Monday, 18 April 2011

What's Real Madrid all about, Alfie?


The football Barcelona played at the Bernabéu was just brilliant. Their superiority was patent and on view for all the world to see. They've got something that Real Madrid don't have. The whites were hemmed in by opposition that dominated the midfield throughout the whole match. Barcelona played football and danced; Real Madrid just ran up and down, tiring themselves out.

Only if Xavi, Iniesta or Busquets lost the ball did Real Madrid ever try to put together an attack, but of course it was with a punt upfield in the hope that something might come of it. And whenever those three wanted, they could put the sheep to sleep passing the ball to one another with complete mastery, short and straight to the feet — perfectly executed, tight passes that were safe and sure for whoever was on the receiving end.

It was as if they wanted to take the ball home with them, because it was all theirs. Their mission was to feed the Barcelona strikers — and how well fed they were! — because they are so crushingly effective and the ease with which they create danger is permanent.

"Besides maintaining a very quick pace without once letting it up, the Barcelona players fought like true gladiators. They worked very hard indeed off the ball and never stopped moving.

"There was no negotiation, no refusal to paint their work of art on that green canvas, whatever the final scoreline might say, because they even played pretty football, always well placed. Their positioning in the team is a key factor. All their players show that a level of tactical thinking that is unmatched, with a highly developed sense of interchanging their roles.

The defensive effort was all Real Madrid’s, like the lion against the mouse. They were unable to neutralise their opponents with effective pressing in midfield, which is what they needed to do, although stopping Barça from making you so dizzy you end up reeling is much easier said than done. For the spectator, their well-put-together attacks in combination were a wonderful thing to see.

For as long as Di Maria had the strength to break through on the few occasions he had the ball, he was Madrid’s best player (along with “Saint Iker” Casillas, who deserves to be canonised right now).

Messi is the best in the world. Not only is his football spectacular, as an example of professionalism he also knows no rival. He shone on Saturday and it will be wonderful to watch him again in Wednesday’s Cup Final.

Barcelona’s success comes from their attacking approach, wisely applied to mature and become consolidated in time for the three more Clásicos that are upcoming. Attacking means you have to control time as well as your nerves.

Given all this, it’s obvious that Barcelona are better than Real Madrid, and that trying to build up attacking moves based on counter-attacks is not the most appropriate way to try to catch them by surprise. Their technical and tactical quality is such that they always occupy the pitch in a rational, well-balanced way, leaving no free spaces to be filled and taken advantage of.

Pep Guardiola's team always had their hands firmly on the reins of the match. With this result they’re now another step closer to their third consecutive Liga title, and the truth is that they deserve it, because they've done their homework properly. They’ve never stopped being themselves and it’s plain for anyone to see that they enjoy themselves and have fun when they play.

Another thing that needs saying is that Real Madrid aren’t making their fans feel as happy as they deserve to be, because the fans’ support for the team has been unconditional. Real Madrid showed more heart than order, and in the end their ambitions were frustrated.

Things I liked

I like and admire the huge dominance of Barcelona’s play. It’s football to be watched not with your eyes but with your soul. They treat the ball with respect, with adoration, almost pampering it. Watching this team in action is a delight for us all.

Things I didn’t like

Real Madrid was a team with no personality. This match should set the guidelines for how the next one needs to be faced, because the approach of trying to play against Barcelona with counterattacks is clearly not the way to go.

- Alfredo Di Stefano (Marca, 18 April 2010)