Much like the Manita, Real Madrid headed into the match with a renewed sense of optimism. Juande Ramos had taken over from Bernd Schuster and under his tutelage, Los Blancos had claimed 52 points out of a possible 54 and provided they dispatched their eternal rivals at home, they would be right back in the title race. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Barcelona on the other hand had just dropped points away to Valencia before following that up with a home draw against Chelsea. With the second leg just days away, Madrid fancied their chances.
Before I get to the match itself, it’s worth mentioning the respective line-ups for the two sides. Real Madrid had set up in 4-4-2 of sorts, with Iker Casillas in goal, Sergio Ramos at right-back with Fabio Cannavaro, Christoph Metzelder and Gabriel Heinze combining to form one of the slowest Madrid back-lines in recent memory. Ahead of that Ramos opted for a double-pivot of Lass Diarra with Fernando Gago (remember, Xabi Alonso was still at Liverpool with Javier Mascherano) with Marcelo and Arjen Robben manning the flanks. In attack, Real were relying upon Raul and Gonzalo Higuain to get the goals. On the other hand, Barca were in their usual 4-3-3, with Yaya Toure at CDM, while Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o were in attack with Leo Messi. Eight of that Barcelona XI still play regularly for the club today, while in stark contrast, just five of those Madrid players are still at the club. If we include the benches, the number remains at 5 for Real Madrid, while it increases to 10 for FC Barcelona. Of those 10, I think it’s worth mentioning that seven are products of La Masia.
Anyway, getting to the game and despite a lively start for the Blaugrana, it was Real who took the lead as Ramos’ cross was met well by Gonzalo Higuain, with the Argentine heading the hosts in front, much to the delight of the capacity crowd. However, his joy was short-lived as Barcelona equalised just minutes later. Lionel Messi was the creator, and while he would have to break out his best to carve apart Madrid two years later, this was just a simple lobbed through ball, defended atrociously by Sergio Ramos. The same Sergio Ramos who will start centre-back on Saturday. The very same Ramos who some claim is amongst the best in the world in his new position...
Regardless, his humorous attempt at a bicycle kick clearance ended in failure and Thierry Henry rolled back the years to slot the ball calmly past Iker Casillas. Then, within three minutes, Barcelona took the lead. Xavi stood over the free-kick, and let’s be honest, it wasn’t an ideal position. Virtually on the byline itself, this was akin to a short corner of sorts and Xavi whipped it in nicely finding Carles Puyol wide open about ten yards from goal. Leaping like a salmon, Puyol channelled all the power he could into that header, leaving Casillas with no chance. It was almost poetic; the Catalan supplied the cross, for his fellow Catalan, the leader of the Catalan’s capital club to power home, this giving the Catalans the lead. All in the Castilian capital.
Both sides exchanged chances, with Real coming close to an equaliser with a low cross that was actually diverted goal-wards by a Barca defender, but with 35 minutes on the clock, all of Real’s hard-work was undone by a bit of lax play by Lassana Diarra. Madrid were looking to build from the back, and Lass dropped deep to receive possession, but his loose touch invited the pressure from Xavi, with the legendary midfielder sending the ball into the path of Lionel Messi. From there on in, there was only one possible outcome – Barcelona were 3-1 ahead.
There were no further goals before the half and much like the first; it was the hosts who struck first. Robben with the looping cross towards the back-post and it was Sergio Ramos who rose highest to head home and briefly give Madrid hope of a comeback. How brief? Well, two minutes later, the two-goal lead was restored. Much like Barcelona’s first, their fourth was created by Lionel Messi, and again the Argentine had targeted Sergio Ramos. Thierry Henry had done superbly well to stay onside, but ultimately, Ramos should have stepped up to play him off. Instead, he raised his arm to protest to the linesman, but deep down, he must have known that Henry had simply got the better of him. Bizarrely, Iker Casillas rushed from goal to make Henry’s life much easier, with the Frenchman merely rolling the ball into an empty net.
At 4-2 down, Ramos responded by bringing on Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Rafael Van Der Vaart. Looking back, I wonder whether he knew just how costly that would be. Barcelona were monopolising possession, and Real were chasing desperately, merely playing into Barca’s hands. Xavi shrugged off the challenge of a couple of Madrid defenders to turn 180 degrees and slip the ball to Lionel Messi, and the Argentine displayed fabulous composure to calmly place the ball into the bottom corner at Casillas’ near post. There was still time for Barcelona to grab a sixth, as Eto’o played the ball across goal for Pique, who finished at the second time of asking to seal a famous win for the Blaugrana.
As it conspired, that defeat spelled the end for Juande Ramos and Real Madrid as the team lost all their remaining games to finish nine points behind Barcelona, with the Catalans also romping to victory in the Champions League final as well. While the Manita was more humiliating, and far more complete, this victory will always hold a special place in every Culé’s heart.
Real Madrid - FC Barcelona 2-6 All Goals & Highlights El Clasico [High Quality] (via HQFutebol)