Gareth Bale has enjoyed a brilliant debut season for Real Madrid, but scoring the winner in the Copa del Rey will surely be his highlight. In the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, Bale took on the primary striking role alongside Karim Benzema, and prodded home the winning goal just six minutes from time. Considering his season began with injury and doubts over his enormous price tag, he has since looked worthy competition for Ronaldo’s Ballon d’Or. His goal, from a trademark sprint, gave Madrid the trophy on a night when little could separate the two. Angel di Maria put Madrid ahead before Marc Bartra nodded Barca level. The young defender then failed to properly halt the unstoppable Bale, almost forcing him into the crowd, but crucially, failing to get between the Welshman and the ball. He made it 2-1 to Madrid and became the main man with Ronaldo watching from the sidelines.
The Spanish media will analyse Barcelona’s fall from grace, having thrown way three competitions within a week, but credit should instead go to Carlo Ancelotti. Looking back at the Italian’s previous honours reveals a coach who should be regarded as one of the elite in world football, and has arguably won his toughest trophy yet. Barca dominated possession, but rarely troubled Madrid and that was predominantly down to the way in which Ancelotti organised his side. The Copa del Rey was perhaps equally as important for Real as it was for Barca – potentially each side’s only piece of silverware this season. Madrid managed to keep the pressure on Barcelona and win, meaning that Ancelotti’s job becomes easier, whilst making Tata Martino’s near-impossible to continue.
Fans and members of the media have been disappointed with the way Barcelona have played this season and have increased the pressure on Martino, but now they have a viable excuse for their negativity. Three trophies have been discarded in the past week meaning Barcelona will surely go a season without any silverware. For a club of such stature, this is unacceptable, and Martino is expected to face the brunt of the discontent. As unfairly as he has been treated, failure to organise his team in the past four matches is his own doing. Not only have Barca lost their last three, only Bartra’s header has been registered. Lionel Messi has looked dejected for weeks despite Martino being brought in specifically to get the Argentinian firing as he once used to. The team look abject and off-field problems continue to ensue. Maybe it is best Martino escapes when he can?
Barcelona will be very fortunate to win a trophy this year, having dropped chances in all three formats this week, and their slump shows no signs of stopping. Key players in the shape of Victor Valdes and Carlos Puyol won’t be in the playing squad next season, and a transfer embargo will prevent the management from making additions. A new manager will probably have to be brought in, their fourth in four years since the glorious Guardiola phase. Depending on how the World Cup goes, star players will return either tired, heartbroken or euphoric, having an effect on the early season form. A new president could also be appointed by then as the Camp Nou heralds in an uncertain new era. Barcelona’s slump won’t last forever, but returning to the peak of Europe is not yet possible with a team currently going backwards.
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