Real Madrid: Is this the beginning of a new era?
5-0 it ended at the Nou Camp. Barcelona had just completed one of the most unexpected and unforgettable defeats in the history of the El Clasicos. Since then, Europe and Spain have been dominated by the Blaugranas. From the silent maestro in the dugout to the magician in the field, they had everything to rule Spain, Europe and the world at the same time. Lionel Messi dominated Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona dominated Real Madrid. We have been hearing this ever since. But are the Blancos back after an incompatible run in Spain and Europe?
Real Madrid last season defeated Barcelona at the same ground on which once they had been thrashed five goals to nil to claim the title of Spanish Champions. They also won the Champions League semifinal 2nd leg at the Bernabeu against Bayern Munich, only to lose the German powerhouse on penalties after CR7 and Kaka failed to deliver from the spot in the tie-breaker. The Blaugranas ended the season on a low after only being able to win the Spanish Cup in a season they were expected to rule Europe. Real Madrid on the other hand were crowned the Spanish Champions and ended the season on a high.
The next season was much more than just a reverse for the Barcelona fans. Cristiano had just returned from the Euro after guiding Portugal to the semis and adding three more goals to his international goal tally. The pre-season was a great one for the Los Blancos after winning almost all of their matches. They went into the season as a powerhouse of football. And with Cristiano being at his best, a warm smile was present on every Madridista’s face. However things were not going turn in their favour.
Following their prominent pre-season performance, the Blancos suffered a killer-blow when they drew Valencia and lost the derby against Getafe in the opening two match days of the campaign. That was followed by defeats to Sevilla and Real Betis in the coming matches. After these inadmissible results, defending the La Liga title was turning out to be a distant dream. They were also behind their city rivals Atletico in the 3rd place in a league which they had won a record 32 times, the latest being last year only. The race for the 2nd spot was recently, maybe temporarily, won by Los Blancos after Atletico lost to Real Sociedad. Real Madrid in its days was one of the most feared teams in the world but in the recent years, it has been inferior to the Barcelona side, which is considered to be one of the greatest teams ever. Some even said that it was the end of dominance of the FIFA club of the century.
When it was looking as if Barcelona are going to be far superior to this Real Madrid side, they bounced back even better than anyone in the world football expected them to. They had to face a nightmare in the form of a series of matches which would define their season. A double against Barcelona in the Copa del Ray and the league followed by a round of 16 second leg away to Manchester United, the first leg of which was drawn at the Santiago Bernebeu.
They won the second leg of the Copa del Ray final 3-1 at the Nou Camp thanks to a Ronaldo brace and an impressive display from the iron-wall defence which consisted of the young, ascending, French defender Raphael Varane, who also contributed to the 3rd goal after being able to tower above the Barcelona defence to head home the winner, and the Sergio Ramos, a player created and developed at the Bernabeu. Then came the clash at the capital, which in a way was a match with lesser importance if compared to the match it followed. However, no less people came to witness the match as the Bernabeu was packed with a crowd of over 80,000 people. The match ended 2-1 in favour of the whites with Sergio Ramos clinching the match-winning header in the 82nd minute from a Luka Modric corner.
Then it was the night of the Manchester clash at the Old Trafford. It was not an ecstatic night of fabulous football for a pure football fan but certainly a night unforgettable, unexpected and unacceptable incidents. The Nani decision was the one that I think Jose Mourinho referred to in his pre-match press conference that “The world will stop and watch”. It was after Sergio Ramos had given Manchester United a 2-1 aggregate advantage. It was followed by a perfect curler by Luka Modric from outside the box from the extra two yards of space which was left behind by Luis Nani. Then United had to face the monster they had created after a perfect give-and-go by Mesut Ozil and Gonzalo Higuain, after which Higuain was able to throw a cross near the far post for Ronaldo to put in with a slide as fine as it could be.
Fortunate, lucky, undeserved were some of the words used by critics to describe how Real Madrid had been able to able to define their season with a triple win over two of the best teams in Europe at the moment. Real Madrid in the late 1950’s and the early and mid-1960s hardly lost a game under the leadership of Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano, the club’s current honorary president. It may well be the case of the rise of a different but unbeatable Real Madrid side which may touch the untouchable heights as the club did before. Real Mardrid under Jose Mourinho can do that. They may be an invincible force in the making.