Paddy Power

Ragged, lethargic, sloppy. That’s Real Madrid not Victor Valdes

by Paddy Power Admin | August 28, 2012

Graham Hunter byline

So, you reckon you’ve seen something pretty similar to Victor Valdés gaffe last week against Real Madrid which gifted Ángel Di Maria a goal and set up Wednesday night’s Spanish Super Cup decider just nicely at 3-2 to Barça?

Well you are on the money.

The Catalan keeper did something even more calamitous last December when he passed straight to Di Maria at the Bernabéu under absolutely no pressure and it led to Karim Benzema giving Madrid a 1-0 lead in just over a minute.

At least last week Di Maria had to press Valdés into his mistake to create a scoreline which Gerard Piqué joked was better than winning 3-1 ‘just to keep us sharp for the second leg’.

What I cannot understand, however, is the instant tidal wave of ‘told you he wasn’t any good’ reactions to any Valdés error – particularly from the UK.

It was the same after the first leg of the Champions league knockout tie at the Emirates when Arsenal beat Barça 2-1 after David Villa had given the visitors the lead. Robin Van Persie found it too easy to score on that occasion.

But let’s put it in some perspective. That was the season in which Barça went on to stun the world with that Wembley Champions League triumph (Valdés third medal in that competition), Barça then won last season’s liga Clasico 3-1 irrespective of their keeper’s early error – indeed they’ve not lost away to Madrid since May 2008.

In that time Barça have five wins and two draws at the Santiago Bernabéu scoring 18 and conceding seven.

Whether people like it or not, Valdés has been a central part of that remarkable statistic (barring the Cup victory last season when Pinto deputised).

Pep Guardiola

SWEEPER KEEPER OF THE FLAME : Pep Guardiola’s high-risk defensive strategy paid off (pic: Inpho)

The term sweeper-keeper has been en vogue for a long time now but Barça is the club where it fits most snugly.

Certainly since Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova took over in 2008 Barça have opted for a high-risk game at the back.

Often there will be only two defenders as the full backs become auxiliary midfielders in search of dominance in the centre of the pitch and the very nature of Barça ’s football philosophy is underpinned by the idea that there will be a high number of one-on-one contests during matches – including for the keeper.

What Barça ’s outrageous splurge of goals, trophies and thrilling football over the last four and a half years has seduced people into forgetting is that time and again Valdés has made whites-of-the-eyes saves when his defence has been caught out by counter-attacks or the long ball.

Just think about how Barcelona defend.

High line, minimal numbers at the back, often playing pass the parcel back and forwards across their penalty area in complete devotion to the ‘possession’ game – it’s defending by the Chuckle Brothers, ‘to me … to you’.

Victor Valdes

HOWLER: Barca keeper Victor Valdes gifted Real Madrid their second goal to keep their hopes alive

Yet Valdés has won five Zamora awards for the keeper who has conceded the fewest goals per game in a Spanish league season.

Barça keep the ball well which helps Valdés, naturally. But they also give up chances and his great specialty is the one-on-one save.

Whether he’s in the greatest form of his life right now is a moot point, as is whether he can erase the stain of that error last week with a top quality, trophy winning performance on Wednesday.

What is not open to question is his stellar part in Barcelona’s pre-eminent place in Spain and Europe over the last seven years.

Will he have Piqué and Javier Mascherano in front of him at the Bernabéu? It’s more than likely given that Puyol not only fractured his cheekbone in the 2-1 away win over Osasuna at the weekend but looked decidedly in need of match-time to sharpen some rusty edges.

It’s advantage Barcelona not only in the score line but also for the fact that Madrid have looked decidedly edgy when playing the Catalans at home since that 6-2 thrashing in 2009 which announced that the Guardiola era was something truly special

Madrid have led in five of their last seven home Clasicos going on to draw two and lose three of them – that doesn’t speak of total Barça  domination but of Madrid’s current inability to close a game off against their historic rivals, to concentrate for 90 minutes and to impose a playing style on the Catalans.

Moreover José Mourinho called the weekend’s defeat to Getafe “unacceptable” and it was. Ragged, lethargic, sloppy at the back and lacking in cutting edge up front.

Barcelona slight favourites in Supercopa second leg

However I’m supposing that the performance was unrepresentative rather than indicative that the wheels have already come off a juggernaut.

Appetites will be sharpened by the horrible prospect of Barcelona celebrating a trophy at the Bernabéu for the first time since 1997 when Sir Bobby Robson did so by winning the Cup against Betis.

José Mourinho was his assistant that day and revelled in the Catalan delight at lifting silverware at enemy HQ. He knows, precisely, how bitter that taste would be to him, his President, Madrid’s fans and the players if it came to pass tomorrow night.

Last season the final of the Copa was expected to be played at the Bernabéu again with the Barça and Athletic supporters crying out for the extra tickets at the second biggest stadium in Spain rather than at the Atlético Madrid’s Vicente Calderon where there were 30,000 fewer seats.

Try as they might the Spanish Federation couldn’t persuade President Florentino Perez to let them rent the stadium with the final word being that there were some repairs due on a few of the toilets which made it inappropriate to host the final.

Here you need to be aware that one Spanish word for the toilet is ‘Vatér’ and so the more cynical Catalan journalists dubbed Madrid’s unwillingness to risk Pep Guardiola finishing his reign by celebrating with a 14th trophy right in the heart of the Bernabéu as … Vatérgate.

Naturally.

So there are one or two reasons why Barcelona start narrow favourites to lift the first trophy of the season but I’d wager that the picture is slightly more complicated. Madrid are proud champions, have street-fighting players right across their squad and are organised by a man with proven skills at looking at bad odds and turning them in his favour.

If Victor Valdés produces his standard form then that should tip the balance in the away side’s favour. If not, if he repeats anything like his error of last week, then not only will we have another corker of a match on our hands, Barça ’s long run of dominance at the Bernabéu will be under severe threat.

Graham Hunter is a Barcelona-based, British soccer writer whose passionate insight into La Liga can regularly be heard on TV and radio. He will be providing regular columns for the Paddy Power Blog on Spanish football this season. Follow him on twitter here.

Your comments and views