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Real Madrid vs. FC Barcelona, Jose Mourinho vs. Pep Guardiola: UEFA Champions League Semi-final….The Day After

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It’s quite interesting how 90 minutes can change an entire football landscape. Heading into this tie, Real Madrid were high on confidence and unbeaten in the previous two Clasico’s. Some 90-plus minutes later, the referee is public enemy no. 1 and FC Barcelona even more hated in the Spanish capital than before, at least in the white half of Madrid.

Those who were expecting changes, whether they would come from Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho, were utterly disappointed. Neither of these two men was flexible enough to adjust ones tactical scheme that has worked for them so well. In case of Pep Guardiola it hasn’t, not in the preceding two Clasico’s against Mourinho. Therefore it was mildly surprising to watch FC Barcelona play exactly as they always do, dominating possession and attacking from the beginning.

The regular football fan would’ve expected Pep Guardiola to adjust his side and try a different approach but for better or worse, FC Barcelona only know how to execute Plan A, which is of course attack, attack, attack.

Jose Mourinho on the other hand probably had no logical reason to alter his successful anti-Barcelona formula. Once again I urge you to read "anti-Barcelona" not "anti-football" because FC Barcelona is the only opponent that receives this special treatment. The last two times he tried to face Guardiola’s FC Barcelona on equal footing with this sides, he was twice outplayed by the Blaugrana. He was beaten 2-0 with Inter Milan and 5-0 with Real Madrid, both times at the Camp Nou.

While it can be argued that Jose Mourinho is the world’s greatest manager, he is also the football’s greatest pragmatist. In Mourinho’s world the result comes before the aesthetic. Perhaps it is because of this mindset that Mourinho is as successful as he is. But then again, sometimes pragmatism doesn’t work and imagination is required, and judging by the wealth of talent at his disposal he certainly has enough of the latter.

Which is why for all of Lionel Messi’s brilliance, a large part of FC Barcelona’s victory is owed to the pragmatism and stubbornness of Real Madrid’s Jose Mourinho. The Special One prepared Real Madrid for everything but a victory. But while it has worked against FC Barcelona so far, this time it has backfired on him.

There was never anything to gain in La Liga whereas the Copa del Rey final was a one-off game to begin with. In a final, a solitary goal will do just fine. But over two legs and 180 minutes of football it is more daring to not try to attack than it is to defend. Granted, Inter Milan defeated FC Barcelona in last year’s semi-finals by essentially doing just that, but then again, the Italian side took each and every chance that presented itself.

Last night Real Madrid had zero chances to exploit FC Barcelona’s makeshift defense. If there was any time to attack FC Barcelona it was last night. The Blaugrana are/were missing a left-back and Carles Puyol just returned from injury. Still, the ever-cautious Jose Mourinho didn’t feel inclined to take advantage of this circumstance.

Once again, Javier Mascherano is not a center-back and Carles Puyol not the paciest of defenders, let alone left-back. Apparently it has eluded Jose Mourinho that for his tactical genius his game-plan is as flawed as Pep Guardiola’s. Once his side concedes more than one goal, they have to chase the game, going from one extreme to the other.

Furthermore, what has made Pepe such an effective player over two and a half games against FC Barcelona, his aggressiveness, has come back to haunt Mourinho. The Portugal international is always a candidate for a booking, especially a red-card due to his aggressive nature, which he received in yesterday’s fixture.

In addition, Sergio Ramos, the holder of the questionable record of red-cards in Real Madrid’s history, will also miss the return-leg at FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou as a result of accumulated yellow cards. With two key-players gone and a two-goal deficit to eradicate, it will be an uphill battle for Real Madrid to overcome FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou. Not to mention the fact that Jose Mourinho will have to watch the game from the stands, following his banishment from the dug-out last night.

In retrospect it is safe to say that it was more daring to defend than to take the initiative, especially with the players Real Madrid have in their ranks.

If I was a Madrista I’d blame Jose Mourinho for setting Real Madrid up to fail.

But I am not.

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