Every year it seems the universe feels its very important to give us more than just two matches between Real Madrid and Barcelona, as the two meet for the second time in four years in the Copa Del Rey final. Unlike the previous encounter at this stage, Barcelona need the win a lot more.
There were the same dark clouds hovering above the Nou Camp in 2012. Barcelona lost the championship and in the Champions League semifinal all at once, in the span of four days: One league loss against Real Madrid at home with Cristiano Ronaldo “calming” everyone down, and then came the shocking 2-2 draw at home against Chelsea and Fernando Torres with his biggest goal for the club since joining and mostly failing at Stamford Bridge.
What happened since? Barcelona haven’t won the Champions League, but they did regain the league title in 2013. They haven’t improved their defense, haven’t moved to play with a striker or even change their style. Modern football keeps changing, and playing fast, counter attacking football is the trend right now. Barcelona seemed impervious to change, only looking for small tweaks to perfect the system.
But there’s no denying the difference in eras. From 2009 to 2011? Three championships, two Champions League titles. From 2012 to 2014? Probably just one league title and no Champions League trophies. Guardiola is gone, Xavi is getting older, the defense has constantly declined and the attack seems more dependent than ever on Lionel Messi, which means that whatever money they spent on Neymar (€60 million? €100 million?) didn’t do the job.
Real Madrid are still in the race for the Champions League (playing Bayern Munich in the semifinal) and three points behind Atletico Madrid in the hunt for the league title. They aren’t likely to win both titles, and the league will require a bit of luck, but there doesn’t seem to be all this doom & gloom we’re seeing a few hundred miles east of them. They’re used to finishing second, and possibly finishing above Barcelona makes things a bit easier to stomach.
In 2011 that Cup Final was Jose Mourinho’s chance to say he has done something for Madrid. It was Real Madrid’s chance to say that they aren’t that inferior to the best team in the world. Cristiano Ronaldo scoring in extra time didn’t change the balance between the teams: Barcelona were still better and went on to win everything else that season, but it was a ray of light, a beacon of hope, and something that gave fans and desperate players a reason to raise their heads up high.
The Spanish Cup is only important for the “small” clubs (everyone now Real Madrid and Barcelona) or when Barcelona/Real have nothing else to show for the season, not to mention a Clasico, always a reason to play your A game. For the third time this season, Barcelona enter the match as slight underdogs. Real Madrid don’t have Cristiano Ronaldo, but they haven’t been falling apart professionally, ethically and who knows, maybe financially, over the last month or so. Barcelona needs this win like the deserts need the rain. This season can’t be about only bad things.