Thursday, 28 April 2011

Guardiola wins battle over Mourinho

Jose Mourinho's post match press conference was full of accusations; at Barcelona, at referees, at Guardiola, even at UNICEF (yes it's true!).  He claimed that there were "dark forces at work" in reference to what he thinks is bias from referees towards Barcelona and that one day he "would like Josep Guardiola to win this competition properly," in a reference to the controversial semi final second leg against Chelsea two years ago. He even announced that he felt that his side were now out of the competition. Strong stuff but the overwhelming feeling was that Guardiola had comfortably won this battle.

Last week's Copa Del Rey Final was fiercely fought, with high emotions throughout but the widely held opinion was that Mourinho had caught out the current La Liga Champions and for one of the first times since Guardiola took over, Barcelona looked bereft of ideas. Messi was the one attacking player who looked like he had the key to opening up the defence. Madrid played very well defensively, even in spite of some awful challenges from Arbeloa, Alonso and Pepe that really should have been awarded red cards. Meanwhile Alves was quiet, same with Iniesta while Villa and Pedro, both in poor form, were both adding to that, particularly Villa who didn't look confident after a big run of games without a goal. And Mourinho had a trophy.

The interviews in the run up to last night's match were no less controversial. Mourinho made out that his team were underdogs and tried to wind up Guardiola by hypocritically having a go at him for complaining about referees. It was typical of Mourinho - trying everything he could to win a game even if it was ugly. It came as no surprise for people to hear this or even quoting Einstein. But Guardiola uncharacteristically reacted to it. He chose to hit back at Mourinho just days before a big European semi final against his team's biggest rivals. Instead of rising above the bait he took it straight on. Madness, surely a sign of another manager cracking up under the pressure of Mourinho? That's what many of the press put it as yet it wasn't.

It wasn't a rant nor was it Guardiola cracking up. It was completely thought out and planned. Guardiola wanted to stand up to his rivals, he wasn't going to be bullied by the Portuguese manager nor was he going to go over the top about it. He said that he couldn't match Mourinho in the media manipulation, that Mourinho owned that area and that he wasn't going to get involved. That he wanted to do his talking on the pitch. But Guardiola was wrong. He more than matched Mourinho on this occasion off the pitch and had stood up to him. He was going to go at him but in a smooth and composed manner. Like when Rafa Benitez had his famous "rant" two years ago about Alex Ferguson it wasn't a sign of feeling the heat. It was a sign that he was not going to be the weak guy.

The game was therefore hyped up even more, unfortunately out of proportion in terms of what the game turned out to be. There were not many chances, a slow tempo and a number of dives and cases of play acting that ruined the game.

Mourinho played deep with not much ambition for attacking play and a distinct lack of support for Ronaldo in the first half. With the first leg at home one has to question the wisdom of playing so deep and defensive especially knowing how good Barcelona are at the Nou Camp. Pep Guardiola clearly predicted that Real Madrid would play this way and went about in a more cautious way than we've been accustomed to with Barcelona. The back four were fairly flat with a deeper line and Dani Alves was more restricted in his runs meaning that there would be more cover if Madrid started a counter attack. Meanwhile their pressing was nowhere as aggressive and their passing was slower and less ambitious. In essence they were forcing Real to press higher up than they wanted to and to go forward more. Even if Real didn't oblige with this, a 0-0 would have been a good result to come back to the Nou Camp with. In the end it turned out far better.

The sending off of Pepe was controversial, perhaps a touch harsh though there was a case for both sides. However it meant that Messi got more space and he took advantage of it with two goals, with the second one being top class. But the man who had really got it right was Guardiola. His tactics and the way he reacted to Mourinho was very good. He figured out a way to come back to the defensive tactics that Mourinho had used in the previous two matches and Mourinho didn't really have an attacking answer, disappointing considering the amount they have spent on attacking talent and annoying for their fans who clearly want a more attractive way of playing.

Mourinho cut an extremely frustrated figure in his post match press conference where he questioned the authority that he felt Barcelona had over referees, difficult to grasp after some of the fouls from his players in last week's Copa Del Rey. To me it seemed that Mourinho was just trying to find anyone else but himself to blame. But in truth he was the only one who came away looking silly. Guardiola had stood up to him, played differently to what Mourinho had expected and had come away with a result which puts Barcelona in an extremely good position to get into the final for the second time in three years. So as Mourinho launched into why he felt Madrid were being hard done by, Guardiola had every right to be happy with himself.

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