For a competition that is maligned by many, this year’s Copa del Rey final was probably the most important the tournament has seen for years. Both Coaches are in their first seasons at their respective clubs, but there’s no time for transition at Real Madrid or Barcelona.
With Barcelona dumped out of the Champions League and losing at Granada, leaving their La Liga title hopes looking slim, the Copa represented one of under pressure Tata Martino’s last chances.
A win for Madrid would have put the squad a step closer towards an historic treble. Defeat would have raised question marks over Carlo Ancelotti’s big-game credentials. The stage was set at Valencia’s Mestalla for another titanic battle between the sides, and so it proved.
Goals from Angel Di Maria and Gareth Bale sent the trophy to the capital and the defeat will almost certainly have repercussions at Camp Nou. Martino was already under scrutiny and perhaps a win could have saved him, but it’s becoming increasingly likely Barca will look elsewhere in the summer.
It’s been a season of discontent in Catalonia. Attendances have dropped and injuries have mounted, while off the pitch, transfer bans and the President’s resignation have dominated the agenda. Clearly, not all the problems have been of Martino’s making but rather than solve them, he’s added to them.
This is not what Barca have become used to. The team have fallen short of their high standards and the truism that you shouldn’t change a winning formula couldn’t be more appropriate.
A new Coach brings new ideas but trying to change one of the greatest sides in European football has been a mistake. The players appear devoid of passion and no longer hunt down the ball in what became the typical Barcelona style.
Their possession football remains but Barca lack a cutting edge in the final third. At times they look lost when trying to break down their opponents, and no longer grind down opponents until they break. The tactics don’t suit the players.
Getting the ball wide doesn’t play to Barca’s strengths and takes Lionel Messi out of the equation. Barca’s best assets are through the middle and the main man appears disinterested, seeing less and less of the ball.
Injuries have left the Barca defence as weak as it has ever been and they were tactically outwitted in the Copa final, torn apart with ease on the counter-attack.
It’s almost unacceptable to go a season without a trophy at Barca and the natives were already restless before this defeat. It’s likely to be a summer of change. But with the transfer ban in place, it could be a while before we see Barcelona at the pinnacle of European football again.