Counterpoint: No Spain Conspiracy, Barcelona Should Be Angry, Not Real Madrid

BARI, ITALY - AUGUST 10: Spain head coach Vicente Del Bosque during the international friendly match between Italy and Spain at Stadio San Nicola on August 10, 2011 in Bari, Italy. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

As Lucas's recent article argues, many Madridistas are upset with Spain coach Vicente del Bosque over what they allege to be favorable treatment for Barcelona players during Wednesday night's awkwardly-placed international friendly against Italy in Bari.   Lucas complained that Real's outfield players each played all ninety minutes of the game, while not one of Barcelona's played more than forty-five.  

Pointing out that the Portugal, Argentina and France coaches, for example, gave Madrid's players a break before their Supercopa double-header starting on Sunday, Lucas voiced his concern that Del Bosque, who left the coaching job at the Bernabéu under far from ideal circumstances during the first tenure of club president Florentino Pérez, is taking out his residual anger on his old club by attempting to ruin his former team's chance at the trophy.  

This sparked a lot of somewhat acrimonious debate in the article's comments about conspiracy theories and favouritism toward Barcelona, reopening some of the wounds from last year's escalation in the Clásico rivalry.  I wanted to take the time to offer a bit of a counterpoint and to debunk the idea that Vicente del Bosque is biased against Real Madrid.

First, here are some reasons why the account of the story is implausible:

-Why now?  Del Bosque has been coach of the national team since 2008, and we haven't seen what I would regard as any noticeable biased treatment in terms of pitch time for players in friendlies, for example, before this.

-Why would he care?  This seems fairly petty, given that the Supercopa is a pointless vanity trophy and the slight was eight years ago.  Del Bosque is known as a quiet, calm, gentle man, and does not seem the type to be either petty or vindictive.

-If there's something going on here, why isn't José Mourinho making a fuss?  Mourinho loves a siege mentality and for better or for worse everything is turned into a slight against Madrid.  Often he has a point; sometimes he doesn't really.  The Portuguese maestro certainly never misses an opportunity to twist even the most minor slight into a conspiracy of dark forces against los merengues.  If this is as blatant of an example of favoritism as Lucas claims, surely Mourinho's comments would be in every sports paper on earth by now.

But let's look at the real substance of the claims.  In the 2-1 defeat to Italy in Bari, Spain lined up with the following squad:

Casillas (Real Madrid); Árbeloa (Real Madrid), Piqué (Barcelona), Albiol (Real Madrid), Iraola; Iniesta (Barcelona), Alonso (Real Madrid), Martínez, Silva, Cazorla; Torres.  Substitutes: Reina, Valdés (Barcelona); Busquets (Barcelona), Alcántara (Barcelona), Pedro (Barcelona), Mata; Negredo, Llorente, Villa (Barcelona).

Key Barcelona men Xavi and Puyol were both injured for this match, as was Madrid and Spain fullback Sergio Ramos.  While Spain have an embarrassment of riches in midfield, the same cannot be said for their defense, and the national team was left somewhat short-staffed in that area without two members of its first choice back four.  As Madrid provides a lion's share of Spain's defensive players, the capital club was heavily represented in the starting lineup with four players to Barcelona's two, while Barcelona had four more on the bench, with Del Bosque no doubt planning on cycling them into the game in the second half to even out the minutes for all concerned.

But things didn't exactly go to plan.  First, Torres sustained a concussion in the 15th minute, having to be substituted for Llorente.  Just before half-time, Piqué limped off with an injury, requiring the only defensive player on the bench, Barcelona's Sergi Busquets, to replace him.  At the half, Casillas came off for Valdés, the struggling left-back Iraola came off for Alcántara (with the formation switching to three at the back in an attempt to regain possession in midfield), and Villa came on for Iniesta.  All the players coming on were Barcelona's, and not one could have replaced a Madrid one.  Mata later came on for Cazorla, when he could theoretically have replaced Xabi Alonso, but that would have been a bit of a stretch as he is much more of an attacking player.  

Arguably, Barcelona should be the aggrieved party.  After all, they're the ones who had two of their key starters, Busquets and Piqué, injured just before the Clásico.  All Real's players got was some much needed match practice ahead of the game.  Barcelona, already short at the back having got rid of Gabi Milito, could conceivably face the prospect of going into the Madrid game with not one recognized central defender in their squad (if Piqué and Puyol are out) and with the man usually deputized to stand in at that position (Busquets) also possibly sidelined.  We could see Mascherano, who can deputize there if needed, next to an untried youth team player at the Bernabéu.  And yet we're the ones who are supposed to be mad?

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