Flagging Barcelona stunned by Real Madrid

Posted by Francesc Tomas

Barcelona endured a painful 3-1 loss to Real Madrid at the Camp Nou Tuesday in the return leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals. Jordi Alba scored for the Blaugrana, who enjoyed 62 percent of possession and attempted 11 shots, three on target.

-- Ronaldo's brace eliminates Barca in Copa

Based on his recent performance against Sevilla, most Cules were expecting on-form David Villa to start . His ability to pull markers back by running behind their backs proved decisive in the weekend and allowed Lionel Messi more space to develop his usual game. Unfortunately, El Guaje had to wait for his chance on the bench.

As a result, Barcelona looked in desperate need of a sharper attacking presence during the first half, when Messi was mostly isolated and surrounded by up to five defenders whenever he managed to set foot in the Real Madrid area. That the Blaugrana were unable to add that extra, decisive gear to speed to their pass-and-move game didn't help, either.

Despite their impressive start to the season, Barcelona is beginning to show worrying signs at a crucial stage. I believe the team has been missing their inspirational leader and mentor Tito Vilanova for a while, but the fact that these difficulties have reached the surface makes them more visible.

The Blaugrana could certainly use Tito's ability to motivate the squad before matches and make an impact on-the-go by introducing the right players and slight tactical changes as the games develop.

I was not impressed by Jordi Roura's decision to complain about referee Undiano Mallenco before the match even kicked off either. However negative Barcelona's stats may have been whenever Mallenco officiated their games, a team of the Catalans' calibre should be above such pitiful comments and fully focused on winning on the pitch.

Sure, Real Madrid played a physical game and Mallenco could have been a bit more strict about booking players. But that was not the difference. Real Madrid were more thorough, incisive and effective in their attacking third. Predictability and a degree of complacency became Barcelona's greatest enemy.

Despite being stunned by the disappointing result (only natural considering the hosts hadn't lost at the Camp Nou since April 2012) most fans continued to chant the Blaugrana anthem until the final whistle.

As for those Cules who left before the game was over and the Merengues who decided to throw a flare at Barcelona supporters: true fans must know how to win and lose, however big the rivalry may be.

A truly painful result for Barcelona, but the team should waste no time regretting they won't be in the Copa final, but focus on regaining their previous sharpness to maintain the La Liga lead and overturn the deficit to AC Milan in the Champions League in the home leg.

Player Ratings (0-10; 10=best)

Jose Manuel Pinto (5) – Beaten three times, but couldn't do much to save any goal. In fact, he saved a couple of dangerous shots which would have made the result even more difficult to come to terms with.

Dani Alves (5) – Found it difficult to have his usual attacking influence, as did the rest of the team. His well-timed challenge on Ronaldo during the first half was impressive, though.

Carles Puyol (4) – Will be frustrated after a poor performance. Painfully beaten by the speed of Angel di Maria on the second Madrid goal.

Gerard Pique (3) – His clumsy challenge on Cristiano Ronaldo virtually gifted Madrid their crucial first goal; should have definitely stayed on his feet and held position. Tried to make amends afterwards, but the damage was already done.

Jordi Alba (5) – Joined attack continuously from the left, but his positive contribution also meant his man was left unmarked behind him far too often. Scored the only Blaugrana goal with a courageous effort in the dying moments.

Sergio Busquets (4) – Unable to impose his presence in midfield or make a significant difference in Barcelona's attacking game.

Xavi Hernandez (4) – His passing was simply not quick and precise enough to unbalance the game in the Catalans' favour.

Cesc Fabregas (3) – A frustratingly quiet display. Unable to break the Madrid back-line, didn't rotate positions as usual, didn't connect with Messi at any point.

Lionel Messi (4) – Largely unnoticed, perhaps as a result of the generally slow pace the Blaugrana midfielders inflicted in their attacking game. Seemed to lack the necessary physical and mental freshness.

Pedro Rodriguez (4) – Eager to make things happen from wide positions, but got excessively frustrated by claiming fouls rather than simply getting on with play whenever challenged. Should have kept his focus.

Andres Iniesta (6) – Man of the Match - Mostly able to beat his markers with skilful slaloms from deep but failed to find many gaps in the Madrid back line, as did most of his teammates. Assisted Alba for his late goal.

Substitutes: David Villa (5), Cristian Tello (5), Thiago (5)

Have your say

What did you think of Barcelona's performance vs. Real Madrid?

Who was your Man of the Match? What are your player ratings?

I welcome and appreciate all respectful feedback.

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