In April 2011, Barcelona and Real Madrid faced each other four times in just 18 days: twice in Champions League semi-finals, once in La Liga, again in the Copa del Rey. Those 18 days descended into a strained, feverish period that de ned an era for one of footballs most intense rivalries.
Barcelona was Guardiolas past and his present. Born and raised in Catalonia, he had grown up at the club, eventually witnessing the footballing philosophy of his idol Johan Cruyff first-hand. With the Dutchman as manager and Guardiola his midfield conductor, Barcelona lifted their first European Cup crown in 1992. Nearly 20 years later and it was Guardiola implementing Cruyffs teachings in his own gifted and independent way; a methodology which had already led the club to more dizzying success.
Mourinho – a man with his own history at Barcelona – had arrived at Real after the triumph of his treble-winning season at Internazionale, where he became the first man to truly upset Peps dream team. Mourinho was attempting to stamp his authority on his new dressing room in Madrid, overhauling the natural hierarchy inside it by establishing himself as its absolute leader. He was doing his utmost to take Los Blancos back to their former glories.
Both coaches had their own warriors on the pitch. Gerard Pique? and Sergio Busquets were seen as the proud Catalan nationalists, while Sergio Ramos was viewed as loyal to the Spanish crown. Pepe was the cold, ruthless assassin faced with the unstoppable Lionel Messi and his dancing feet. Each one of them would put their bodies on the line for their side during this quick-fire burst of matches, during which tension would be raised to levels never seen before on a football pitch in the modern era.
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