Saturday, April 30, 2011

Mourinho vs. Pep -- Round One

photo by Claudio Gennari via PhotoRee

Correspondent Scott checks in with a remarkably neutral view-- for an avowed Royalist -- of Round One of "El Crapico":

Santiago Bernabeu Stadium – April 27, 2011
Real Madrid 0 – 2 Barcelona

The pre-game, profanity-laced verbal fisticuffs in the press room set the stage for Guardiola to add a little more pep than usual to his motivation speech, and for the media to read more than usual into Jose Mourinho’s black-on-grey sartorial ensemble.  Although recent results have trended toward Real Madrid, Barcelona had Pique’s Shakira shaking for them, not to mention a league-dominating, hyper-passing, goal-scoring machine.  So the Lord Voldemort-like Mourinho (I really wish I had come up with that myself) would attempt to work his magic against the nearly-Griffindor-hued Catalans for European bragging rights.

From the game's start, Madrid continued their aggressive, pressing style from the previous match, with similar success as it was not until the 5th minute that Barcelona managed to play a little keep-away, short-lived as it was.  The Blaugrana did start to click around the 10th minute when David Villa ripped one just wide of the upright.  Then, in the 15th minute, Barca showcased some brilliant passing in tight quarters which foreshadowed their first real shot on goal, in the 24th minute, when Xavi was put through only to see his effort parried by Iker Casillas.

Curiously, precious few fouls were called early on in the conservative but hotly-contested match, until Pepe’s apparently electrified hand touched Dani Alves in the 29th minute, producing the game’s first yellow card.  Then, in the 38th minute, la familia Espanola erupted in a squabble over elbows and ever-increasing theatrics.  Depending on your loyalties, either Pedro ran straight into a retreating Arbeloa who didn’t shy away, or Arbeloa stepped into Pedro’s path and Pedro just made sure the ref saw – which suspicion was confirmed by a yellow for the Real defender.

That skirmish set the stage for the 44th minute inter-team conference that followed Dani Alves’ yellow card and which was perhaps to balance Arbeloa’s previous card.  That was immediately followed by Sergio massaging the shame from his face more than the non-existent sting from Marcelo’s phantom slap.

Shortly before the interval, Cristiano Ronaldo did nothing but encourage rumors regarding his sexuality as his balls seemed, for the second time, to be magnetically attracted to the two sweaty, erect defenders in the wall for his free kick.  Fortunately, the pre-halftime melee that saw Barcelona’s backup keeper get a red card distracted us from pondering the issue further.

Tied with respect to score and shots on goal, and with even more fouls committed by Barcelona than Real Madrid, the pressure seemed to be working for Mourinho’s Madridistas, despite Chris Sullivan’s disparaging half-time comments. Aggressive chasing up front, and disciplined, synchronized defense was keeping Messi and his cohorts at bay, even if Sergio Ramos’ yellow card will relegate him to the bench for the next game.

Although he did not receive a yellow card for his histrionics in the 59th minute, TMZ is reporting that Pedro will be presented with an honorary Screen Actors Guild card in recognition of his multiple performances on the field.    Apparently with the TMZ app on his phone, and not wanting to be upstaged in terms of card distribution, the referee seemed to bow down to a Barcelona mob of players when he showed Pepe a straight red for a borderline-yellow card offense in the 60th minute.  Mourinho’s understandable yet apparently unappreciated sarcasm landed him in a spectator’s seat, scribbling notes for his minions.

But still, the Special One’s critics could only gnash their teeth until, in the 77th minute, Afellay, coming on as a substitute, flexed his fresh legs in a burst of speed past the previously indomitable Marcelo, and whipped a cross to Messi at the near post who plunged a dagger into the heart of he-who-must-sit-in-the-stands.  On their heels, but still feeling they might overcome this score line next week, the Madridistas trudged through the next 10 minutes before Messi(ah) miraculously delivered the final blow  in a lightening bolt of celestial brilliance, parting the Madrid Sea of defense with the ball suctioned to his feet before calmly rolling his shot into the net.

The cacophony of critics will only grow louder now that Mourinho’s team faces a surely-insurmountable feat next week at the Camp Nou.  Will Ronaldo remain as silent then as he did this time?  Will tactics be changed to chase needed goals?  Will Messi write another gospel by feeding the frenzy of the tens of thousands of Catalan faithful in attendance with two more goals?  Only He knows for sure.

This is farlieonfootie for April 30.

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