El Clasico isn’t what it used to be.
Back at the start of the 2010s, this was the fixture in world football. Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho were stalking the touchlines. Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi eyed up Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso like a high-budget Western.
It was the fixture you rushed home for, kicking the cat off the sofa before hunkering down in the full knowledge you were about to be entertained by top-quality football and top-quality shithousery.
Last night’s Copa del Rey semi-final only lived up to half of its previous billing. We won’t waste many words or brain cells describing the actual action, a functional 1-0 win for Barcelona that makes them hot favourites to reach May’s final in Seville.
But, thankfully, Vinicius Jr and Frenkie de Jong produced something of a karaoke tribute to El Clasico’s reputation for glorious shithousery.
The first half was meandering along, with the crowd at the Bernabeu weighing up the merits of competitive paint drying, when Vinicius Jr elevated some regulation tussling by grabbing De Jong’s shirt.
Rather than allow himself to become the victim, De Jong returned the gesture with gusto as the ball lay forgotten and unloved nearby.
The immutable laws of gravity meant both combatants fell to the floor, each grappling the other’s midriff while spinning around in a manner that suggested these two young twentysomethings are secret Kylie Minogue fans.
Despite instigating the whole incident, Vinicius had the cheek to protest his innocence to the referee. Watching the game in Paris, Sergio Ramos must have wiped a proud tear from his eye.
Vinícius Jr. and Frenkie de Jong went at it 😳 pic.twitter.com/tFH3LL70uw
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) March 2, 2023
Both managers had plenty to say afterwards, focusing on the fact Barcelona won at the Bernabeu with just 35% possession – their lowest in an El Clasico fixture since 2013-14.
“I am satisfied, but we have to improve with the ball: we cannot give the opponent dominance,” Xavi told reporters. “I am satisfied with the result and not so much with the match.
“The plan was different. We wanted to dominate in the rival’s stadium… But today we couldn’t. We weren’t neat with the ball. Madrid didn’t have clear chances. It’s a very important victory for us. Today we cannot boast. This is not the game we want.
“We want to generate more scoring chances. It is not the game we want. They dominated us with the ball. How do you take the ball from Kroos and Modric? They have to be valued and they’re extraordinary”.
Meanwhile, Carlo Ancelotti remarked: “It’s been a bit strange to see them [Barcelona] play like this.”
When asked if he felt Barca deserved to beat Madrid, Ancelotti replied: “No, it’s pretty obvious. There have hardly been any occasions. I think it’s been one of our best games defensively all season.”
While Barcelona hold the advantage before next month’s second leg, only a fool would write off Madrid’s chances; half of the Premier League’s Big Six are in therapy because of their cup exploits.
And while Thursday’s El Clasico wasn’t a patch on previous fixtures between the two giants of Spanish football, we’d like to raise a glass of Rioja to Vinicius and De Jong for keeping old fires burning.
By Michael Lee