It could have been worse for Real Madrid

November, 29, 2010
11/29/10
4:38
PM ET

Here's a frightening realization for you: Things could have been a lot worse for Real Madrid in their 5-0 battering at the hands of Barcelona.

It could have been worse if Lionel Messi's early chip had gone in rather than clipped the post.

It could have been worse if Messi had played the ball into the path of the wide-open David Villa shortly after Barca went up 2-0.

It could have been worse if Xavi had played it square to the unmarked Messi or Villa rather than shanking the ball into the side netting from an impossible angle in the 53rd minute.

It could have been worse if Bojan Krkic hadn't stumbled when he broke free seconds after coming on in the 76th minute.

It could have been much worse for Real supercoach Jose Mourinho, who had never lost by more than 3-0 in a league game in his life, and spent much of the game blushing in shame. Perhaps as an admission that all was lost after the first half, the Special One took off his lone attacking midfielder, Mesut Ozil, and replaced him with a third defensive midfielder, Lassana Diarra. Maybe Mourinho thought Diarra would help Real gain control of the midfield. But it clearly didn't work. Nor did Real's off-side traps, which were exploited time and again.

Finally, though, Barcelona took things down a gear after it built a commanding 4-0 lead and contented itself with skipping the ball back and forth as though the players were taking a leisurely walk along the beach. Barca was showing its sworn enemies the kind of mercy of a boxer standing over his vanquished opponent, knowing he could pound on him some more but deciding he's had enough.

Barcelona destroyed Real. But Barca also demonstrated -- on this day, anyway -- its superior style of play and approach to the game. That its way is a team built, not bought. That its wins are won positively, not negatively, by taking on the burden of possession and perfection rather than pouncing on those unable to defend themselves.

Barca left Real with just enough life in it to walk its forced march of shame back to Madrid, all the injustices the capital ever brought on Catalonia resoundingly avenged at long last.

Leander Schaerlaeckens

Contributing writer, ESPN.com
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a contributing writer for ESPN.com. He has previously written for The Guardian, The Washington Times and UPI.

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