A large and expectant audience the world over last night tuned in to watch part 3 of this series of 4 Clasicos between Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, and being honest, most were severely disappointed. Perhaps if the game had not been subject to such intense hype and build-up, one might have described it as a ‘full-blooded encounter’ but whilst this would cut it as a description for a lower league match in England, where commitment and passion can help address a lack of quality, this was simply no the case here.
In a game of crunching tackles and high tension, it was the reaction of the Barcelona players which also riled viewers, with the theatrics of simulations performed by Pedro, Busquets and Alves in particularly disappointing displays. Whilst there will always be critics of the antifutbol of Real Madrid or indeed any team, it’s important to note that this was identified as a way of success and served very well for Mourinho’s Inter last year.
What Barcelona brought to the table, aside from a lot of sideways passing, was clearly an attempt to counter this more rugged approach by accentuating the slightest touch. The aforementioned Blaugrana players were the most guilty of exaggerating or in some cases inventing episodes of contact but were by no means the most fouled players on the park. Unsurprisingly, this was Lionel Messi, but the diminuitive genius from Rosario was set apart from his team-mates by his reaction to the crazed goings-on on the Bernabeu turf.
As best player in the world, it is only natural to attract unwanted attention on the pitch, and this usually translates to a good old-fashioned kicking. Last night was no different, but the way that the Argentine repeatedly picked himself up and carried on was truly exemplary. As David Villa and Sergio Busquets rounded on the referee to forthrightly state their opinion once more, despite the odd bewildered look as he was once more felled by a flailing Real leg, Messi stayed calm and collected in confidence that his ability may show as the game wore on.
The first goal was marvellous work from substitute Afellay down the right but sheer lightning pace from Messi got him across Ramos at the front post and his finish went perfectly between the legs of Casillas. The second was individual brilliance. With barely credible speed, he drifted past four defenders who without doubt would have loved to have fouled him again, if only they could have got near him.
The key to his talent is not just speed though, many players are quick but his poise and balance are unrivalled, the way he changes direction at high velocity just allows him to change direction in a way that hasn’t been seen since (dare one say it?) Maradona. Whilst a tired cliché, seeing a short player change direction in a fraction of a second like an alpine skier, slaloming through a world class defence with a serenity verging on nonchalance.
Many have pompously declared Barcelona’s victory as one for football, but in a night when they we saw the best and worst of this Barca side, Messi’s attitude meant that even at 5ft 7, he stood head and shoulders above everyone else.