| Cristiano Ronaldo |
Barcelona: Five days after their biggest win at Camp Nou in more than a decade, Real Madrid host Barcelona again Saturday in the Spanish league with their decisive Champions League match at Manchester United looming.
Madrid’s defence did a masterful job of neutralizing Barcelona forward Lionel Messi on Tuesday, and their counterattack speared by Cristiano Ronaldo did the rest as the Portugal forward scored twice in the 3-1 win to put Madrid into the Copa del Rey final.
Injured Real captain Iker Casillas, out healing a broken hand, said he hoped the victory marked “a turning point” for Real with Barcelona.
The game at the Santiago Bernabeu transcends the league title race, which Barcelona have well in hand with a 12-point lead over second-place Atletico Madrid and Real a further four points adrift.
Another dominant victory for Real could signal a shift in the balance of power between the two fierce rivals that Barcelona have had in their favour for the past five years. Besides, there’s no better way for Real to boost morale for their trip to United next Tuesday than a pair of strong showings against Barcelona.
“We are strengthened by this win and are also more motivated going forward after not starting the league well this season,” Casillas said. “We hope winning this series will mark a turning point for us and especially with Barcelona.
“We need to carry this win over to Manchester, where we also go in 1-1 and need to score while keeping a clean sheet. Manchester knows how to play football, it is a difficult ground and we need to carry over how we played today to Old Trafford.”
Coach Jose Mourinho will surely rest some key players ahead of United tie. Barcelona, meanwhile, are reeling after their worst week of results since former coach Pep Guardiola took over in 2008. Barcelona lost 0-2 at AC Milan in the first leg of their Champions League knockout series and six days later flopped to their biggest loss to Real at Nou Camp since a 0-2 defeat in April 2002.
Twenty head-to-head matches ago, a 4-1 loss in 2008 marked the end of the Frank Rijkaard era at Barcelona. The arrival of Guardiola, however, started Barcelona’s most dominant run of their rivalry with Real, including a 6-2 win at Real and a 5-0 victory at Barcelona in the first “clasico” for Real coach Jose Mourinho.
But Mourinho looks to have finally figured out how to keep Messi in check and deactivate Barcelona’s passing game by forging one of the most effective counterattacking teams in Europe.
This tactical advantage was perfectly clear on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Barcelona say midfielder Xavi Hernandez has a right thigh injury that will rule him of Saturday’s “Clasico” and put him in doubt for the AC Milan match.
The club says the Spain international will be sidelined for 10 to 15 days.