If there was any need for more proof as to how hot Cristiano Ronaldo is right now, you only needed to watch his 33 minutes after leaving the bench which didn’t result in a goal, but put Real Madrid back in charge of the Clasico and eventually give them enough inspiration to beat their biggest rivals once again.
How much did a win matter? Pride is more important than some seem to realize, especially in this big of a rivalry. Jose Mourinho didn’t risk too much early on, but the work done by Luka Modric in his best performance for Real Madrid and others like Morata and Jose Maria Callejon in very good and hard working defensive efforts on the wings set up the dominant second half that eventually brought on the deserved win.
Real Madrid won’t win the league title, but won the bragging rights battle through an entire season for the first time since 2008, when the whole “new” Barcelona, the era of Messi or Guardiola began. Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t as dominant and unstoppable as he was when Real Madrid won the cup match a few days earlier, but it was apparent and easy to see the fear from his breaks down the wing and what it did to the whole Barcelona approach on defense. He dived around quite a bit, but that’s an issue for the referee, who started well and weakened as the match progressed, not for Real Madrid fans who only want to see a win and their team progress in the Champions League.
Luka Modric has been criticized all season long for not being the player Real Madrid need, certainly not when he cost €40 million. Well, against an opponent that’s not as confident as it once was in its ability to dominate in the midfield, Modric suddenly looked like the kind of player Real do need – a midfielder that builds up and controls everything, without losing any bit of his toughness and awareness allowing him to interfere quite often with the Barcelona ball movement.
Another key in disrupting the shaky Barcelona was Pepe, who was given a free role by Mourinho. Pepe is impossible to appreciate if you’re not a fan of the team he’s playing for. Some player are good, but their behavior on the pitch doesn’t deserve an apology, when it defies common sense and sportsmanship, both in the fouls he commits and his ridiculous attempts at fooling referees. But he serves his purpose by featuring in different places all throughout the match, closing down on players not expecting to see pressure on that area of the pitch.
We began in the headline with Ronaldo and we’ll finish with him. Maybe this is him showing and proving that sealing the debate of the best in the world was a mistake, but maybe it’s just him currently playing for a team that actually have their manager available. Ronaldo feels more and more comfortable as the season progresses, and the bigger the match, the better he plays. That doesn’t bode well for Manchester United in a couple of days, but you can’t forget who is standing on the sidelines in that one.