¡Gracias, Valdes! Guti summed up the madridismo mood with those two words on Twitter after the Barcelona goalkeeper gifted a lifeline to Real in the Spanish Supercopa on Thursday night.
It was an identical result to last year’s Supercopa clash at Camp Nou, but with one key difference – this time the second leg in Madrid is still to come. In 2011-12, Jose Mourinho’s men impressed in the first match but had to settle for a 2-2 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu. Their whole summer had been geared towards beating Barca – and they couldn’t do it.
Impotence brought frustration ahead of the second match and, when Madrid lost it, Mourinho lost it, too. His eye-poking of Barca’s then assistant Tito Vilanova brought shame, the defeat brought suffering. Bad blood, bad Press, bad news.
In his second season, he said, things would be different. But come January, he had lost another Clasico in La Liga and seen his side edged out over two legs in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey. In the first game in Madrid, they were outclassed. The signs still weren’t good.
But something changed in the second match. Having been jeered by his own fans at the Bernabeu, Mourinho took a more positive approach in the return leg and his side earned a creditable 2-2 draw at Camp Nou. They also earned praise, although Pep Guardiola remembered: “They played well, but we are the ones who go through.”
Nevertheless, the belief that they could compete at Camp Nou represented something of a watershed moment for Mourinho’s men. They no longer feared Barca, nor their famous old stadium – and that showed as they sealed a crucial 2-1 victory in Les Corts en route to La Liga in April.
This season, then, has seen something of a role reversal. With Pep Guardiola no longer around, Madrid begin as favourites to retain La Liga while Barcelona started as something of an unknown quantity under Vilanova.
Tito’s team began the season with an impressive 5-1 win over Real Sociedad at Camp Nou and followed up by beating Madrid last night, albeit by a less comfortable scoreline than they should have after Valdes’ feet fumbled a routine return from Adriano and allowed Angel Di Maria to slide home a second.
Valdes is fortunate that, usually, his mistakes merely matter – Barca usually score sufficiently to brush over such blemishes. This error, however, has not only given Madrid the chance to win the Supercopa. It has also handed them the initiative after what looked like being a continuation of their slow start to the season.
Mourinho’s men stumbled out of the blocks last weekend as they failed to beat a stubborn Valencia side at the Bernabeu and late on Thursday, 4-1 looked likelier than 3-2. It was a lucky escape, a Real respite, a get-out-of-jail-free card, a generous gift – so no wonder they are thanking Valdes.
Instead of approaching Sunday’s tricky trip to neighbouring Getafe filled with disappointment and doubt, Madrid will now travel to their cross-city rivals in buoyant mood. A third successive winless game now seems unlikely.
Barcelona, meanwhile, play away from home for the first time under Vilanova and it is perhaps now when we will witness exactly what Tito’s team are made of – it was on the road where Guardiola’s side fell down in La Liga last term, dropping 18 points away from Camp Nou in 2011-12.
One of their two away defeats came at Osasuna in a 3-2 loss back in February, and the Catalans return to the Reyno de Navarra on Sunday with thoughts of redemption. Valdes, too, will be keen to put the events of Thursday night behind him in what is arguably an even greater test than the Clasico against Madrid. It is worth remembering that in 2010-11, Mourinho's men never recovered after losing in La Liga to Osasuna in January. Likewise Barca last year.
Elsewhere, Atletico Madrid and Athletic convene at the Calderon in a repeat of last season’s Europa League final, with the Basques looking to put their recent troubles behind them. Valencia host Deportivo La Coruna in a game which harks back to a different era, not so long ago, when others teams could challenge for La Liga. These two were the last to upset the Madrid/Barca duopoly – Depor won the title in 2000 and Valencia in 2002 and 2004. Happy days.