Barcelona, Dec 12: The excuses for Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid are running out.
After its latest 3-1 home loss to Barcelona on Saturday, there was no talk of referee bias or the Catalan side's supposed propensity for exaggerating fouls, just the last-ditch explanation left for any loser: pure bad luck.
In blaming fate, Mourinho appeared to be resigned to accepting that for whatever reason his Real Madrid is second best to a side that continues to play the world's most attractive football.
“Football is a game, and details and luck form part of it,” a subdued Mourinho said after the match. “Without taking anything away from our opponent, luck was the difference.”
“They have won more games than we have, and it is easy to conclude that whoever wins more is the better team because time passes and ... we are only left with the numbers.”
The numbers are conclusive. Since the arrival of coach Pep Guardiola, Barcelona has yet to lose to Madrid in the league in seven games and has an overall record of eight wins and three draws to only one loss in all competitions.
The headlines of the Madrid-friendly sports dailies on Sunday made no appeals to chance.
AS read “The Best Team Won,” while Marca lamented “Barca Again Conquers the Bernabeu.”
While Madrid defender Pepe also said that “Barca was very lucky,” captain Iker Casillas acknowledged that his team's psychological need to beat Barcelona may also have influenced its failure to react after falling behind.
“You have to be able to also play with bad luck,” said Casillas. “The results of the past seasons have not been favorable, but we have to look forward. Barcelona can't be an obsession.”
Perhaps the Spain goalkeeper was best suited to see that although Madrid came close to scoring twice before uncharacteristic misses by Cristiano Ronaldo, Barcelona could have inflicted its fierce rival even greater pain if it had shown more ambition in the final stretch of a game it dominated with ease.
To makes matters worse for Madrid, it could not have asked for a more favorable run of form ahead of the game.
Madrid was on a 15-match winning streak, tying a team record set in the 1960-61 season, while Barcelona was struggling in its away league games.
Then came Karim Benzema's opener just 21 seconds into the game after Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes' poor pass.
Despite the worst start imaginable, Barcelona never grew flustered and seven minutes later its star Lionel Messi gave the Santiago Bernabeu crowd reason to worry when his shot required a diving parry from Casillas in a clear warning of what was to come.
Messi set up Alexis Sanchez to score the equalizer on the half-hour mark. Xavi Hernandez put the visitors ahead with a deflected shot off Marcelo in 53rd, and Cesc Fabregas raced in to meet Dani Alves' cross at the far post to seal the comeback win in the 66th.
Both of its offseason acquisitions—Sanchez and Fabregas—scored, but it was Barcelona's old guard that led it to the victory. Messi was not at his best, but once again was the best player on the pitch, rivaled only by Andres Iniesta, who put on a master class of control, pace and precision in the second half, while captain Carles Puyol had his strongest game of the season in anchoring the defense.
“This win for us represents a turning point and a big morale boost,” said Xavi, whose team took the league lead on goal difference, though Madrid has a game in hand.
Mourinho is also surely coming up short of tactics to beat the team that has become the nemesis of his highly successful career.
After enduring a 5-0 rout in the first of the eight “clasico” matches he has already coached since arriving last summer, Mourinho's defensive tactics were only enough to get one win against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final as he lost the Champions League semifinals and league race last season.
This campaign, he has sent out his team to attack in the Spanish Supercup final and now in the first of two league meetings, only to come up with the same results.
Barcelona left the Spanish capital directly for the Club World Cup in Japan, where Guardiola can add to his club-record 12 titles with yet another trophy.
The former Barcelona midfielder still expects Madrid to compete to the end of the season as it tries to dethrone the Catalan side for the first time in four seasons.
“I don't think this win will sink Madrid's spirit,” Guardiola said. “They will bounce back and continue to be our main rival. It goes with the philosophy of this club.”