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Barcelona 1 Real Madrid 2

Real show of force can be way forward for Di Matteo as Barca are dismantled

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 22 April 2012

Last week it was the foundations Jose laid that proved to be an impenetrable wall for Barcelona. On Saturday night it was Mourinho’s current incarnation, Real Madrid, who proved to much for the all-conquering Catalan side.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s 72nd-minute winner crushed any chance of a Barcelona fightback and left this magnificent team looking lethargic, disjointed and well and truly beaten — on the night and in the title race.

Barca manager Pep Guardiola conceded the La Liga title to Madrid after Mourinho’s side moved seven points clear with only four games left. The former Chelsea boss, still nine months short of his 50th birthday, is all but guaranteed a seventh League title in a fourth different country.

Party time: Real Madrid celebrate as they beat Barcelona at the Nou Camp

Party time: Real Madrid celebrate as they beat Barcelona at the Nou Camp

What chance now a Champions League final reunion with Chelsea in Germany next month, too

The manner of Barcelona’s defeat here cannot help but give Chelsea hope. As former Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso commented, Guardiola’s side no longer seem unbeatable.

Back-to-back defeats have put a sizeable dent in the aura of invincibility that has shrouded Barca — particularly at home, where they had not been beaten since September 2010.

‘Not just tonight, the other night as well,’ said Alonso. ‘We saw that Chelsea beat them.

‘We know that over the last few years they have been so successful; that they have been playing great, wonderful football. But they are not unbeatable.’

How Barcelona respond will be fascinating. This is only the third time they have lost consecutive matches under Guardiola and, with La Liga now all but gone, the Catalans face a fight to hold on to their European crown.

‘It’s not a delicate moment, it’s one of hope,’ said midfielder Xavi Hernandez. ‘We have it in our hands to have a great season.

Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo struck to effectively win La Liga for Madrid

Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo struck to effectively win La Liga for Madrid

‘I wish we could play on Monday. We have this internal anger sportsmen have after losing.

‘We want to win, overturn the deficit against Chelsea and show we deserve to be in the final.’

Sergio Busquets had a moan about the manner of Madrid’s victory, suggesting they ‘were camped inside their own half during the whole match’ and they ‘didn’t play for anything’, but that is doing the visitors a disservice. Their two goals took the team’s total in the league to 109 for the season, beating the record set by John Toshack’s side in 1989-90 with four games still to play.

Barcelona didn’t muster a single shot on target during the first half, but had only Sami Khedira’s 17th minute goal to overhaul. Pepe had knocked down a corner at the far post, Victor Valdes saved but Carles Puyol tried to shield the ball instead of clearing it and the Germany star pounced.

Substitute Alexis Sanchez equalised within minutes of coming on, a goal as erratic as the majority of Barcelona’s play. Iker Casillas saved from Cristian Tello and Adriano, but could not keep out Sanchez’s 70th-minute shot.

The home side, though, were level for just over two minutes. Madrid flicked a switch, returned to attack mode and countered with the speed and incisiveness of a lethal injection.

Plenty to ponder: Lionel Messi was subdued as Barcelona lost at home

Plenty to ponder: Lionel Messi was subdued as Barcelona lost at home

Ronaldo darted on to Mesut Ozil’s perfectly-weighted pass, took it round Valdes and rolled it into the open goal. It was his 54th goal of the campaign and his 42nd in the league. He played the role of pantomime villain to perfection, a hush falling on the Nou Camp as the former Manchester United star urged for ‘calm’. Real rarely looked flustered after that.

Karim Benzema and Ozil provided a constant threat, but Madrid’s strength was built on defensive foundations. Barcelona looked devoid of ideas, despite all their possession. Alonso and Khedira shielded Pepe and Sergio Ramos and white shirts flooded the middle of the field.

Lionel Messi was forced to go deep and Barcelona were pushed out wide. Andres Iniesta drifted somewhat aimlessly and 20-year-old Tello was an ineffective indulgence on the left, wasting two excellent chances.

Cesc Fabregas, dropped after his poor finishing at Stamford Bridge, was not introduced until the 81st minute, when the match and the championship were only ever going Madrid’s way.

Remarkably, Messi has only lost back-to-back matches four times in his Barcelona career. He has never lost three matches in a row; a fate his team have not suffered since February 2003.

But a draw would do Chelsea nicely. After all, their old manager has just shown them how to succeed at the Nou Camp.

Silence: The Nou Camp was stunned when Ronaldo scored for Madrid

Silence: The Nou Camp was stunned when Ronaldo scored for Madrid

The theatre of broken dreams

This was a ‘Clasico’ with a difference; a game not just about pride and passion, but points and league positions.

This one really mattered. You could feel its spine-tingling significance as fans congregated on the streets before kick-off.

Barcelona’s defeat by Real Madrid left Jose Mourinho’s side seven points clear at the top of La Liga, with only four games to go. It meant that, barring a most unlikely collapse, the Spanish title is heading from Catalonia to the capital. And it was a performance by Real, too, an imposition of will, discipline and lethal attacking football that reverberated around the steep gradients of the magnificent Nou Camp arena.

It is too soon — and disrespectful — to talk about the end of an era in which we have gasped, open-mouthed at the sheer beauty of Barcelona’s football, but the silence that greeted Cristiano Ronaldo’s clinical winner in the 72nd minute felt like a significant moment. It was a stunning, unforgettable piece of theatre. There was a quiver of disbelief but what followed was not an overspill of anger or frustration, but acceptance.

Resignation, almost. The 99,000 supporters knew it was a killer blow and so did their team. I was lucky enough to be in the Bernabeu in November 2005 when Ronaldinho tore Real apart in a 3-0 win for Barcelona, his second goal prompting a standing ovation from the home fans. But this game felt different. It certainly wasn’t a classic football match, but then hyped-up clashes seldom are. Instead, it was a gritty, hard-fought contest imbued with meaning.

This made it even more intriguing to watch and thrilling to attend.