Real Madrid came away from the Nou Camp on Sunday with a much deserved point as both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi netted a brace in a pulsating 2-2 draw. Mourinho’s men may still be 8 points behind the Catalans but there was a sense of progression ever since Mourinho first took charge of Real Madrid in 2010.
Nobody would have imagined Madrid scoring 2 goals at the Nou Camp two years ago – Pep Guardiola’s men completely dominated Jose Mourinho’s side in the 2010/2011 season, winning 5-0 at home, drawing 1-1 away from home and while Real Madrid did beat Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey final 1-0 – a match which many considered a fluke - Barcelona had the last laugh, knocking their counterparts out of the Champions League semi-finals 3-1 on aggregate en route to winning the competition. Mourinho’s tactics were heavily criticized, especially by The Guardian's Paul Hayward who asked, "How, the plutocrats will ask, did [Mourinho] expect to knock Barcelona out with 28% possession, in his own stadium – and by leaving Kaká, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín on the bench for the full 90 minutes?"
After being outplayed time and time again in the first few Clasicos, Mourinho has slowly gained the upper hand, having not lost to Barcelona in the last 2 league meetings while also winning this season’s Spanish Super Cup 4-4 by virtue of away goals. Of course, not to forget, last season’s league win at the Nou Camp which ultimately cemented Real Madrid’s La Liga triumph after a long 3 year drought. From scoring only twice in 5 meetings (an average of 0.4 goals per game) in the 2010/2011 season, Mourinho’s side has scored 16 goals in the last 9 meetings (an average of 1.7 goals per game) between their rival Spanish giants ever since.
Other than goals, Real Madrid haven’t been as dominated by Barcelona in recent meetings and have had more chances at goal as well – this was particularly noted in the weekend’s game where Madrid had more chances on goal than Barcelona at the Nou Camp. One factor has been Los Blancos overcoming the mental barrier – there was some kind of a mental block present within the Real Madrid players that no matter how well they played, they were always going to be beaten by the Catalans. After 4 games with no wins, Mourinho finally masterminded his team’s first win over Barcelona in the 2011 Copa Del Rey final – a match where Ronaldo notably scored his first goal against Barcelona.
Ever since that win – despite losing the Champions League semi-finals afterwards – there was a new instilled belief and growing confidence that Barcelona could be beaten. At the start of the 2011/2012 season, Real Madrid and Barcelona played each other in the two legged Spanish Super Cup. Despite losing 5-4 on aggregate, the performance of Mourinho’s side was one to be admired, especially as they scored 4 goals in 2 games against the best team in the world – they barely managed 2 goals in 5 meetings the previous season. However, losses were to come back to bite Los Blancos – a 3-1 league loss at home bundled along with a 4-3 aggregate Copa Del Rey quarterfinal loss followed, however, the manner in which Real Madrid lost, putting in all their effort, fearlessly facing the Catalans were more of the positive signs coming from Mourinho’s men.
And then, it all paid off. Mourinho won his first league game against Guardiola’s men 2-1 at the Nou Camp which consolidated Madrid’s place at the top as they eventually became champions. More factors contributing to this is the rise of Karim Benzema who has developed immensely under Mourinho as well as Ronaldo’s knack for scoring against Barcelona, notably setting a record for being the only player to score in 6 consecutive Clasicos – not a bad feat for a player who doesn’t ‘turn up for the big games.’ Another factor which has contributed to the progression of Real Madrid is team stability and chemistry – after a failure to defeat Barcelona on many occasions, Mourinho hasn’t just gone out and bought more players. He’s stuck with the team who gradually got used to each other which certainly helps. This was shown in the weekend’s game – the team which drew Barcelona 2-2 were virtually the same team (barring Carvalho) who got hammered 5-0 by Barcelona just 2 years earlier.
One last factor has been the shift from negative to positive tactics – Mourinho initially deployed a 4 man defense guarded by Pepe as a defensive midfielder, sacrificing an attacking player in the process. While this worked at the start, the plan never succeeded and so, Mourinho stuck to his usual 4-2-3-1 with Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso patrolling the midfield and the results were there for all to see.
These are all the factors which have led to the rise of Real Madrid and the somewhat fall of Barcelona but there is of course, the argument that Barcelona have declined, especially with Tito Vilanova – Guardiola’s successor – and his new tactics. This isn’t entirely true. The Barcelona team have actually strengthened these past few years and their defense have been weak only due to injuries, not because of quality, though one can argue that not buying a natural central defender has been one of the causes of demise for Barcelona.
All in all, Real Madrid fans have a reason to be happy – they can now expect their team to actually go for the game and not entirely be dominated by Barcelona as Mourinho’s side has clearly progressed throughout these past 2 years.