical game of unstoppable force meets immovable object. Pep had gone four from four opposite Madrid in La Liga since his appointment in the Summer of 2008, while José’s team seemed almost unbreachable, enjoying their best ever start to a league season and going in to the game one point clear atop the summit. Despite riding a tidal wave of momentum, the game would be the worst in Mourinho’s career.
It did not take long for the game to take on a rather predictable pattern. Barcelona set the tone early, Madrid chasing shadows from the first whistle, as they appeared to struggle in an attempt to keep up with the monotonous passing of the opposition’s midfield. Not only did the triumvirate of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta prove almost impossible to dispossess, but Messi was deployed in the centre to allow him to drop deep and dictate the game to his pleasing.
This left the opposition centre-half pairing of Carvalho and Pepe in a troublesome situation, as they were forced to either follow him into midfield, thus leaving gaps in behind for Villa and Pedro to exploit, or sit off him, allowing him the freedom of the pitch to control the game. It was a lose-lose situation as far as Madrid were concerned, and it did not take long for him to threaten the goal of Casillas.
In the fifth minute Barcelona won a corner, and Xavi’s delivery was exquisite, driven into the path of the onrushing Alves. His shot was blocked but the ball came to Puyol, who teed up Messi just inside the right-hand side of the box. He took a touch to set himself, eyed up the far corner, and chipped a glorious ball up and over Casillas, as well as Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo, who had rushed to close him down. Considering the genius of the shot, it deserved a goal, but the upright saved Madrid. It was an early warning, one which they did not heed.
Four minutes later Messi found possession having dropped deep and linked up with Xavi, before spraying it to the left towards Iniesta. Pedro gave a decoy for a pass which drew Pepe out of position and allowed Iniesta to pick out Xavi, who had wandered into the centre-forward position. Xavi took a touch and lobbed the ball over Casillas, but the finish was slightly fortunate as replays showed the pass deflecting first off Marcelo’s outstretched boot and then off of his own heel, though there could be no arguments. Over the course of play it was nothing short of what Barcelona deserved.
However, having gone 1-0 down, Madrid began to grow into the game. Three minutes after the breakthrough, goalkeeper Víctor Valdés had to be alert to prevent an own-goal from defender Eric Abidal after Ronaldo’s cross was destined for Benzema in the middle. Meanwhile both Ronaldo and Ángel Di María threatened menacingly from the wing. Despite the attacking forays being brief, their ferocity and quickness appeared slightly troubling for Barcelona’s slow back-line, but further back, Madrid were no match.
In the seventeenth minute, the football was almost hypnotising. Pass after pass on the pitch. ‘Olé’ after ‘Olé’ from the stands. It was the duo of Messi and Xavi again causing the most problems, as they worked the ball out to Pedro. He looked to play a one-two with Xavi, but Marcelo took him out as he attempted to make his run. Replays showed Marcelo turning to Pedro in disgust and telling him to get on with the game, despite the clear foul. The official allowed play to continue and instead Xavi let the ball roll before arrowing a superb pass out to the left towards David Villa. Having controlled it, he took it past Ramos without much resistance and fired it across the face of goal. Casillas got a hand to it but could not parry to safety, and Marcelo, having taken him out moments earlier, allowed Pedro to get across him and tap it in for 2-0.
When Mourinho set his Inter side out to play defensively the season before, despite the bombardment they’d faced for 90 minutes, there was never a sense of desperation or urgency about their play. Whether that was in part due to the 3-1 aggregate lead is up for debate, but every time Barcelona probed Madrid’s defence they looked like scoring. When the referee blew for half-time at 2-0, but for a penalty shout and one or two shots from distance from Ronaldo the Real Madrid faithful had very little to cheer for. And any doubts about the result were eradicated early in the second half.
Nine minutes after the break Barcelona worked the ball down their right-hand side, where Dani Alves looked to feed Villa in behind. The centre-forward – who had signed that summer from Valencia to replace the outgoing Zlatan Ibrahimović – had drifted offside, so instead the ball was offloaded to Pedro, who found Messi. Despite not scoring, Messi had been his usual unplayable self and having taken the ball inside past Xabi Alonso, he took both Carvalho and Pepe out of the game with one precise pass for Villa, who made no mistake. On 55 minutes it was 3-0. On 58 it would be 4.
As Madrid began to venture forward with more than an air of desperation surrounding their game, Xavi picked the pocket of Lassana Diarra, and as the ball fell to Busquets he laid it off for Messi deep inside his own half. Messi, having taken it forward towards the half-way line, slalomed past Khedira and played an inch-perfect pass into the inside left channel, between Pepe and Sergio Ramos, at the time playing at right-back, into the path of Villa once again. Casillas came out to narrow the angle, but the weight of the ball was that accurate Villa did not need to take a touch. One deft flick from the outside of his boot and through the legs of his international teammate and the massacre was official.
It was in 1996 when José Mourinho was first brought to Barcelona by then-coach Bobby Robson. Initially working as an interpreter for the Englishman, his dossiers and tactical analysis of the opposition were that impressive he occasionally took head of the training sessions and friendly matches at the club under the watch of Robson and later Louis Van Gaal. However, here, there was no hiding place. Almost like a sacrifice at the Colosseum, standing helpless in front of 99,000 Catalans taunting and jibing. ‘Go to the theatre Mourinho’, was the chant. A reference to his comments from 2006 when he claimed Messi had taken a dive following a nasty challenge from Chelsea defender Asier Del Horno which resulted in his sending off.
Despite grabbing their fourth with over 30 minutes remaining, Barcelona had to wait until the 91st to get the one that they were really craving. The fifth. The ‘Manita’. 5-0 read the score-line.
The scorer of the fifth was not a household name, nor was he a first-team regular. It was 22-year-old Jeffrén Suárez. The fact he now turns out for NK Slaven Belupo may indicate the trajectory his career took, but at the time it was symbolic. The graduate from the Cantera, whom Guardiola had worked with during his year in charge of the Barcelona B team prior to taking over from Frank Rijkaard, scoring the final goal of his greatest match in charge of the club.
Mourinho’s Madrid had been outplayed and their humiliation ended with them down to ten men following a nasty scythe from Sergio Ramos on Lionel Messi, which instigated a mass brawl on the Camp Nou pitch between players who just five months earlier, had won the World Cup together in South Africa.
Full-time: Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid.