Barcelona reached their third Champions League final in five years on Tuesday evening as a draw on the night was enough to see them through at the expense of Real Madrid, the decisive goal coming from Pedro. The second-leg saw more football than the highly controversial first due to the critical nature of any second-leg tie but there were elements of the fiery first-leg on show – the theatrics remaining and the confirmation that Lionel Messi is a magnificent footballer.
Madrid had tried to contain Messi through the defensive qualities of Lassana Diarra, who was ideally meant to nullify the wizardry of the Argentinean, break up play and try to launch Madrid’s own attacks. It was in fact the opposite that happened. Messi nullified the role of Diarra, running straight past him, evading his attempts to tackle or foul and at times using his lightweight physique to tackle Diarra himself. Inevitably, the superiority of the world’s best player against Diarra led to the Frenchman committing eight fouls over the course of the game, a significant indication that Jose Mourinho was not going to bow to public outrage from the first-leg and let Messi completely destroy his side.
As expected, Mourinho did fulfil the wishes of Cristiano Ronaldo from the first-leg and provide his star with more attacking aid in the form of Kaka and Gonzalo Higuain, with Higuain at the forefront of the three. He did manage to put the ball in the net, only for the goal to be harshly ruled out for a foul by Ronaldo in the build-up, a decision which no doubt left Mourinho furious. Yet that was as close as his front trio got to an impact on this game. It was a front three that had barely played with each other this season and it told. The threat quashed even by a makeshift Barcelona defence – Victor Valdes did not make a single save. Emmanuel Adebyaor’s introduction in the second-half in place of Higuain did little to help. Frustrated by the lack of service for him, the former Arsenal striker was like a bull in a china shop, seemingly by the end more intent on destroying the play of Barcelona than aiding his own side.
While the first-leg damaged football’s reputation on and off the field, Barcelona’s performance on Tuesday was a reminder why the fixture is regarded as El Clasico. They were able to shake off the shackles of Madrid, who committed 30 fouls on Barcelona players. Andres Iniesta’s assist for Pedro was sublime, a poignant reminder to Mourinho that allowing one’s creative stars to be fluid and express their creativity can bring triumph. The famous Iniesta-Xavi Hernandez partnership once again enjoyed success, their eyes for a pass leaving them one step ahead of the game and setting Messi up to flourish. Barcelona now take their beautiful game to the home of football.