Five days after its biggest win at Camp Nou in more than a decade, Real Madrid hosts Barcelona again on Saturday in the Spanish league with its decisive Champions League match at Manchester United looming.
Madrid’s defence did a masterful job of neutralising Barcelona forward Lionel Messi on Tuesday, and its 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.
The game at the Santiago Bernabeu transcends the league title race, which Barcelona has well in hand with a 12-point lead over second-place Atletico Madrid and Madrid a further four points adrift.
Another dominant victory for Madrid could signal a shift in the balance of power between the two fierce rivals that Barcelona has had in its favour for the past five years.
Besides, there’s no better way for Madrid to boost morale for its trip to United next Tuesday than a pair of strong showings against Barcelona.
Barcelona, meanwhile, is reeling after its worst week of results since former coach Pep Guardiola took over in 2008. Barcelona lost 2-0 at AC Milan in the first leg of its Champions League knockout series and six days later flopped to its biggest loss to Madrid at Camp Nou since a 2-0 defeat in April 2002.
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. Ronaldo scored both goals on the break as Barcelona’s defence was off-balance with numerous players near Madrid’s area in an attempt to weave its signature passing web in close quarters.
Madrid has only lost once in its past seven meetings with Barcelona, and Madrid can solidify this trend with yet another commanding performance on Saturday.
If Barcelona falls again against Madrid, Atletico can reduce the gap to single digits when it visits fourth-place Malaga on Sunday.AP