Tuesday 20 March 2018

Eurozone: Barca bloodied by herculean effort

Pete Jensen

JOSE MOURINHO was upstaged by the Santiago Bernabeu's electronic scoreboard on Saturday night; the one that read Barcelona 0, Hercules 2.

The euphoria that marked the Real coach's entrance at 8.0 was not for his arrival but for the astonishing scoreline up in lights away to his left. Barcelona had just lost their first home league match for 16 months, against a team they were at odds of 1/16 to beat.

The champions did not lose at home in La Liga during all of last season and Pep Guardiola had never previously suffered a home defeat by a margin of more than one goal. But against a team that, with one notable exception, has been cobbled together with the kind of money that Barcelona's former president, Joan Laporta, has been accused of spending on long lunches, they were comfortably beaten.

The exception in the otherwise cheaply assembled Hercules squad is their record signing Nelson Valdez. The Paraguayan World Cup star, who came from Borussia Dortmund in the close season for some £3.3m, scored either side of half-time.

Hercules finished third in Spain's second division last season and were promoted despite overwhelming evidence that their main shareholder, Enrique Ortiz, had made various attempts to pay off their opponents during the run-in.


It was their first fixture against Barcelona for 14 years and, helped by Guardiola's team selection, they repeated the trick they performed in the 1996-’97 campaign, when they also pulled off a shock win. Barca have now won just six of their last 17 matches immediately following breaks for international fixtures.

On Saturday, Guardiola rested Xavi, Sergi Busquets, Dani Alves, Pedro and Carles Puyol, and without five firstteam regulars, they were half the team that usually sweeps all before them at the Camp Nou. Eric Abidal was a shaky substitute for Puyol, Adriano never delivered the telling crosses of Alves and the former Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano was booked and then hooked at half-time.

Mascherano's miserable debut was contrasted by a goalscoring start for Real's Ricardo Carvalho in his first home league match. His second-half strike from a Cristiano Ronaldo pass saved Madrid's blushes against Osasuna. Mourinho had been warned about the reaction to expect if Real scraped a 1-0 win and the whistles at half-time would have been much worse if the fans had not still been celebrating Barca's defeat.

At that stage it was the first time in Real's history they had gone 135 minutes into a new season without a goal. “I do not need to interpret the crowd's reaction,” Mourinho said. “The public pay my wages and they are entitled to react how they want. They want to see more from this team, and so do I.”

Mourinho was not averse to the odd run-in with fellow league coaches last season in Italy and he has continued in that vein in Spain. The Osasuna boss Antonio Camacho was asked after the defeat if he thought Mourinho's prematch comments about referees not protecting his players affected the match official's performance.

“Yes, they did,” said Camacho. “We were penalised for four or five fouls that would not have been awarded against them. You can't always be crying. You can't say these things before a game.”

In Italy, Rafa Benitez's Internazionale scraped a 2-1 win over Udinese to give themselves a one-point advantage over Milan, who lost 2-0 away to Cesena. But there are murmurings of discontent from the ex-Liverpool boss after an unconvincing start to the season.

“Moratti (Massimo, Inter's president) is somebody who always does a lot in the transfer market, but this time he hasn't. I don't know why. This Inter is still not my team,” Benitez said, responding to the suggestion that inactivity in the transfer market lies behind their unspectacular start.

Milan's defeat was blamed on the political persuasion of the match referee, Russo di Nola, by the club's owner Silvio Berlusconi. “We played well. The problem is that a lot of the time, Milan has to battle against left-wing referees,” he said.

The Serie A table is led by Cagliari, who hammered Roma 5-1, and Milan's conquerors Cesena, while in Spain it is Valencia and Atletico Madrid – not the big two – who have the 100pc records.

In Germany, Hoffenheim top the Bundesliga while Steve McClaren's Wolfsburg and Raul's Schalke 04 are both pointless after three games.

The Real president Florentino Perez yesterday announced “the biggest annual earnings of any sporting institution in the world” when he told the club’s AGM it had generated €442m (£366m) in 2009-’10. But the club’s expenditure for that period stood at €418m, leaving it with a profit of €24m. Its debt has been reduced but still stands at almost €245m. The club president also told members there are still plans to put a roof on the Santiago Bernabeu. (© Independent News Service)

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