El Centrocampista

Barcelona draw first blood but Mourinho may just be the happier coach

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While we may not have seen the mayhem of last season’s curtain raiser at the Camp Nou, the first leg of the Spanish Supercup still offered a predictable amount of controversy for the sports dailies to get their teeth into.

With the memory of last year’s infamous eye-gouging fresh in the memory, Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho was fairly subdued as his side fell to a slender 3-2 defeat at the hands of their bitter rivals in a raucous night in Catalunya. However, speaking in the post-match press conference the Portuguese boss did highlight the fact that he believed Pedro’s equalising goal, just seconds after Cristiano Ronaldo had given his side the lead, was offside.

To Mourinho’s credit, he refused to criticse the officials and appeared fairly content with the performance of his team – despite going into the second leg with the one goal deficit. The former Chelsea boss probably has valid cause for complaint over Pedro’s goal as replays show the Canarian was indeed offside – a fact even agreed on by Barcelona-based daily newspaper Sport this morning.

In reality, Mourinho will be the first to admit that the scoreline could well have been a little different had the home side taken their chances – Lionel Messi in particular proving particularly wasteful. The reigning champions looked fatigued during the match – probably a combination of the heat and the decision to spend yet another pre-season in the United States. However, there were still enough signs to suggest the race for the title will be just as close this season.

Cristiano Ronaldo also further dispelled the fallacy that he is not a big game player. The Portuguese star became the first Real Madrid player to score in four consecutive Camp Nou clasicos as he  thundered in a header from Mesut Ozil’s corner nine minutes into the second half. While he may have been anonymous for much of the game, that goal scoring achievement speaks for itself.

Ironically, it may be Mourinho who is the happier of the two coaches despite losing the game. Barcelona were undoubtedly the better side and few would have been surprised if they had further increased their lead as Andres Iniesta dominated proceedings during the closing 20 minutes of the match. Nevertheless, the defining moment of the two-legged tie could prove to be the moment Angel di Maria stole the ball from the feet of a hesitant Victor Valdes to give the champions hope going into the return leg. Coming just seconds after Barcelona had almost scored the goal that would have surely clinched the first trophy of the season, the blunder could prove costly for the Catalans.

Few can deny Valdes is a top class goalkeeper and has been a fantastic servant for Barcelona, however, these occasional lapses of concentration provide ample evidence as to why he has only won eight international caps for Spain and failed to dislodge Iker Casillas from the number one spot.
While many may point to the fact that Valdes receives far more balls to his feet than the majority of goalkeepers in football, this cannot hide the fact that he was far too casual in his decision making last night as Di Maria stole in.

There will be no knee-jerk reaction from Barcelona of course, and Tito Vilanova has already said there is nothing to talk about. In fact, it is highly likely the goalkeeper will see even more of the ball during the opening stages of the next game as the coach looks to restore his keeper’s confidence at the earliest opportunity.

The encounter now goes into the second leg on a knife edge. What could have been an almost non-event had Barcelona taken their chances and their goalkeeper kept his composure, now promises to be another intriguing clash between arguably the two best sides in world football. While the Supercup may mean little as a trophy, both coaches recognise the physiological importance of drawing first blood in a season that is sure to be fought to the death. Game on.

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