Real Madrid lose

Well Greengreenworld got the Clasico outcome it asked for, as the game of the Millennium was determined fairly on merit, and the better team by far triumphed. Barcelona in winning comfortably by 2-0 proved beyond reasonable doubt that not only are they the best team in the world, they are also the best team in Spain. The better team won, indeed the team won, triumphing over the collection of individuals.

In truth the game did not live up to the months of hype and heightened expectation. It was passably watchable rather than enthralling; tactically interesting rather than thrilling; and never reached the advanced heights of pulsating entertainment that a football match between two of the best teams in the world can sometimes attain.

Don’t be fooled by the statistics about shots on goal managed and shots on target, in both of which Real Madrid lead Barcelona by a factor of 2-1, 16 shots to 8, and 7 on target to Barca’s mere 4. The superiority of Barcelona was overwhelming, something freely admitted by even the normally blinkered Madrid press.

GGW has long punted Xavi as the most influential player in the world (see e.g. Post of June 2009 ‘Barca finally emulate Celtic’). He proved the correctness of that view agent Arsenal and again last night was the key influence in Barca’s victory. It was his precision passes that laid on both goals, it was his brain that waged, ran and won the midfield battle. On the World Player of the Year front Messi had a quietly intelligent game and took his goal well. Cristiano Ronaldo was louder, tried hard but was never part of an attacking pattern.

Pellegrini loses

And Guardiola clearly won the battle of Managers. In the November 2009 version of the Classico, in the Camp Nou, the strong consensus of Spanish analysis after the game had been that Pellegrini had won the battle of pre-match preparation but Guardiola had won the one of mid-match adjustment. Barca won at home by 1-0 but the Madrid performance under Pellegrini was enough to give him a further 4 months to create a strong enough team to win the return Clasico at the Bernabeu.

Last night showed he had failed to take that opportunity and Guardiola out-thought and out-classed him both before and during the game. Guardiola abandoned his usual 4:3:3 formation, in reality if not on paper, with Puyol, Pique and Milito at the back to stifle Ronaldo and  Higuain, and Alves more an advanced defensive support in front of Puyol than an attacking winger. Busquets, Keita and Xavi  all protected the back line too with Messi and Pedro fluid up front. Pellegrini opted for Arbeloa rather than Marcelo at left back but the inconsiderate Messi refused to stay meekly in his pocket and wandered all over. Pellegrini put young Gago, (ignored by him most of the season and so nearly sold to Manchester City in January) in midfield beside Xavi Alonso rather than the more combative Lass Diarra. Real Madrid did manage to reduce the Barca % possession marginally below the normal 60+ (at 58-42) but Barcelona led by brilliant Xavi always controlled the midfield and thus the game. For the second half, Guardiola restored Alves to full back, switched Puyol from right to left and replaced Maxwell with Iniesta in midfield. These moves meant the 2-0 lead gained in the 55th minute was never to be seriously threatened. Pellegrini made no changes at half-time and when he eventually did, after going 2-0 down, it wasn’t new Pellegrini Madrid he brought on but old Real faithfuls Guti and Raul.  His final change was to replace an anonymous Higuain with Benzema to no improved effect.

Sacking him no longer a sin

Don’t you just hate it when you have a long running argument with people whose attitudes and values you despise, then you are forced by unavoidable realities into admitting that actually they have probably been right all along.

The Sunday morning edition of Marca had a front page headline “And that’s the end of the Pellegrini story”. Inside he was referred to as having both feet out the door. The Marca Opinion Column was headlined “The Clasico reinforces that leaving Pellegrini in post (after the Cup disaster) was an error”  All things considered, after their 5 months of daily bile against him, it was a fairly subdued version of “We told you so!”

The judgment that Pellegrini is not a good enough manager for Real Madrid, that he is not the right manager to deliver Florentino Perez’s Project has been vindicated. Sacking him in the summer can no longer been seen as the venial  sin, or even a mortal one it would have been, had he delivered El Clasico and La Liga. Although as GGW stated in the previous post he would have been sacked even if he had so delivered.

And in theory at least he could still win La Liga. Barca still have to play away to Villarreal and Sevilla and have a harder last 7 games than Real Madrid. But GGW will not be betting any money on the prospect. And even if that miracle happens he will still definitely be sacked.

Last night proved he has failed to create a cohesive team capable of challenging Barcelona and restoring Real Madrid to their rightful place at the top of the world table.

The diminished band of Pellegrinistas, of which GGW have been vocal members, have no valid defence left. The one Pellegrini holds dearest himself “It takes time to mould a great team out of a disparate collection of even great players” holds no more water. Guardiola took over in summer 2008 a Barcelona in more disarray than the Real Madrid Pellegrini inherited, with a bunch of new signings like Alves, Pique, Caceres, Keita and Hleb. Within the time Pellegrini has had, he created the cohesive team that beat Real Madrid twice on the way to winning the famous treble of domestic League and Cup double and the Champions League.

So his chance has gone and there will now be little moral indignation when he is sacked. However he had his chance and he was right to take it, despite the advice from some of his Villarreal friends that it was not the right job for him. As a manager of ambition with a desire to win trophies in Europe, he had to take the Real Madrid job. But he has to accept that he failed to do the best possible with that opportunity. A Future GGW will examine in more detail why that has been so. Let us leave if for now by saying he is still one of top managers in world football and he will get other opportunities perhaps better suited to his already well proven combination of characteristic and abilities