Real Madrid demonstrate their unique winning mentality as Barcelona crumble against Cadiz

And they did it again. Four days after eliminating Chelsea to reach the semifinals of the Champions League by scoring twice when they looked done, Real Madrid put together another impressive second half comeback against third-place Sevilla.

They were trailing 2-0 as a result of a sloppy first half display, but they drew level after the break and left everything ready for Karim Benzema to score the final dagger into Sevilla’s heart on the 92nd minute. It was the first home defeat for Lopetegui’s men this season, which speaks volumes about the dimension of Real Madrid’s win. Sevilla still are the best defence of the tournament, with 25 goals in 32 matches, but looked weak and hesitant to hold onto their lead in front of a rival who had played 120 minutes on Tuesday. 

It is indeed hard to explain how this squad keeps pulling out miraculous comebacks like this – they were also 2-0 down on aggregate vs PSG when they decided to demolish Pochettino’s team with 25 ruthless minutes. Regardless of the line-up, they can look either amateur or elite during the same match with no rhyme or reason, which is frustrating for most of their fans and their coach. And when they look their worst, something suddenly triggers their collective mindset and they become a team no one would like to play against under any circumstance. 

Yes, they have had a handful of inspired moments this season, and yet their second half in Sevilla probably tops all of them. With Toni Kroos playing like a mixture of defensive midfielder and traffic agent, Rodrygo and Vinicius drove Sevilla’s back four nuts, and the Madridistas even enjoyed the unexpected news of Daniel Carvajal and Marco Asensio returning to decent displays.

Keeping in mind Ancelotti’s limited rotation policy, it was easy to expect some kind of physical breakdown at this point of the season, but fitness coach Antonio Pintus has found a way to get the 14/15 players who accumulate 90% of the minutes in top form for the worst part of the season. This La Liga title looks all but decided in favour of Real Madrid, now it’s just a question of when it becomes mathematically theirs.

Of course, the match brought its fair share of controversy. When the ref is as technically limited as Mr Cuadra Fernandez it’s hard to avoid that. In one of his worst performances to date, he managed to irritate everyone, and all of them had perfect reasons to complain. Sevilla can point out at a second yellow that Eduardo Camavinga should have seen after a late challenge with 2-0 up, while Real Madrid were rightfully stunned by the way the ref applied – or not – the handball rule. His five minutes watching the replay of Vinicius goal to decide, against all wise observation, that it was indeed a handball made for extremely bizarre prime time watching on TV.

Would you like more controversy? Well, Atletico defeated Espanyol on the 99th minute for the second time this season, in this case with a penalty awarded in such a way that it seemed like Atleti’s Hermoso was the ref’s assistant, and not one of the interested parties in the outcome of the decision. Simeone’s men managed to come back after their Champions League elimination, no small feat, and now they’ll fight for the second spot against Barcelona and Sevilla. Small consolation, you may think, but the runners’ up of LaLiga will make Gerard Pique’s Supercup in Saudi Arabia, and that can earn them some extra cash. 

If you’re wondering why the Supercup is Gerard Pique’s, you must have been hiding in a media-free environment for most of Monday. The news of the day is the leak of Whatsapp audios between the president of the Spanish FA, Luis Rubiales, and the Barcelona veteran.

The duo, speaking to each other in an extremely tender manner (“Geri” and “Rubi”, they call each other), discuss how to get the most money out of the Saudis – and split the profit, of course – and how to convince / fool Real Madrid into playing the tournament out of Spain. As it’s well known, at this point “Geri” has three hats: he plays for Barcelona, owns Andorra FC and is the CEO of Kosmos, a company that organizes mega events such as the Copa Davis finals – sponsored by Tebas’ LaLiga – or brokerages sponsorship deals such as Rakuten’s with Barcelona. 

I am indeed aware of the fact that in Latin countries the term “conflict of interests” is usually taken in a very light way, but even if that is the case, it makes no sense that one of the most veteran Barcelona players – often tipped as the next president – can own a club that could play against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey, or worse, can close hefty deals with the Spanish FA, the same Spanish FA who organizes most tournaments and picks the referees for all competitions.

In one of the most excruciating moments of the audios, “Rubi” mentions how Atleti have no chance of winning LaLiga (referring to the 2019 season), bids farewell wishing “Geri” luck and says: “I’m here for anything you need. Well, except for some things for which I’d rather you don’t need anything from me”. Understandably, Atleticos are in full rage and have examined the matches that took place right after this conversation. Surprisingly or not, in one of them Diego Costa was sent off at the Camp Nou.

Pique will give plenty of explanations on one sense or another, but it’s clear that he should never be in that position in the first place. If he wants to have a business career, do so in a way that it does not interfere with football. And if he does not think that his business career can take off away from football, wait until you retire and break your links with the club.

And regarding “Rubi”, he should have resigned by now, but I’m not sure we’ll see that happening anytime soon. And if he stays, the competition is tainted after this, which is both frustrating and depressing.

In such state, acute depression, Barcelona played and lost against Cadiz on Monday. The hit taken in the Europa League “away” match against Eintracht was quite visible for everyone to see. Fans were outraged and players looked terrified, as though most of the Xavi effect had vanished with that defeat.

The fact that they played at the Camp Nou did not help either. It’s a complex moment of the season, with Xavi having to make some personnel decisions and too many upsets despite that successful stretch in Feb and March. Time to get their act together, as they visit Real Sociedad in three days’ time and another defeat would put them in a very delicate position in terms of that second spot and its subsequent ticket to Saudi Arabia.

Of course, the win is huge for Cadiz, who looked relegated when Alvaro Cervera left and who, under Sergio, have done enough to at least fight until the very end.

Depressions aside, there were plenty more interesting matches on the weekend. Athletic said goodbye to their slim hopes of Europa Leaguing next season after Celta defeated them at San Mames. These are two clubs which could have done much better this season, but will finish in mid table and thus irrelevancy, although Iago Aspas keeps cementing his legacy as Celta’s best player ever. Levante and his captain Jose Luis Morales refuse to give up and won convincingly in Granada. They have spent most of the season in the bottom of the table and they’re now only four points away from salvation.

I expected Villarreal to faint after their impressive effort in Munich, but they won in Getafe – could have scored four in a ruthless first half – and left Athletic four points behind. I really don’t envy Liverpool, as everyone expects them to defeat the Amarillos, who will play carefree, aggressive and happy to be in the semis. Tougher than it may seem for Klopp and co… 

And finally, Real Sociedad and Betis had the chance to get closer to the top four, but their draw didn’t help either. A midweek matchday is already upon us, with three matches on Tuesday. Phil will have plenty of things to comment on, starting with the derby between Valencia and Villarreal, following with Real Madrid’s trip to Pamplona, but especially finishing with Barcelona’s visit to his beloved Real Sociedad. Stay tuned.

Tags Barcelona Cadiz La Liga Real Madrid Sevilla
La Liga - Club News