Real Madrid’s win over Barcelona was only a single game, but its significance could be felt for a number of years.
It is tempting to dismiss talk of it being ‘the end of an era’, as Gerard Pique has done, but it would be shortsighted to not acknowledge the way Jose Mourinho’s side dealt so efficiently with the Catalans.
Real went with a specific game plan to stifle Barcelona’s possession around their box and break quickly into space left by Guardiola’s advancing wing/full-backs.
It worked very well and they were worthy winners in the end, opening the gap between Barca and themselves to seven points at the top of La Liga.
This victory has, in all likelihood, confirmed them as champions this year, but the manner of it suggested Mourinho had finally worked out the formula his team needed to defeat their historic rivals.
There are many mitigating factors attached to Barcelona’s failure at the weekend, such as fatigue and fitness of some key players, but the symbolism of the win should not be lost.
All great narratives in football have pivotal moments that are said to define them, more gradual shifts are often signified by individual happenings that are easier to present as turning points and this game was not short of a few.
It was Mourinho’s first victory at Nou Camp as a manager, it was only the third time that Barcelona had lost two consecutive games under Guardiola, the last time being in 2009.
It meant the title would reside somewhere other than Catalonia for the first time in four years and Mourinho can continue his remarkable record of winning a league title in every country he has managed in – barring a collapse of unprecedented proportions.
However, the most valuable result of this win could be the shattering of the hoodoo that Barcelona had held over Los Merengues for the previous seasons, which had seen them win just one of the previous 14 meetings between the sides.
The Portuguese coach, if he stays with Madrid, has the opportunity to build an empire as extensive as the one that Guardiola brought to Barcelona over the past few years.
While they do not have the legacy and tradition of La Masia and the culture of tiki-taka that was the hallmark of the club’s success in the previous years, they have amassed a young and talented squad.
With Cristiano Ronaldo vying with Lionel Messi for title of ‘best in the world’, exciting attacking talent in Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain, Mezut Ozil and the ever-increasing influence of Spaniards Xabi Alonso and Sergi Ramos, there is the nucleus of a side that could dominate for some time.
Could there be a better candidate than Mourinho to lead them to prominence in a rivalry with what has been described as ‘the greatest club side ever’ by more than a few people in the past year?
Madrid have access to resources that few other clubs can call upon and a tradition of excellence for decades – now they have a man in charge who breathes winning and looks to have just completed the toughest test of his career so far in toppling Barca from La Liga’s summit.
The logical next step would be emulating or eclipsing the achievements of Guardiola’s side and, even though this is a task more monumental than most, there is probably no better man to do attempt it than ‘The Special One’.
It must be stressed that this is not a prediction of Barcelona’s decline, but a broaching of the possibility of Real Madrid domination.
Guardiola’s side have already won three trophies this season and could still add the Copa del Rey, so there can be no suggestion that they are now a side that have come to the end of an era.
Football clubs are always pushed to greater heights by the domination of their rivals and the emergence of another winning team does not always mean they have become worse, just that the bar they raised initially has now been pushed even higher.
Success on this scale would take years to happen and to quantify, but Mourinho has now got a basis from which to rule the football world.
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