Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Gerardo Martino's under pressure Barcelona had plenty of time and possession to fight back, however were often unable to find a comfortable rhythm against Real's compact defending. Messi and Neymar weren't given any time with the ball by Real Madrid's defenders, and it was left to Iniesta and Xavi to retain possession and search for openings. Martino's choice to start Fabregas as a sort of false center forward was incomprehensible, especially considering the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Pedro kept on the bench. Fabregas rarely touched the ball, and Martino's side was continuously vulnerable against Real Madrid's quick transition led by Bale, Benzema, or Di Maria.
In the second half Barcelona suffered more of the same. An uncontainable Isco pinged passes for his teammates, and all of the Galacticos showed incredible selflessness in their counter-attacking play of one-touch passes. Messi continued in his mediocrity, with a couple of shots snapped wide or too weak to trouble Casillas. However, it was the 23 year old central defender Marc Bartra who found the equalizer for Barca, with his powerful header from a corner. With about 20 minutes left, Barcelona had suddenly reopened the encounter, and Martino's earlier substitutions of Pedro and Adriano (for Fabregas and Jordi Alba) now looked ready to double up and score the winner.
Yet it was another Real Madrid counter-attack which undid the Barca defence, this time manned by the unstoppable Gareth Bale. Poking a long touch past Bartra, Bale was pushed off of the field by the scorer of the equalizer, however the Welshman continued his tempestuous run around the defender and straight at Pinto before nudging the ball into the net for the winner. It was a fantastic goal which left Barcelona with only five minutes to reply, and Martino immediately threw on Alexis Sanchez in desperate hope for an equalizer. The final chance of the night fell to Neymar after Xavi slipped a sublime pass through the Real defence, but the Brazilian banged his effort against the post with a practically empty net to shoot at.
The match ended 2-1 for Real Madrid, with Gareth Bale claiming his first major trophy thanks to his brilliant goal. The disappointment of Barcelona's meek performance, highlighted by Messi's invisibility throughout the match will now surely prompt Martino's dismissal at the end of the season. On the other side of the spectrum, Ancelotti and the rest of Madrid will be celebrating the Copa del Rey victory passionately, before preparing themselves for the two other trophies which await them.