Our fearless leader has given me an assignment. I am to analyze the manner in which FC Barcelona lost the Copa del Rey final to Real Madrid CF. And if that assignment wasn’t painful enough I have to compare it to the manner in which Arsenal FC crashed out of their own domestic cup final.
Arsenal FC first I guess, ‘cause you know the alphabet, chronological order, and so I can get that part over with.
Just to set the stage, leading up to the Carling Cup final, Arsenal’s best chance to end their soon-to-be six year trophy drought, they were undoubtedly on a high. They had just beaten 'the best team in the world' at home in the Champions League and were on very good form, having not lost a league match since December. Their opponents were none other than Birmingham City a team that Arsenal had beaten very comfortably in their previous meetings and won their last trophy almost 50 years ago.
We know the result, Birmingham won. It seemed as if no one was going to break through and get the winner and the Arsenal players were getting ready to go to extra extra time. Then out of nowhere. Thus proving there’s a worse way to lose a cup final than penalties. Gifting the team who is fighting relegation their second ever Carling Cup trophy. Let’s just say that Arsenal were unusually poor on the night (and lost striker van Persie to injury).
Ultimately the Gunners have not yet recovered from crashing out of the Carling Cup.
FC Barcelona were of course favorites to win the Copa del Rey, having not lost to rivals Real Madrid in their last 6 meetings. But I figured that, this being a cup final it would be more heavily contested than the last couple of meetings.
The Blaugrana's form against Madrid had been exceptional with five wins and one draw prior to facing off for the Copa final. But while Barca had been turning the results besides the 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu, their performances have not been quite up to their high standards.
Madrid started the match fighting for the win dominating the chances leaving Barca very light on chances in the first half. Real Madrid gave the Barca make shift back four more trouble than Barca gave to Real. In the first half Madrid looked solid and Barca looked very open and vulnerable. Pique put Barca under a lot of pressure by being out of position and a couple times losing the ball for his team while in a more advanced position. Madrid were wise to exploit the space left by him.
It was definitely a fierce contest fouls flying everywhere. A mini scuffle there after an incident between Villa and Arbeloa. They both fell over, Villa kicked Arbeloa, Arbeloa then got up and stepped on Villas ankle (by accident it seemed.) Then he and Ramos proceeded to lift Villa off of the ground.
Madrid attacked and defended both in sufficient measure. That’s my assessment of the first half.
Barca started the second half brightly. Andres Iniesta looked for a penalty in vain, but Barca began to look very dangerous and much better defensively. Real Madrid did not fall out of the game and withstood Barca’s pressure and returned some danger as well. Messi set up a great chance for Pedro, but Pedro was ruled offside and was denied his goal.
Still no goals from either team. It looked like it may go to penalties but a superb 4th half header by Crisitano Ronaldo sealed the match for Real Madrid.
It’s not as if Barca were cheated out of the result or were very unlucky on the night. Madrid won it fair and square.
The danger for Barca is not just in this result or losing out on the Copa but it seems as though Madrid and Mourinho are learning a way to get a result out of Barcelona and this is very dangerous for the Champions league run-ins in the next couple of weeks.
Pique kept opening up Barca's back line to danger with his sometimes reckless runs forwarward and Real Madrid took advantage of it on each occasion. Luckily they didn't score from any of the ensuing chances but it will be something that Madrid will try to exploit in the future. I was never a huge Pique fan, I just don't think he's THAT good a defender and his performance in the final, especially compared to the Madrid defenders, was not very good at all.
This result isn’t likely to affect Barcelona in the same way the Carling Cup defeat affected Arsenal. But it will very likely give Madrid the confidence they need to allow them to put up a decent fight against them in the CL. And this defeat will give Mourinho an idea of what he had to do to beat Barca in the future with Real Madrid.
Real are on an upward trend when it comes to Clasicos whereas Barca have not been looking like the ‘best team in the world’ lately.
We won’t see Barcelona crash out of the race to La Liga the way we’ve seen Arsenal draw themselves to death. Really Arsenal's situation has always been very different to Barcelona. Arsenal went from being in all competitions to barely staying alive in one in a matter of a couple of weeks. After a run of devastating results Arsenal were unable to pick themselves up, I doubt that Barca will have the same reaction to the cup loss.
Besides, La Liga is still firmly in Barcelona's hands. The Copa result and recent performances will cast some uncertainty on the likelihood that Barcelona will be Champions of Europe.
I hope comparing Barcelona and Arsenal has made you people feel better about the Copa. It isn't a disaster but it could spell bad things for Barca's Champions League run.
Love him or hate him, Jose Mourinho is a very smart man, and having faced Barcelona with this Madrid squad three times already he may be well prepared for the UEFA Champions League Semi-Final clash. Jose is adaptable something that Pep has proved time after time that he is not (insert Arsenal comparison here). Pep hasn't had to adapt very much in the past but a plan B would certainly help against a Mourinho team. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one though.