Barcelona’s extra time defeat in Wednesday’s Copa del Rey final could have more than a short-term effect on the club’s psychological mettle. Real Madrid claimed the first cup bragging rights in another destructive encounter in Valencia and the disappointment of losing was clearly visible on the faces of Barca’s players and fans.
Although Coach Pep Guardiola will never admit to it, the first seeds of doubt have well and truly been sown at a critical point of the campaign. Since their 5-0 humiliation earlier in the season Real have slowly turned the tables on the Catalans, culminating in Wednesday’s win. Last weekend’s meeting was not of great concern for Los Blancos. If they came through it unscathed they knew that they could inflict some serious damage on Barcelona in a one-off cup match.
Having the belief and confidence in ones own ability is crucial in football and Jose Mourinho’s men proved in the Mestalla that they could not only live with and nullify the attacking threat of La Blaugrana, but that they have the personnel and, more importantly, the right game plan to beat the champions. Guardiola’s summary of the game was pretty much spot on: Real had the better of the first-half while Barca bossed the second 45. In extra-time either side could have won the tie and the match-winning spark of brilliance came from the men in all white on this occasion.
However, it was most certainly Real’s tactical approach that proved to be Barcelona’s undoing. The Catalans arguably never turned up mentally for the first-half but their control of the ball and the chances they created warranted enough to have perhaps won the game, but for the resilience of the Real defensive unit. Worryingly for Guardiola and his coaches, they now know that their opposite number has devised the perfect way to play against the tiki-taka style that has been synonymous with Barcelona’s recent success. It worked last year with Inter in the Champions League and ‘the translator’ is now setting up his Real Madrid team in a similar style: Los Blancos sat deep and played on the counter, allowing their opponents to pass the ball in front of them before winning the ball back and using the pace and guile of Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel di Maria to cause havoc on the break.
The focus now shifts back to La Liga and the match against Osasuna on Saturday evening. It must have been a shock to the system for Barcelona fans to finally see their stranglehold over Real broken. They will now expect three points at the weekend and to see their side back on the proverbial horse, as they look to edge ever closer to the La Liga championship before resuming hostilities with Madrid the following Wednesday.