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A LOOK AT LA LIGA

Masterful management

Ronaldo was rested before scoring the last-gasp penalty which helped Real progress to the Champions League semis.
Ronaldo was rested before scoring the last-gasp penalty which helped Real progress to the Champions League semis. / EFE
  • Real and Barça had contrasting fortunes in Europe this week, but both sides' managers deserve credit

If a Formula One car has no fuel in the tank then it's about as useful as a tractor with no diesel... and that just about sums up Barcelona.

In La Liga they have so far proven to be the “Invincibles” with a reserve of energy, yet when it came to European football they succumbed to human weaknesses.

“It's a shock” said so many people after the historic turnaround in Rome. Well it wasn't if you'd observed their previous two performances. Two weeks ago they needed Lionel Messi to spring off the bench to save the game against Sevilla, and last weekend it was his hattrick that saw off Leganés. But even the superhero can't save the day every time.

In contrast people were criticising Zinedine Zidane for withdrawing his superhero Cristiano Ronaldo just after he'd scored a goal against Atlético in the Madrid derby. With his exit went Real's chances of winning the game but the manager was thinking of the much bigger picture; the league is lost and he needed to preserve the reigning World Player of the Year for a more important match.

As Messi and co looked expired in the closing yards of their Champions League quarterfinal, Ronaldo sprung wings to win the header that led to the penalty, and then he had the mental reserves to hammer it past the Juventus goalkeeper to propel Real Madrid into the semis.

Zidane won't get the credit he deserves for his choices. Remember he also hooked Gareth Bale and Casemiro at half time. Bale's replacement Lucas Vázquez 'won' the penalty that decided the game.

One day his management will be recognised. Remember this is the first man to have overseen the winning of back-to-back Champions League titles. Sadly more media energy is spent on criticising Ernesto Valverde, the Barcelona coach. For me, this is misguided.

Valverde has squeezed every last globule of energy out of a team that has all but mathematically won La Liga and is in the Copa del Rey final. He's done this with one of the most limited Barcelona squads in recent years. Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembélé have been recruited at great expense but both are eighteen months away from reaching the standards required at the Camp Nou. His intelligent use of Andrés Iniesta has added at least a season to a player who looked expired a year ago. Overall, the team is still good enough to do the double and join the exclusive “Invincible” club.

As for Real Madrid they are keeping alive my pre-season prediction that they will reach another European final. It's a shame that it's at the expense of Gianluigi Buffon who exited in inglorious fashion.

He has been an outstanding goalkeeper but the Juventus goalkeeper departed without class as he was dismissed for ranting at the officials and appearing to manhandle Michael Oliver. I'm guessing the 'Respect the Ref' campaign hasn't reached Serie A yet. He was more buffoon than Buffon.