The much anticipated, but somewhat uneventful El Clasico happened on Saturday. It's the biannual meeting between Barcelona and Real Madrid. It was "the game" in La Liga not just because the two teams were tied for first in the standings, but also because La Liga has pretty much been a two horse race this year. Valencia, the team currently in 3rd place, is 20 points behind Barcelona and Real Madrid. Even if Barcelona or Real lost the rest of their games, Valencia still couldn't catch them. The two teams have been completely dominant this year which makes for good drama twice a year when the two teams do play each other, but leaves a lot to be desired the rest of the weeks. As exciting as it may be to watch Real and Barcelona play each other or other teams, the league is definitely better off when the there is talent accross the board.
Even that sentence however may be a little incorrect as it lumps Real into the same category as Barcelona. While other teams may not be able to compete with Real, Real still can't compete with Barcelona. Barcelona is like the varsity sports team of the world right now and everyone else is JV. No one can compete with them. On some days the JV teams might surprise or shock the varsity team and pull out a tie, maybe even get really lucky and pull out a win. But whenever that happens, the varsity squad just comes out the next day and thumps the JV team and reminds them that they can't really compete despite their victory. The perfect example of this was a couple weeks ago in Barcelona's Champions League game with Arsenal. In the first leg of the series that was played at Arsenal, the two teams tied 2-2. Despite Barcelona going up 2-0, Arsenal clawed their way back to a tie. It was an exciting and inspiring victory by the JV squad (Arsenal). So what happened next? The following week when the teams played the second leg at Barcelona, Barcelona came out and thumped Arsenal 4-1. Any slim hope or belief that Arsenal had that they could actually compete with Barcelona was smothered by the end of the first half.
So on Saturday, I was curious to know if Real Madrid, with all of their off-season acquisitions, was still a JV team or if they had made the jump to varsity. Could they really compete with Barcelona? Well, no. They couldn't. Here's three reasons why:
1. Dominant center midfield.
Good night Xavi is ridiculous. Every Spain fan has to be salivating in anticipation for the World Cup this summer. Xavi and his passes and the way he controls the game are...well, Zidane like. I said it. I'm surprised as well that I went there, but Xavi is deserving. He's up there with the finest in the game right now. His vision and control of the game and his incredible through balls are just lovely. He's so great to watch. He just takes over the game and controls the pace and the tempo and controls every player on the field. It's magnificent to watch, unless of course you are rooting against Barcelona in which case its incredibly frustrating. But yet you have to admire his skills, which makes the situation even more frustrating. I hate you Xavi and Barcelona, but you are so good.
Real doesn't have that player at the moment. Kaka was supposed to be that player and was that player with AC Milan, but he was injured on Saturday and he's been nonexistent all year. The huge contract and huge expectations have really made him seem lost. Real also has Guti, but he's so erratic. Sometimes brilliant but sometimes dismal. He was actually brilliant on Saturday and provided the beautiful pass that set up Real's best moment of the game, but again, he's not a consistent player unfortunately.
2. Team Chemistry and Rhythm
This is another one that is just awesome to watch unless you want Barcelona to lose. Barcelona is just one fluid mass moving up and down the field. They will possess the ball and barely advance it for 5 minutes and just frustrate the other team. They are so patient and every player is moving and knows exactly where they need to be. They have a lot of veteran players and a lot of role players. Everyone knows where they need to be and they all do their job. Xavi and Iniesta control the midfield and the game, Puyol and Pique take control in the back and Messi scores the goals. All the other players understand that, respect it and play their supporting role as needed.
Real has no chemistry. For one, their midfielders that are supposed to control the game, Kaka and Xabi Alonso are new to the team this year. Granted, the season is almost over, but as mentioned, Kaka has really struggled to take the reins of the team. That's probably because he has to deal with C. Ronaldo running all over and trying to keep him satisfied, which is no easy task. Speaking of which:
3. Barcelona has the best player in the game
Remember how two years ago when Ronaldo set those crazy scoring records in the Premier League and he was considered the greatest player in the world, and then the following year Messi and Barcelona went on to dominate the league and people started to wonder who was better, Messi or Ronaldo? Then everything culminated in the Champions League final last year when Messi's Barcelona palyed Ronaldo's Man United. Messi scored, Barcelona won, and Ronaldo, who had little impact during the game, eventually left Man U for Real Madrid in the offseason.
Now, I'm not saying that C. Ronaldo isn't an amazing player, but can one honestly argue that he is better than Messi? Last year it was a great debate. Now, not so much. Ronaldo is still probaby the second best player in the world, but no one can compete with Messi right now. And that's mainly because Messi always comes to play. I mentioned above that Messi is on a team with better chemistry and a better midfield, but it's not that Ronaldo is playing with chumps. Ronaldo is surrounded by great players, just like he was at Man U. Yet for some reason, in the last couple of big showdowns, Messi has proven that he is the better player. Yet again on Saturday Messi scored a goal and had a few other great opportunities. Ronaldo was fairly silent throughout the game. He didn't create much for his team and he didn't do much on his own. Again, not saying he's a bad player by any means, but until something changes, the debate is over as to who is the better player.
So even though Barcelona proved that they are the varsity squad and that Real Madrid is still a JV team, the nice part about JV is knowing that you are so close to making the jump. Which is where Real is right now. Assuming they don't fire their coach and blow up their current team (which is more likely to happen than not), they could easily make the jump next year and finally compete with Barcelona. Between Kaka, Xabi and Guti, they have the midfield playmakers. They have Higuain and Ronaldo that combined can be as great as Messi and in a year they will have a defense and a team that has had time together to form and identity and chemistry. They are close. You can tell that the pieces are there and that they want to be considered a varsity team. But they aren't. They are still a year away.