Pep Guardiola isn’t the only one to blame for Barcelona’s disappointing appearance in the Clasico, finally giving up their spot in the title race with a 1-2 home defeat to Real Madrid, but he’s definitely culpable for plenty of what didn’t work in a match everyone assumed was going to be one sided.
What’s the simplest way of putting it? Guardiola didn’t give his team the best shot of winning the match with the lineup he let start against Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho, who don’t have the best of records in the Clasico these past four years, but are a record setting side, with some of the best players in the world. It was like Guardiola was trying to prove he can beat Mourinho without the best lineup available.
It was like Guardiola gave up on a lot of things that have worked for him in previous season, against Real and pretty much everyone. He failed to predict and prepare his players for the midfield pressure Real Madrid players applied, defending as a whole unit instead of Ronaldo, Benzema and Ozil watching without actually aiding in the pressure. He failed to react when it was obvious that this game wasn’t going the way he planned.
Alexis came in too late, and for the wrong man. Maybe Guardiola was thinking of the Second Leg against Chelsea. Xavi, coming off? He was the most dangerous man on Barcelona, the only one, except for the overly rash Tello, to threaten Iker Casillas. Maybe there was fatigue, or some minor injury, but Alexis scoring didn’t change the flow of the game. Real hit back at once, and could have scored more as the game was winding down.
Barcelona always looked like they were missing a man. Another player to create some penetration towards the box and draw some attention from Pepe or Sergio Ramos, making life easier for Lionel Messi. Even when Messi was able to find himself free from Xabi Alonso or Khedira, he never really broke loose. Too many players to stop him, not enough players to pass to. Pedro, Alexis or Fabregas should have been there much earlier.
His post-match comments? Guardiola began with congratulating Real Madrid. He has been saying for a couple of months that it’s over, but we saw how it played out. Now, with 7 points to bridge, it’s really over. He talked about having now way of cheering up his players with words or anything else after such a loss. They gave it their all. He talked about four years of achievements, about being proud of them. Adding that up to the usual mystery surrounding his future with the club.
And then there are Chelsea, the biggest game remaining on Barcelona’s schedule. Another must win at home. A club that is rumored to be interesting in hiring Guardiola.
We will see on Tuesday whether we will pass this test, but I think the players will lift themselves up and look at the manner of how things will go against Chelsea. What happens against Chelsea will mark the rest of our season. Although the guys have not had long to recover, they have had setbacks like this before and risen to the challenge.
Something about the whole scene last night at the Nou Camp was filled with some ending that has long been postponed. Real Madrid were bound to win there at some point, but no one actually expected it to happen. Suddenly, Barcelona looked tired, fed up. Nothing of the magical team that entertained everyone for more than three seasons came about. Real weren’t incredible, but they played the right way, the better way.