Barcelona FC, playing away, won the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinals tie against arch rivals Real Madrid by a 2-1 score. The rematch is on Wednesday, and already the prevailing backdrop is saying a lot about what we can expect at the Camp Nou.
Mourinho, under pressure from fans, players, and one would assume the board room, did the unthinkable over the weekend. He actually played Ozil, Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Higuain all at the same time. The predictable win still managed to have a particularly deceptive 4-1 score line.
The game featured Kaka playing like his old self, creating chances for all, barely missing putting his name on the scorecard, and earning one of the two obvious penalties committed against him. He also teamed up with Ozil (who earned the game’s other penalty) and Ronaldo (who seemed recovered from his previous ailment, and who scored two penalties to stay ahead of Messi at the top of the league’s scoring list) to produce brilliant attacking football. If they had scored half of the chances they produced the scoreboard might have run out of numbers.
What was intriguing about Real’s victory was that they were playing an inspired Athletic Bilbao who mostly gave as much as they took. Some might even argue that if the gods had been smiling on Athletic’s strikers, or perhaps if Saint Casillas were not who he is, the score line would have been very different. But those partisans and skeptics would have missed the real story.
Real, for this brief moment, was the Real of the beginning of the season. They were playing with a ferocious conviction, with a communal need to show the assembled audience that they had been muzzled of late and that given the chance this is how they could play. Message sent: Perez. Message sent: Mourinho. Message received by the rest of us.
The intervening deep background, of course, is the alleged rift between Mou and folks like Ramos and Casillas, and the persistent Portuguese stars vs. Spanish stars locker room feud as depicted recently by Xabi Alonso’s push on Ronaldo in the Bilbao match. How much of a schism exists and who stands on either side is a subject of much speculation, but on the pitch the players seemed to say they were ready and very able to take over the team’s reins if they were but allowed.
So now what? Will Mourinho give in and allow his charges to charge? What if he did next Wednesday at the Camp Nou for the return leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinals match against Pep’s troops? I bet that if Casillas can keep a clean sheet his teammates can make up the difference and either tie or even eliminate their arch rivals on Barca’s own pitch. I wonder if Pep, and Lionel’s buddies, know what’s brewing, and if they do, what their reactions will be?