And so there we have it: FC Barcelona has won the Spanish Supercup, at once the most meaningless trophy the Catalan club will likely win all season but far from irrelevant as we can see by the usual caterwauling by Mourinho and his ilk. In fact, as far as "glorified friendlies" go, this one might be the most meaningful, somewhere between the Community Shield (English Premiere League) and the Copa del Rey. Therefore, while it's somewhat not important to draw conclusions from a match where players and managers aren't expected to give 100%, it isn't pointless. Both teams clearly set out to win this trophy, with Mourinho, in particular, trying to prove that his team have rapidly improved.
And Madrid has. Last night, the starting line-ups were one player removed (Marcelo, Puyol) from the 5-0 drubbing at the Nou Camp last year. Tellingly, Mourinho chose to go with a formation and line-up that didn't work last season (subsquent Classico's last season saw Mourinho go with a Pepe-featured 4-3-3), as if he was trying to inspire confidence in his players and their improvement since last November. What exactly Madrid were better at is hard to tell, if not simply for the fact that Barcelona looked crucially less fit and out of sync. But a few conclusions can be made:
1. Mourinho is trying to work out a strategy of micro-managing games. Depending on the time and score--and, even more likely, the run of play--the Madrid manager is going to a. ask his team to either play high up the pitch and press from the forwards backwards or b. urge his team to sit deep and play on the counter. More or less, this is what he did at the end of last season, and combined with a more counter-attacking system this was extremely devastating. For instance, like Manchester United, Madrid has realized that there are two crucial times to attack Barcelona: first, for the first ten or fifteeen minutes when the games starts, since Barcelona has not established a passing rhythm and the game is, for lack of a better phrase, "highly charged"; and, secondly, after a sustained Barcelona assault. Unfortunately for Madrid, this strategy didn't work because Barcelona was more clinical finishing (shot to goal percentage: 4/2 - 11/3 were very flattering) and, in turn, scored two of their goals by counter-attacking themselves.
2. Ronaldo can limit Alves. And vice versa. Dani Alves put in a herculean performance against Cristiano Ronaldo last night, we all can agree; but it might not be a victory that Barcelona desires. In a sense, Madrid have determined that perhaps even a great player like Ronaldo is worth sacrificing in order to limit Alves' runs. For Barcelona, the Brazilian right back is a significant outlet; when possession is stifled, Xavi and Iniesta frequently look to Alves for bailing them out. However, in this fixture Madrid called Barcelona's "bluff," daring Alves to surge forward at the expense of leaving Ronaldo in behind.
3. Busquets is more indispensible than we thought. An illuminating theory this week was that Fabregas was being groomed to possibly replace Busquets, who would find a more permanent place in the defense. The idea was seductive: three ball-playing midfielders--Xavi, Iniesta, and Cesc--would help Barcelona reach unprecedente possession statistics. In short, this is ridiculous. For one, it concludes that Busquets's maturation has hindered possession, which of course just isn't true (he is frequently only behind Xavi in number of touches per game--ahead of Iniesta and Messi.). Additionaly, it misses what exactly Busquets does for Barcelona, which is to not only provide an outlet for "killer pass"-seeking Xavi/Iniesta but to provide a first level of defense. The tale of Keita as DM proved this point, with Barcelona looking incredibly fragile and out of shape with the Malian in that role. The Xavi/Iniesta+1 stategy might work against weaker opposition, but so far it's too much of a gamble against Real Madrid.
4. Barcelona needs to have Abidal play right back in these matches. His speed and height is crucial against whoever plays on the outside-right for Madrid, and his lack of adventurousness is actually a good thing. Adriano has put in some superb performance, even against Madrid, but his slightness and tendency to get caught out of position is very problematic.
5. Madrid's strategy of "minor fouls" needs to be discussed. People always site the bone crunching tackles by Pepe and Khedira, and rightfully so, but more alarming is the rate at which Madrid get away with nudges on their half of the field. Tactically, Madrid is trying to disrupt attacking rhythm, to not allow Messi to slide past one or two defenders into more advanced positions, and referees need to be more willing to dole out cards for multiple infractions of this kind. Until then, Madrid are content to give Barcelona a restart, after the Catalans retrieve the loose ball just kicked thirty-some yards after the whistle.
6. And, finally, I think we should be careful what say after the expected Madrid meltdowns. Yes, Pique's and Xavi's comments are right--Mourinho is a disgrace; Marcelo was being vicious--but this just continues a vicious cycle of finger-pointing and vengeful tackles in the next meeting. There are more fruitful ways to do these things.