<
>

Soccer Derby Wrap-Up: Barca Gets Real

Pepe keeps Thierry Henry in check.

Pepe (3) keeps Thierry Henry’s (14) hands where he can see them with his mechanical bull impression.

Yesterday Chelsea trounced crosstown rivals Arsenal 3-0 to solidify their position atop the English Premiership table while Liverpool topped Everton 2-0. But for international futbol watchers the match of the day was certainly Real Madrid at archrivals Barcelona. The latest version of “El Clasico” lived up to its name with sparkling goalie play, two red cards and a blatant handball, the latter of which Barcelona’s Thierry Henry had nothing to do with.

Besides the ten other guys on each team, let’s cut to the chase and see how the two biggest summer signings went. It took $231 million to get Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic to this party. Both were struggling to recover from recent injuries, but if there’s one game they’d drag them off a stretcher for, it’s this one. The tale of the tape for the two heavyweights in their El Clasico debuts:

Cristiano Ronaldo

Gimpy Superstar #1: Cristiano Ronaldo

AKA: The Most Expensive Footballer in the World

Nationality: Portuguese

Contract and transfer fee: $132 million

Sunday’s performance: 66 minutes as a starter: A beautiful one-on-one opportunity against goalie Victor Valdez, shot straight into the keeper’s arms.

Knee-jerk North American sports analogue: Alex Rodriguez, circa 2006

Ibrahimovic

Gimpy Superstar #2: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

AKA: That Hulking Dude and Super-sub for Barca

Nationality: Swedish (of Bosnian and Croatian descent)

Contract and transfer fee: $99 million

Sunday’s performance: 39 minutes off the bench replacing Thierry Henry. Volleyed in game’s only goal after five minutes on the pitch.

Knee-jerk North American sports analogue: Manny Ramirez, circa 2006 ALCS

Early advantage? Barcelona. However, since they’re on top of the standings by a mere two points and the season lasts until mid-May, there’s no reason for the Catalans to get overly excited.

Factors to consider moving forward:

  1. Sweden didn’t qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Ibrahimovic can spend the time not training with his national team or recuperating. Either that, or getting his second degree black belt in Taekwondo.

  2. Speaking of 2010, Ronaldo is set to replace David Beckham as Armani’s top underwear spokesman. The ensuing locker room ribbing could bring the team closer or leave Cristiano a blubbering mess.

The second leg of El Clasico goes down April 11, 2010 in Madrid’s Bernabeu Stadium.