Barcelona chose the wrong time and place to goad Real Madrid.
The sides were level after their first match in the Copa Del Rey semifinal, with the second leg Tuesday at the Camp Nou. Barcelona, which has an almost unassailable lead in La Liga, handed out 90,000 red, blue and yellow flags to its fans to wave into the faces of the Real players as they entered the arena.
The intent was clear. The Catalans were mocking the Madridistas.
Their hubris was destroyed by white heat. Real squeezed the virtue out of Lionel Messi and company, and hit them on the break. Two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and a towering header from the 19-year-old Raphael Varane exploited yawning holes in the home defense. Jordi Alba’s token goal for Barca in the dying minutes could not disguise this emphatic and humbling dethroning of the King’s Cup holder.
Last week, Barcelona lost, 2-0, in Milan, and Pique admitted afterward to reporters: “Maybe we are not as good as everybody says.” Against Ronaldo, he proved his point.
As the uncommonly cold night in Barcelona ensued, it became painfully apparent that Barça, for all its talents, had no game plan, no real alternative to just plugging away with its pass-and-move routines.
They seldom did. Xavi, the most consistently creative midfielder in the modern game, was as quiet at home as he was in Milan. Maybe his recent hamstring injury is not completely healed, or maybe he is tired mentally as much as physically.
Is Andrés Iniesta, too? Even Messi? Why not? They are human, and they cannot forever reproduce extraordinary feats three times in a week. NYT