Barcelona and Real Madrid might have done the decent, honourable thing. They could have helped out the pundits by giving some kind of indication of whether their seasons were going to be a stinkers or sensational.
Unfortunately for those wanting an easy life, both are still capable of picking up the La Liga and Champions League double. Or coming away with diddly squat, except perhaps the Copa del Rey, in Barcelona’s case. It’s all very inconvenient, especially for those penning articles for outlets where the turnaround time between writing and publication is a hefty one.
To this end, the headlines are being held back on Carlo Ancelotti leaving the Bernabéu by the back door, perhaps to rescue Milan. Or whether Luis Enrique will be chosen as the manager-of-choice at Barcelona despite presidential elections this summer. Joan Laporta is expected to win and might bring in his own bum-on-the bench.
This weekend could have helped decide the fates of both clubs, with Real Madrid facing quite the challenge of high-flying Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. Sevilla had not lost there in a year, taking points off Barcelona in April.
Cristiano Ronaldo was having none of that, however, and popped up with a hat-trick in a thrusting 3-2 win. That should end a weird phase for a forward who was getting increasingly frustrated – and very vocal about it to – with goalkeepers and even fellow Madrid players. Woe betide anyone who gets in the way of Ronaldo doing his favourite pastime in the world, aside from sculpting his eyebrows.
Another road trip awaits in the Champions League, but whilst Saturday’s encounter in Andalusia was against a vibrant, attacking team with few concerns over defensive duties, Tuesday’s match is against Juventus.
Whilst not quite a throw-back to ‘catenaccio’ – some Juve games in Serie A could even be described as entertaining at times thanks to Carlos Tevez and Paul Pogba – a bit of a slog fest is expected in Turin. Massimiliano Allegri predicted a different outcome when the point was put to him about the club’s strategy in the semi-final double-header. “I don’t think both games will end up being goalless draws,” promised the Juve coach. We’ll see.
Juve, a little spooked by recent failures in the Champions League, seem to be playing to the team’s DNA, a tight defensive game and hoping for scraps up front. It worked against Monaco, but will be a tough ask against a Real Madrid side that could throw the kitchen sink at the Italians in the hunt for away goals. “Clearly, we need to defend better than we have being doing recently,” noted Carlo Ancelotti, over the dangers of leaving the door open for a side capable of being feisty when feeling brave.
Barcelona had a fairly easy time of it over the weekend, warming up for the whopper against Bayern Munich by going through the gears against a bottom of the table Córdoba with an 8-0 win. That sent the sorry club back down to La Segunda.
Wednesday’s game is, naturally, centred on the small matter of the return of Pep Guardiola to the Camp Nou, a figure last seen there looking a little forlorn, hairless and completely exhausted.
However, a year long mental spa-treatment in New York and the lure of the Lederhosen of Bayern Munich brought Guardiola back into the game and a face-off against the Barcelona team he helped build. The former Barca boss is bringing his own creation with him in a clash that feels a little like Godzilla against Mecha-Godzilla, the pure version of the beast against an armour plated copy with added laser beam eyes.
Whilst Juventus v Real Madrid is expected to be tight but with the Spanish side to prevail in the end, absolutely anything is expected from the second semi-final. Tuesday’s ‘Sport’ bills the game as “the other fight of the century”.
Rather than being a case of an unstoppable machine against an immovable object, the two clashes pitch one unstoppable machine against another unstoppable machine. An awful lot depends on their ‘real’ strength as both tend to be made to look good by weaker opponents in their domestic leagues.
By Thursday, fans and media-types alike will have a clearer idea of which knee-jerk bandwagon to leap on – Barca/Real Madrid in fantastic/disastrous season celebration/shock. Until then, everyone is going to be kept waiting just a little bit longer.