We might be seeing a precursor to the N. London derby as a ripped, muscular, cut and thrust Spurs take on a more calculated, territorial Arsenal tomorrow.
Today's El Crassico continued the theme of an imploding Barca who seem to have internalized the collywobbles against Real Madrid to the extent it will keep their shrinks preoccupied.
Actually, make it just Cristiano Ronaldo, because till his introduction Barca was happy to pass the ball around till the eyes bled, resting on the laurels of the Leo Messi equalizer. With CR7 on the pitch, the party was immediately over as he ran Barca's defense ragged with his no hostage taken approach. Jose Mourinho's decision to start without his star was a dare to the visitors. By introducing Ronaldo so late, he thumbed his nose at the visitors, unveiling his ace in the sleeve to which Barca had no answer. Crudely put, the men in stripes had shot their load in the first half.
Strangely, it's the Portugese, seemingly a conflagration removed from leaving Madrid, giving the club its stability. While Barca has a rudderless look with Jordi Roura filling in for Tito Vilanova who is realistically speaking, filling in for Pep Guardiola. The Blaugranas seem not to be responding well to these changes whether it be by design or misfortune. One doesn't remember tiki taka being so pointless or so prevaricating. It is usually a means to a Messi end. Thereafter, sterile domination was used to kill off games but the present Barca seem to have gone into a fugue and their main man in search of a muse.
The old Messi would have checked and finessed an audacious chip over Diego Lopez leaving a Bernabeu reacting with a familiar collective groan. That shot was tired and directed straight at Iker Casillas's fill in. No dice.
Till two weeks ago, Milan was fearing a new orifice being torn, Madrid had been held at the Bernabeu for the Copa first leg, and there was nary a wrinkle on the inevitable Liga anointment. How did it all change? How was a system working so fantastically well before turn into a bunch of widgets and patch ups? We maybe looking at a Black Swan. But Barca has seen off El Clasicos and are still ahead by a country mile so barring some Niall Ferguson like counterfactual event, this Liga is recorded history.
What makes it fraught is the road ahead. It's unclear whether Barca have the Xavi and Iniesta's lined up in Barca's second generation. That will fall to Thiago and Fabregas who have not shown that spark yet. The club is an exemplar in their development and recruitment of meticulously trained homegrown talent which their Madrid counterparts have jettisoned so calculatingly to create endless versions of Galacticos. Will Barca do the same?
Back to the match. That was a poor, poor reaction by Victor Valdes at the end, barracking the referee Miguel Angel Lasa and deservedly getting the red. The match was marred with so many fouls that giving a number becomes immaterial.
Here is the note of warning to the Gunners in tomorrow's derby. Barca recorded an astounding 72% ball possession but only managed 5 looks at goal while Madrid with 28% had 14 with six on target as compared to two of their opponents. Sergio Ramos provided the biggest bit of controversy but his leg stuck out at Adriano did not appear to make contact and his theatrical jack knife did not fool Lasa. A last minute PK would have made Marca very, very mad. And so Barca go back to the Nou to lick their wounds. A fitting response would be to smash aside Milan in the second leg of the CL and restore some shine.