“We depend on ourselves,” Zinedine Zidane insisted. And again. And again. The Real Madrid head coach is right too. Win their remaining six games and they will reclaim the Spanish league title after a five-year drought.
But for all his calm positivity, a last-gasp winner from Lionel Messi shifted momentum back towards Barcelona in the title race, giving them new life where they were – minutes earlier – seemingly dead.
“This doesn’t decide the league,” Zidane added. “We are a bit disappointed because we had lots of opportunities and didn’t score. They punished us for that.”
“Clearly it would have been better to win all three points but we have to accept it and move on. We still depend on ourselves.”
Disappointment rather than distress was the order of the day. But Zidane was not big on introspection nor retrospection. The Frenchman felt his side were worthy winners, or at least worth a point, but left empty-handed. Dipping to second place, Madrid can still count on that game in hand but they can also count on more pressure. The margin for error has disappeared.
Luis Enrique had little to say about a wild, testy game as the dust still settled on the extraordinary circumstances of his side’s win. The openness of the game, he felt, was down to the Champions League schedule “weighing” on both sets of players and, with that no longer an issue for his team, there may have been some slight psychological gaming from the Asturian.
With their game in hand, Real Madrid remain favourites for the title but they also must negotiate what will be, without any doubt, an utterly grueling two-legged continental tie with Atletico Madrid. The only solace for the Bernabeu side is that they don’t have to voyage halfway across Europe to do so.
Barcelona, meanwhile, have five games remaining. All they can do is win and hope, but that was all they could do at the start of this engrossing fixture and they managed it, netting all three points as Lionel Messi’s last-gasp curler brought some karmic justice to proceedings.
His team weren’t particularly cohesive and they do feel like they need a summer off and some new ideas from the arriving coach. But what they do have is a player who, for over a decade now, has been able to ride out kickings, evade potential assaults and skip over scything legs to propel his team to victory.
It happened again. Real Madrid depend on themselves - Zidane is right. Barcelona, when they aren’t functioning right, depend on Messi.