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Monday, November 29, 2010

Barca simply the best after Real rout

November 29, 2010
By Tom Adams

It was said that Monday night's game at Camp Nou - hyped like few other domestic league ties in the history of the game - would settle two raging debates: who are the best team in the world, and who is the best player in the world? If this solitary match could be said to be decisive in that regard, then the judgement was emphatic. It left no room whatsoever for argument.

Xavi and Lionel Messi were both instrumental in the destruction of Real
Xavi and Lionel Messi were both instrumental in the destruction of Real

Barcelona, conducted magisterially by Xavi and Andres Iniesta - the Lennon and McCartney of midfield double acts - and led on the frontline by the clinical talents of Lionel Messi and David Villa, ran riot against Real, inflicting a career-worst defeat on Jose Mourinho - the man recruited by Real this summer to break down Barca's domestic hegemony after he ended their European supremacy at Inter Milan.

And, while there was no goal from Messi, his first failure to score in 11 games for his club, the Barca star still produced a masterclass in incisive possession football, supplying two wonderful assists for both of Villa's second-half goals. As his erstwhile competitor for the title of the world's most best player, Cristiano Ronaldo, postured pointlessly, indulged in stepovers and became embroiled in a spat with Pep Guardiola, Messi, in his usual understated style, did what he does best: tear teams apart.

In fact, on this evidence, Ronaldo is not the best player on the globe. Nor is he the second or third. In Messi, Iniesta and Xavi, Barcelona possess three players who will be among the all-time greats when the history books are written. Watching them combine in such intuitive and mesmeric style is a treat.

But prior to kick-off, comparisons between the two sides were legitimate. Just one point separated leaders Real from Barca in the table prior to kick-off, and only three separated them at the end of last season when Real secured 96 points, only to be surpassed by Barca with 99. However, these are two clubs divided by geography, politics and culture. Hatred festers in this corner of Iberia for the Madridistas, and the feeling is mutual.

A divide is also evident in the way the two teams have been constructed. Notable exceptions such as David Villa aside, Barca have turned inwards to the academy graduates supplied by La Masia, while Real have instead relied on the chequebook of Florentino Perez. The fact that the final coup de grace was a cross from Bojan, converted by Jeffren - two more acolytes of a finely-honed youth system and philosophy - will only have further underlined that at this juncture in the story of one of football's great rivalries, Barca are on the right side of history. The school defeated the bank.

Real played their part, but not in the way they had intended. Mourinho had said in the build-up to Monday's much-anticipated encounter that "we have to give the world a super game", and his team selection certainly contributed to a spectacle. Picking Karim Benzema ahead of Lass Diarra in place of the injured Gonzalo Higuain was a positive move - discarding suggestions that, as he had done at Inter, Mourinho's intent, in his own vernacular, would be to park the bus - but it left Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso exposed and utterly dominated by Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta.

This was a rout of embarrassing proportions, giving Barcelona extra reason to celebrate their 111th anniversary. Remarkably, it is arguably not even the side's most emphatic victory over Real during Guardiola's time at the club - that honour falls to a 6-2 hammering at the Bernabeu en route to the Treble in 2009.

Cristiano Ronaldo is a picture of misery at the Camp Nou
Cristiano Ronaldo is a picture of misery at the Camp Nou

But the appointment of Mourinho was supposed to safeguard against a repetition. Secured at some cost from Inter over the summer, having succeeded Guardiola in winning the Treble, Mourinho was the tormentor of Barca, the man who asphyxiated them in the Champions League semi-final last season.

But in the face of a Barcelona side that plays some of the finest football ever seen, and that possesses technicians of the ability of Messi, Iniesta and Xavi, even he is rendered impotent it seems.

Of course, Mourinho has never been known as the Special One in Catalunya - instead his nickname is El Traductor (The Translator) - a derogatory title designed to denigrate his role at the club when acting as an assistant to Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal. On Monday night, as Real were submerged by a Blaugrana flood, Mourinho, Ronaldo and his team looked very ordinary indeed.

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