Barcelona lost the Supercopa after three consecutive seasons, just like they lost their league title to Real Madrid last year. Changing of the guards? Probably not – keeping it close with 10 men at the Santiago Bernabeu, putting themselves with a chance to win in the closing minutes thanks to Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta means that one bad half hour doesn’t mean it’s all bad.
Oh, but those were bad 30 minutes. Tito Vilanova had to make a choice, after Dani Alves couldn’t start the match – Stick with Adriano (who was supposed to start at left back anyway), switch him to the right and bring in Jordi Alba to the left or throw in Martin Montoya. Vilanova went with the conservative option (keeping Adriano in play) and was punished for it. Real Madrid kept pushing the left wing while Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique kept running around, trying to close out gaping holes.
The goals didn’t come from bad coverage, they actually came from something you hardly see from Barcelona players – misjudging balls and simply poor techinque in stopping. First it was Javier Mascherano, who made one coverage mistake for every great pass he threaded through, miss-timing the landing of Pepe’s clearance, allowing Higuain the opening goal. Then it was Gerard Pique, who tried to stop and control the long ball instead of pushing or clearing it, allowing Cristiano Ronaldo the chance to take over and punish Barcelona again.
Minutes 18-32 were Real Madrid’s best. After the goals, just pushing through a panicked Barcelona defense, especially through Adriano’s wing, while the pressure in the middle of the pitch forced Barcelona out of their rhythm and passing game. Adriano getting sent off was actually the best thing that happened to Barca all match, because it forced Vilanova to think and see he needs an actual right back. Martin Montoya came in. He wasn’t great, but he restored balance to the match on Barca’s side, forcing Real to be a bit more cautious.
Unlike their visit to Osasuna, Xavi was the one who had a hard time handling the pace and pressure. It was Andres Iniesta’s maneuvering with the ball and his absolutely close-to-perfect ability to hang on to it despite getting tackled and marked closely, that gave Barcelona the control back. Lionel Messi dropped back to aid Iniesta in the building work, leaving no one to receive balls near the box, but at least ordered was restored. All Messi needed to throw back the match into competitiveness was a free kick opportunity, which he wonderfully delivered.
So Barcelona can take from this experience. Ten men at the Santiago Bernabeu against a rampaging Real Madrid and still, Barca’s sheer intimidation power and hold over Real (it’s still there) gave them the chances they didn’t manage to take advantage of in the closing minutes.
But Tito Vilanova needs to find a way to score without Lionel Messi. Someone who can actually get the ball in the penalty area. It’s very hard to stop, but teams have learnt the 1-2 passing on the edge of the box thing. It can’t be 100% stopped, but it is being dealt with better than in the past. Evolving into something else is a must, and the keys to that will be how he uses Alexis and David Villa, when he’s actually fit enough to be used regularly.