Saturday 17 March 2018

Mourinho humiliated by five-star Barcelona


Oliver Brown

THE whistles rang out around this majestic amphitheatre like a knife on glass. It was the noise of 100,000 jubilant souls, and yet its target was one greying, glowering Portuguese fellow in a trench coat.

For a decade Jose Mourinho had been Barcelona's bete noire, but last night the Catalans, with as compelling a masterclass in football's artistry as you are ever likely to see, exacted their glorious revenge.

Welcome to El Gran Clasico, Jose. Mourinho, perhaps being punished for his customary torment of his one-time employers, was impotent in the face of Barcelona's onslaught. A 5-0 humiliation on the game's most august stage, with millions watching on television, would have cut him to the core and it was small wonder he spent much of a onesided second half rooted in his dugout.

That the finest club fixture in any calendar was being staged on a Monday night had seemed to detractors to be a gimmick. Sunday's elections in Catalonia had forced the showpiece to be delayed but when it came, it only affirmed the resurgence of a nationalist spirit in this city.


The spectacle of a six-figure crowd preparing for kick-off with red, blue and gold banners declaring Mes que un club – at the same time as singing the Barcelona anthem in perfect harmony – surely stands among the most electrifying experiences sport can conjure.

The cacophony only grew as Barcelona's dominance became apparent. Beautifully-engineered first-half strikes by Xavi and Pedro represented the least the imperious home side deserved, but a brace for David Villa set the party alight. Real's befuddled players, not least an anonymous Cristiano Ronaldo, beat a retreat back to the capital with tails between their legs.

Mourinho's critics would claim he had it coming. Although he had not lost in his first 25 games, Barcelona showed up the deficiencies of his sometimes defensive play in sharp relief.

Their flair, their sheer ingenuity as they leapfrogged Real to the top of La Liga, was too much even for this wiliest of tacticians to combat.

Both club presidents had exhorted their teams to produce a “festival”, an attacking exhibition, and the call did not take long to be heeded. But where Real's pace was breathless, Barcelona's proved irresistible. The patterns of interplay were mesmeric as Xavi and Andres Iniesta seamlessly found their rhythm.

As we had scarcely dared hope, this was what happened when 13 World Cup winners came together on the same pitch. The concentration of talent would have embarrassed even the great Barcelona regime of Johan Cruyff; wherever you looked, Guardiola's all-stars were concocting their next devilish ploy.

Sergio Busquets anchored the midfield triangle with geometric precision, enabling Lionel Messi to produce his first magic of the evening with a deft chip that bounced off the far post. Even from the most improbable angle, Messi had sought to pick out the top corner.

The Guardiola template was self-evident: for his charges to pour through Real's back line at every opportunity. It worked exquisitely, even if Barcelona needed a stroke of fortune to harvest their reward. Iniesta watched his shot take a deflection off Marcelo but straight into the path of Xavi, who lofted the ball beyond Iker Casillas with aplomb.

Real found themselves restricted to sudden counter-punches, as when Angel di Maria forced Valdes into a fingertips save with a lethal drive from distance.

But Messi and company merely redoubled their delicate manoeuvres, contriving a 25-pass move to set up their next elegant finish.

This time, Villa cut his cross back towards an onrushing Pedro for a tapin. Mourinho, who had been strutting provocatively along the touchline, stood motionless in incredulity. The Nou Camp seethed with triumphalism. Mesut Ozil had already had a bottle thrown in his direction as he took a corner, and Barcelona's remorseless advance was the cue for Real to lose their discipline.

Long before Jeffren added a fifth and Sergio Ramos was sent off, Ronaldo looked frustrated as he struggled to achieve his normally adhesive touch. His travails told late in the first half, when, having impatiently hustled to take a throw-in, he shoved a blameless Guardiola in the chest. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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