A game of two halves

The aftermath of last year’s Supercopa de Espana left deep wounds amongst the Spanish players from both Barcelona and Real Madrid. The El Clasico had become synonymous with controversy both on and off the pitch but after tempers exploded last time round, it seems for now that they are under control.

As the Barca starting XI stood waiting to go out, Xabi Alonso walked up and embraced each of his national teammates. Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas followed him. Both Casillas and Xavi have seen their strong friendship strained under the weight of so many Clasico meetings in recent years but in the tunnel pre-game it appeared that all was well.

Xavi was a man on a mission last night. Not only was he aiming to win Barca’s and Tito Vilanova’s first trophy of the season but he was also gunning for his 25th medal. There are clubs that have not won as much as the master of the pass but sadly it seems that one trophy will elude him, the Ballon D’Or. He might possibly become one of the greatest players ever not to win football’s biggest individual prize but it doesn’t seem to bother him too much.

On the sidelines all the focus was on the traditional pre-game handshake between the two Coaches with almost everyone having forgotten that they had met before and had shaken hands in last year’s La Liga ties. Vilanova walked over to the Special One and Catalan sports paper Sport said ‘Mourinho offered him four fingers more than he did last season.’

The first half last night was as entertaining as watching paint dry. In fact the only real highlights to comment on were the ones in the hair of Sergio Ramos. It was the first time in 23 games that at half-time in the Camp Nou the sides had gone in scoreless. Barca dominated possession but with five shots on goal only had one on target. Los Vikingos for their part had neither.

One image of amusement was Mourinho standing at the steps of the tunnel beside Francesc Satorra. The name may not ring any bells because he is better known as the ‘Man with the Moustache’ or ‘The Observer’. This gentleman became famous worldwide as he stood in the background as Mourinho poked Vilanova in the eye last year. Fortunately, this year he would witness no such gestures.

Cristiano Ronaldo has often been labelled a bottler and a ghost in big games. It appears that no matter how much he proves this theory to be wrong some people cannot be convinced. Last night he opened the scoring and became the first Real Madrid player ever to score in four consecutive matches at the Camp Nou. He seems destined, though, to be labelled from his actions and comments to the Press rather than his displays on the pitch.

Another player who has found his value questioned on many occasions is Pedro Rodriguez. Pedrito’s worth was finally proven without doubt for many last year through his absence due to injury. Just a minute after Ronaldo had put Los Blancos ahead, the young forward had both sides on level terms after he took down and controlled a long cross and equalised. Mourinho and Madrid daily Marca were quick to deem the goal offside but it did not matter, Los Cules were back in it.

There had been a few possible penalty calls with Alexis Sanchez quite keen to drop to the ground whenever he saw an opportunity. Whilst he may have had reason to be annoyed for not winning anything one could understand the referee’s decisions. On the 69th minute Clos Gomez had no doubts pointing to the spot as Sergio Ramos brought down Andres Iniesta. While the Madrid press expressed belief that Messi would miss, citing his failure to convert against Chelsea in the Champions League, the young Argentine showed no nerves and slotted home his 14th El Clasico goal putting him level with Cesar as the Barca top scorer in El Clasico games and just one behind Vikingo legend Raul.

Xavi also wrote himself into the history books after making it 3-1 with some slick passing from Iniesta and a perfect shot. He equalled Los Azulgranas legend Hristo Stoichkov’s record of scoring in four different Supercopa finals. He adds that to the other records he has set, the youngest goal scorer in a Supercopa that he achieved in 1998 and also having the most victories in Supercopa ties with eight.

Real Madrid were not out though. Just as Barca looked set to make it four, Casillas pulled off a fantastic save. Los Blancos went on the attack but Barca won back the ball. A back pass to Victor Valdes, something that we saw in the first Clasico of last season’s La Liga, was poorly controlled by the keeper and Angel Di Maria ran in, stole the ball and shot into an empty net. It was a howler from Valdes and it prompted ex Merengue Guti to go onto to twitter and tweet ‘Thank you Valdes.’

The aftermath has seen both the Catalan and Madrid Press leading with why each team can be deemed to be in the driving seat. Mundo Deportivo and Sport are hailing a fantastic Barca performance with MD claiming it was a victory but with a gift to Real Madrid, but both are saying that all need to stand behind Valdes.

Marca are leading with the Valdes howler, the offside goal and that Real Madrid are still in the tie, while AS lead with the headline that Victor Valdes has left the tie open and that could mean a higher than expected sale in tickets for the return leg. All in all, nobody will deny that it is nice to finally return to El Clasico ties where the talking points are of football.