Real begin to see a triumph emerging from what looked like a disaster
Real Madrid 2 Barcelona 1:The Real Madrid assistant coach, Aitor Karanka, summed it up: “People said that our season could end, that it could all be a disaster, but now . . .”
Now? Now a state of euphoria has broken out, the front page of the country’s best-selling newspaper screaming “White ecstasy”.
Eight decisive days were set to define Madrid’s season; five days into that run and it could hardly look better. Two hurdles have been overcome with victories against Barcelona and confidence has grown that Madrid can now clear the third and most difficult of all – Manchester United at Old Trafford.
These five days have changed everything. The potential for redemption was always there: Madrid were on a tightrope but the reward for making it across is great, and the imminent threat came laced with promise.
Now Madrid are buoyant and Jose Mourinho, under pressure, has emerged a winner: the coach who has been whistled by his own fans, who even called them out before one match, was lauded last weekend. Far from sounding their death knell, Barcelona have signalled Madrid’s resurrection.
Madrid have beaten them twice, knocking them out of the Copa del Rey to reach the final and, on Saturday afternoon, defeating them in the league. Three-one at Camp Nou followed by 2-1 at the Bernabeu, the first time they have defeated Barca twice in a row for almost six years. It is not just that they defeated the Catalan club, but that they did so with a certain degree of comfort, Barcelona managing just two shots on target.
As for Lionel Messi, he only had one on target in the two matches – his goal on Saturday. Cristiano Ronaldo fired off more in just over half an hour after coming on as a substitute than Barcelona did in the entire game, including a free-kick that came back off the bar.
The telling statistic there is not just the six shots Ronaldo had, but the 33 minutes he played. Madrid started this latest clasico without seven possible starters against United: Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Arbeloa, Sami Khedira, Gonzalo Higuain, Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria.
They also started with the 19-year-old Raphael Varane at centre-back. Over the last five days, the Frenchman has definitively proved that he is more than ready, and his emergence broadens Mourinho’s options.
Real ended the game with no injuries beyond Iker Casillas’s long-broken finger, with confidence reinforced and divisions, for now, overcome. They also ended it with another display of Ronaldo’s astonishing form: his introduction changed the game, his impact immediate.
If it was a risk, it paid off. As preparation goes it was perfect, even if United will be a different proposition, tactically, physically and emotionally.
“Beating Barcelona gives you a great boost,” said Alvaro Morata, the 20-year-old striker who started his first clasico and created the opening goal for Karim Benzema. “Tuesday will be a battle that we have to win, come what may.”