International Soccer
Barcelona remains a cut above Real Madrid

By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Maybe Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho knew something the rest of us did not when he did his best to downplay Monday's showdown with Barcelona at his pre-match press conference.

"Every game is important. Every point that you lose could be key at the end, but after tomorrow's game there will be 25 matches left and there are a lot of points in play and so many factors," Mourinho said on Sunday.

"It's an important game but not decisive. If we win, the following morning will be Tuesday, and if we lose, it will also be Tuesday."

Yes, tomorrow will still be Tuesday, but Real's outlook on things in La Liga will no doubt be different after a stunning 5-0 defeat at the Nou Camp on Monday.

Real entered the match as the only unbeaten team in the league and with a one- point lead over Barcelona at the top of the table.

But Los Blancos left the Catalan region with their tail between their legs, and they will no doubt be filled with questions about how in the world they can put an end to Barca's hold on the top spot in Spain.

This was the year that everything was supposed to be different for Real. Mourinho would bring back the swagger, and new players like Angel Di Maria and Mesut Ozil would make Real's attack even more deadly.

Barcelona has won its last five games against Real Madrid.
Instead of spending huge sums of money to rebuild the team again - which the club did in the summer of 2009 by shelling out over $200 million for Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka - Real spent a modest $68 million to bring in Di Maria, Ozil and midfielder Sami Khedira among others.

Both Di Maria and Ozil have fit in nicely in Real's attack, combining with Ronaldo and striker Gonzalo Higuain to help the club score 33 goals in its first 12 games in league play.

At times this season, Real has lived up to its vast potential and looked like the best team on the planet.

But on Monday, Real's talented attack was no match for the free-flowing brilliance of Barcelona, which dominated in midfield and zipped the ball around at a dizzying pace that left Madrid's players in awe.

Mourinho's Inter Milan side shut down the Barcelona attack in the semifinals of the Champions League last season as Inter went on to claim the title.

However, there was no Esteban Cambiasso or Javier Zanetti in midfield for Real on Monday like Mourinho had at Inter, leaving Xavi and Andres Iniesta to control the middle of the pitch and lead Barca to a stunningly easy win.

After a first half that saw the Barca duo combine on the first goal and have a hand in the build up for the second, Mourinho took off Ozil, despite being down two goals, and brought on another midfielder in Lassana Diarra to help slow things down.

It didn't work though, as Barca would score three more times in the second half of a match that looked like it was men against boys.

Part of the problem for Real may be that the team has continually had to reshuffle its lineup every year to add three or four new pieces, while Barca usually makes one or two impact signings but keeps the core of its team intact.

David Villa was the most expensive addition in La Liga this season with a price tag of over $50 million from Valencia.

But at Barcelona he was plugged into a system that fit his skill set, with Messi, Xavi and Iniesta forming the heart of the attack and Villa merely fitting in.

Real Madrid, meanwhile, seems to be in a constant state of change, with Kaka's move from AC Milan being a prime example.

The club already possessed talented Dutchman Wesley Sneijder, who would have worked well in support of Ronaldo.

However, Sneijder was sold to Inter Milan to make room for the Brazilian, who has yet to hit his stride with Real because he is not the central figure in attack like he was at the San Siro.

Kaka has been mostly ineffective in his new role, while Sneijder could be seen celebrating his Champions League title with Inter on the pitch at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid last May.

It's only one game, and Real Madrid is just two points behind Barcelona with 25 games still to play.

As Mourinho mentioned in his press conference, Monday's game would not be "decisive" in the title race.

However, it did illustrate the fact that a considerable gap remains between the two Spanish giants.

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Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com.

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