Barça have never been unbeatable. Even at the dizzying heights of their recent peaks they did not win every game. And while it is true that they remain unbeaten thus far this season, the defeats, both in Spain and abroad, will surely come. And when they do they will arrive in different guises for history proves that there has always been more than one way to skin a Catalan.
Celtic achieved success last season with what is disparagingly referred to as parking the bus. A tactic borne from the ever widening gap between football’s haves and have nots that the financial realities of modern day sport created and now exacerbates with every passing season. Of course there is much more to it than the naysayers would suggest or else every game Barça plays would be a dour 0-0 draw or 1-0 victory. It requires a tactically astute coach setting up a disciplined team in which each player commits fully to their individual role within a group dynamic. Fleeting chances to attack must be taken without disrupting the intense concentration of the defensive effort and, with the addition of the requisite rub of the green, miracles can happen. For the Celtic of today, this approach is the only option available.
In the past decade Chelsea have also had success with this tactic. Despite their riches and the players at their disposal, they repeatedly choose to stifle their own creative talent in order to grind out defensive victories when drawn against Barça in the Champions League. But again, yet for totally different reasons to Celtic, this is the natural choice for a club like the 21st century Chelsea FC, an institution that is essentially a factory-made artificial entity that lacks any genuine heart or soul. At best they are a like a reproduction of a great work of art. By definition a fake and lacking the great spark of natural originality that lies at the centre of creations that have grown and developed organically. The Chelsea FC of today has no real history before 2003 and thus it has nothing to guide it along the path to victory. Strive for victory and shun defeat is apparently the club’s motto. The ends justify the means would be more apt.
In the build up to his first clasico, Ancelotti described himself as closer to Spanish national coach Vicente del Bosque than his Madrid predecessor, Jose Mourinho. While ostensibly speaking of his coaching philosophy and ability to adapt his methods and tactics to the players at his disposal, it is safe to say he considers himself cut from an entirely different cloth to the Portuguese in terms of personal character and style. The attempt to distance himself from the poisonous Mou is both admirable and understandable but unfortunately Ancelotti’s team selection on Saturday evening suggests he has not learnt from Jose’s mistakes.
Mourinho’s first clasico ended in abject failure with a humiliating manito (5-0 defeat) in the Camp Nou. That was all the excuse he needed to send his team out with instructions to destroy rather than create when they faced their old rivals in subsequent games. In his first 10 clasicos, Mourinho tasted victory only once – a 1-0 Copa del Rey triumph. His tactics were an affront to what Madrileños believe their club stands for and with each failure, criticisms of his negativity intensified. How could the world’s most expensively assembled team, boasting the attacking flair of Cristiano, Özil, Benzema et al., play in such a restricted manner? How could they play with such fear? Finally Mou bowed to pressure and at the beginning of 2012 Madrid finally began to attack Barça. With the shackles off they lost an entertaining cup double header by the odd goal before ending the season by securing the league with victory in Barcelona. In Mourinho’s final seven games against Barça he won four, drew two and lost only once, with that being a leg of a cup tie that Madrid won on aggregate.
The upturn in fortunes owed much to a belated acceptance that attacking football is an integral part of Madrid’s DNA. This is a club that must live and die by a sword that it swings recklessly over its head as it pours forward into the opposition’s half in a blur of brilliant white. It must win, lose or draw in a blaze of goals at either end. Central defenders, whether Ramos or Pepe, have no place in central midfield for Los Blancos. Playing without a recognised centre forward is a move in defiance of the attacking legend of Real Madrid and an insult to the memory of Puskas, Di Stefano, Gento and the rest. Due to their financial wealth, Madrid are no Celtic. Due to their history, they are no Chelsea. It took Mourinho ten games to appreciate this. Thankfully it looks like Ancelotti got the message after 60 minutes. Expect a different animal in the Bernabeu the next time the two sides meet.