Monday, November 30, 2009

El Clasico Analysis: Has Ibrahimovic Won Barcelona Hearts?’s KS Leong looks back at yet another intriguing but not spectacular El Clasico blockbuster.

It was a game that was never going to live up to its extra-terrestrial hype. It wasn’t the masterpiece or a classic Barcelona vs Real Madrid encounter, there was no jaw-dropping scoreline or any outrageous moves to imitate in the playground tomorrow morning, but instead, it was everything you expected it to be… just.

It wasn’t a dull or a disappointing game by any means and in many ways, it was a strange Clasico. The fouls and the rough-housing were there, there were red cards, there were entertainment and of course, there was a goal, but each time it promised to rocket into another level of excitement, it just got pegged back down.

Lionel Messi pulled out his bag of party tricks as usual, causing unadulterated mayhem in the Madrid backline almost every time he touched the ball, but it wasn’t a performance that will be remembered until eternity. His personal nemesis, Cristiano Ronaldo showed some glints of brilliance with his bursts of speed to glide past one opponent, but he never had enough in the tank to take it past the second.

Victor Valdes and Iker Casillas each pulled off stunning near identical saves against ‘CR9’ and ‘El Mesias’ respectively, but neither will probably be remembered as the saviors.

CR9 didn't leave anyone head over heels

Andres Iniesta was crafty as always, finding 101 ways to wiggle past tight spaces, only to be hacked down 102 times. Kaka meanwhile, was always on the cusp of pulling off something astonishing, but it would never quite happen. The Brazilian disappeared for large parts of the game, and although he hasn’t lost any of his dribbling touches, he was always too slow with his movement when collaborating with a team-mate, as if he’s still stuck in the Serie A mindset.

Lassana Diarra was by far Madrid’s best player, even turning into the swashbuckling winger on a few occasions, but his evening was sullied by his sending off in the 90th minute. Like the general that he is, he gladly took one for the team, but it was a dismissal that knocked the wind out of the White Storm after putting up such a gallant fight.

But who would’ve thought that the star of El Clasico would be a defender: Carles Puyol. The Barca captain made at least three critical blocks and countless other vital interceptions and he was easily the man of the match.

The man of the moment, however, surely has to be Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Many believed that he would have to take years to fill Samuel Eto’o’s shoes and maybe even longer to warm up to the cules but after becoming the sole hero in tonight’s contest, he may very well have become the newest Catalan sweetheart.

'El Mesias' parts the White Sea

Madrid may have lost, but there was certainly no shame in the defeat. Besides, there are very few things that could’ve been more shameful than ‘The 6-2’. And in the long run, they may even have unveiled to the world a way of fighting fire with fire against Barcelona.

Pep Guardiola has lost his fair share of games since taking over the Camp Nou hot-seat, but none of the continent’s elite that he has faced-off with before have dared to take his side on pound for pound. Manchester United, Chelsea, Inter and Madrid themselves have all had to adopt the ‘park the bus’ approach in various past encounters which yielded mixed results, but Pellegrini showed today there’s a way to stare the beast in the face.

In the first half, the Merengues looked the better and more threatening side. Their passing was sharper, they pressured Barcelona, made them nervous and forced them to commit uncharacteristic errors, and they created the better scoring opportunities.

The Blaugrana duly regained control and composure in the second half and re-established their usual dominance, but after Sergio Busquets’ sending off, they looked apprehensive again, even prompting Puyol at one point to hack the ball clear at the back when his side was under siege. Barcelona? Taking the “anywhere will do” route? It must be the end of the world!

But in truth, there was no El Clasico masterclass by either side and no footballing clinic. Barca didn’t teach Madrid a lesson, Madrid didn’t send shock waves around the world by defeating their arch nemesis and neither Leo nor Cristiano could elevate their god-like status to the next level… whatever it may be. Well, there’s always the weekend of April 10 to look forward to.


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