Por fin! Una victoria contra Barcelona en La Liga!

In the lead up to this installment of El Clasico, both Real Madrid and Barcelona were coming off losses in their Champions League semifinals ties versus Bayern Munich and Chelsea, respectively. Given that said context, this particular Clasico had tempered the morbo that exists between these two clubs—after all, the fixture list was anything but challenging.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was expecting a draw (or at least be thankful if we could manage a draw). After all, a quick look at the head-to-head statistics reveal that in La Liga, the last time that Real Madrid won over Barcelona was back in May 2008. Seven Clasicos in La Liga since then have materialized, with Real Madrid managing to draw only in one and losing the rest (including those terrible 5-0 and 6-2 matches—que horror!).

That said, this was a different Real Madrid team that showed up at Camp Nou—one that spelled of quite confidence and nothing-to-lose attitudes. This was not the team that had to rely on excessive fouling (although the playacting is still there). However, the defense was largely solid (save for the scuffle in front of the goal that led to Alexis’ lone goal for Barcelona—whose shot Iker has earlier saved), and I’m just all too glad that Fabio Coentrao contained Dani Effin’ Alves and my Sergio Ramos did a terrific job of covering Leo Messi.

One could counter that Barcelona had been running ragged, especially when Sami Khedira beat both Victor Valdes and Carles Puyol to score Real Madrid’s first goal.

While Barcelona continued to dominate possession, Real Madrid was more purposeful in the times that it had the ball. Credit should also go to Mesut Özil, who set up Cristiano Ronaldo nicely for Real Madrid’s second goal—which was just a sheer beauty to watch.

More importantly, this gives Real Madrid a seven-point cushion over Barcelona, with still a few matches to play. High time the Catalans got their wings clipped.

And, a treat for the ladies:


A Word on the Ida of El Clasico (Copa del Rey).

Sometimes, I really wonder why I subject myself to self-induced heart attacks, of the Real Madrid-Barcelona kind.

The first half from Real Madrid was rather decent—a clean sheet plus a goal from Cristiano at the 11th minute wasn’t too shabby. While Barcelona, as usual, dominated the possession, there were two things in the first half that worked for Real Madrid’s favor. First, this was not the sharpest of Barcelona teams that had played, with the passing not quite at its usual dangerous accuracy. Second, credit must be given to the team effort in defending the goal in the first half—while the action was pretty much in front of Iker Casillas, the shots on goal by the Catalans were below the usual heart attack-inducing numbers I’ve grown used to.

Sure, it was an interesting line-up that we had, with Hamit Altintop at right back (he managed to contain Andres Iniesta, at least), Ricardo Carvalho fresh off injury at center back together with Sergio Ramos, and Fabio Coentrao at left back. Pepe was pushed up as a defensive midfielder, operating with Lass and Xabi Alonso. Higuain started with Benzema and Cristiano up front, but was not much of a factor.

Sometimes, I just want to believe we’re not over the psychological hump. Barcelona’s first goal was off a stellar Puyol header (how many times have we seen this—Xavi taking a corner kick and Puyol left unmarked to coldly dispose the ball onto the goal?), and whatever psychological advantage Real Madrid had was gone. The second goal courtesy of Abidal was not much better, as he has been allowed to be on an onside position.

Surely, we missed some firepower in the offense and a sense of solidity in defense, for various reasons. (And Pepe, good grief, don’t go Hulk-ing on the pitch without valid reasons!) As for the psychological hump, the recent story arc for El Clasicos has been that Real Madrid starts out well, scoring an early goal, then Barcelona equalizes and goes on to win, because they erased whatever mental advantage Real Madrid had.

Honestly, I don’t feel good about the vuelta in Camp Nou, but there’s always a part of me that hopes Sergio Ramos dropping the Copa del Rey atop a bus would be sure damn repeated.

Who said weekends were for rest?

Who said weekends were for rest? Not if you’re a football player and a football supporter. I managed to catch three games this weekend (well, it doesn’t even feel like Sunday has already started), so let’s start breaking them down.

Loyola Meralco Sparks – Philippine Air Force
It’s the UFL Cup Finals, and I hauled my ass to Rizal Memorial Stadium to see it live. If the action in the quarterfinals and semifinals were an indication, the final match between these two teams proved to be high on entertainment value.

Ian Araneta scored a goal toward the tail end of the first half to give Air Force the lead 1-0, and boy, there were fireworks already at the Stadium (someone’s upped the production value, I suppose?). One thing to note about the Air Force team—their defense was solid. Goalkeeper Tats Mercado played a stellar game and had solid support from his teammates to deny the Sparks (still can’t get over the girliness of the team name—but it’s so appropriate for Phil Younghusband) a goal.

The second half saw early on a corner awarded to the Sparks—and what could have been the equalizing goal had it not been disallowed. Mark Hartmann was asked to retake the corner kick, and the moment his boot hit the ball, there are two realization (albeit the latter in hindsight): 1) the Sparks were not going to get this one in; and 2) from this moment on, the game was Air Force’s to win. To give credit to the Sparks, they probably had more chances on goal in the second half, but were denied for various reasons, including: Tats Mercado’s hands; the help defense of Air Force; and the crossbar.

And then you got the Air Force captain, bending it in like Bersales to seal the match in favor of the Air Force 2-0. There’s only one Yanti Bersales in Philippine football. And from then on, you can see defeat in the Sparks’ body language.

To see the semi-professional local league culminate the year with this much festivities is quite extraordinary (but I reckon a separate entry is needed for that).

As for me, I crossed the pitch in a state of semi-darkness—stadium lights mostly shut off (because the Meralco team lost, haha), a damp pitch (it was raining early on), and underneath some awesome fireworks.

I thought to myself, this would have been perfect if someone like Xabi Alonso were next to me. (Yeah, I can dream.)

Liverpool – Queens Park Rangers
Let me point out the outrage. ESPN/Star listed Liverpool-QPR on its programme schedules, only to air Manchester United-Wolverhampton Wanderers on TV. Two words: high treason.

In any case, the highlight of the match was Luis Suarez, who made the breakthrough against QPR goalkeeper Radek Cerny early in the second half. Despite the charges files against him before the FA, Suarez continues to put on superb performances for the Red Men. (And really, he can only be more explosive.) This man has the potential to be a Liverpool legend—we can only hope he won’t be lured by the big money anywhere else.

Here’s a video reel of the highlight from Empire of the Kop—essentially, Luis Suarez.

Real Madrid – Barcelona
Ah, El Clasico. Nobody escapes without experiencing a couple of heart attacks. Real Madrid were heavily favored coming into this game—a ten-match winning streak and top of the tables in La Liga, which was stamped by the earlier goal in El Clasico history: a Karim Benzema goal 23 seconds into a match.

The Men in White pressed for the first third of the match, until Marcelo deflected Xavi’s attempt to turn it 1-1 before the halftime. Interestingly enough, we’ve got a couple of monkey wrenches on Real Madrid’s starting XI: Lassana Diarra starting and Fabio Coentrao playing right back.

Credit Barcelona for making tactical changes, which Real Madrid were not quite able to adapt to. Cesc Fabregas dropped back from being the front line of attack, while Alexis (who now holds the Drama Queen title in this Barcelona squad) is not just attacking from the left, but making runs on both sides. Sergio Busquets dropped to the back four, while Dani Alves (barf) is given a more attacking role. And where did that leave Messi? Let’s just say nobody wearing white was able to contain him to tonight—I miss Ricardo Carvalho.

Sure, Karim Benzema scored the opening goal, but there was little impact from the rest of Real Madrid’s attackers. Di Maria obviously was working hard, but could not finish, Ozil—well, I thought he eventually faded, and as for Cristiano, he was invisible tonight. There was hardly an attack on the left wing in the first half—and his second half performance is pretty much reminiscent to what I feel and see when Phil Younghusband is playing for the Philippine National Team. Frustrating all around.

Even more frustrating? Real Madrid’s defense. Of the back four, I’d rate Fabio Coentrao’s performance the highest, despite being played out-of-position. Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, and Pepe—que pasa??? Kaka came on for Ozil (and had a good few touches), Sami Khedira came on for Lass, and Pipita came on for Di Maria (still think he should have come on for Cristiano instead). Uninspiring substitutions—and I feel especially bad for Pipita, who should have a happier birthday. Barcelona had two unanswered goals in the second half, making the final scoreline 3-1.

That said, there should be a long post-mortem between Mourinho and his cold-blooded enforcers. On the bright side, the outcome of this match doesn’t decide La Liga. As for me, all I want is togive Xabi Alonso a tight hug after the match—he looked so defeated. And Iker—oh boy, oh boy, I wouldn’t want to face his wrath.

But wait, Kaka was a bit of an inspiration tonight:

En los buenas y malas, Hala Madrid!

ETA: You all know that Don Andres Iniesta is quite the legend, right? Well, here’s one more feather to add to his cap. (Sure gives Beckham a run for his money over the Golden Balls title. Haha.)