As José Mourinho prepared to leave the Santiago Bernabéu press room and the clock ticked towards one in the morning, he had one last message to deliver. "Victory," he said for the third time, "has many fathers; defeat has only one and that is me. That's the way football is and I am used to it." Then he added a request: "Hit me, not my players – leave them alone." In part, he got what he wanted but only in part. They did indeed hit Mourinho but they hit his players too.
Players? Player. Two things dominated the post-match agenda: Mourinho's Madrid losing the game and Pepe losing his head. There was a familiar feel to both of them. Pepe is a repeat offender and so are Madrid. They lost another clásico; Pep Guardiola is unbeaten in seven trips to the Santiago Bernabéu, winning five of them. Since Mourinho took over at Madrid, he has not once been able to defeat Barcelona in 90 minutes. The solitary victory came via an extra-time winner in last season's Copa del Rey final. Madrid also lost something less tangible. Image, reputation, status.
When Madrid won the Copa del Rey, it appeared to be a stepping stone towards a real challenge on Barcelona. Defeat in the Champions League last season was justified with Mourinho's conspiratorial discourse – and Pepe's supposedly unlucky red card. The Spanish Super Copa at the start of this season offered up a Madrid side closer than ever to Barcelona, despite a 5-4 aggregate defeat. But now the sensation is one of regression not progression.
Defeated in the league last month, defeated here, Madrid offered virtually nothing. A midfield designed only to stop Barcelona – in which Xabi Alonso was nudged right, away from the area where he could truly influence the game – that did not stop Barcelona and certainly did not attack them. It was built around Pepe. If he defined Madrid's approach, most did not like what they saw. "Pepe returned to the midfield and brought out his entire repertoire of misdemeanours," said AS. One in particular would stand out, when he deliberately trod on Messi's hand. It was not as if, assault aside, he had helped much, either.
Mourinho complained about one of the goals his side conceded, describing it as "not normal". He also contradicted his 'blame me' message to snap: "Some players who normally play well played badly." And yet he admitted that part of his plan consisted simply of running the clock down. By the final whistle Barcelona's superiority was overwhelming. Madrid had 28% of the possession in their own stadium and just one shot on target.
And, asked the media, for what? For what Marca's cover described as "the never-ending story". "Mou," it added, "still hasn't found the right key and he is left without excuses." AS saw Mourinho "coming up against the wall". Its cover was clear: "Madrid offered dirtiness; Barcelona offered football."
Santiago Segurola wrote: "Madrid committed treason against their own history. Mourinho threw away all Madrid's history and instead insisted on a lamentable match from which he got no benefit for Madrid. It was all bad: the result, the play, the violence." In Público, Kike Marín saw the white flags by fans before the game as the perfect metaphor for Mourinho's management. El País led on "Madrid sully themselves for nothing". AS's editor Alfredo Relaño asked: "If you're just going to keep losing what's the need to lose your decorum too?"
The lasting image of this game was not so much defeat but Pepe's apparently calculated and cowardly stamp on Leo Messi. He was booked for a bad challenge on Sergio Busquets in the 17th minute and the surprise was that it was the only yellow card he saw. Ricardo Carvalho was fortunate to escape greater punishment too, for a wild hack at Messi. Xavi Hernández described Pepe's stamp as "senseless" and "lamentable". Carles Puyol called it "not normal" and insisted that something "has to be done". Mourinho hid behind the fact that he had not seen the incident but, pushed on the issue, admitted that if Pepe had deliberately trodden on Messi's hand that would be "censorable".
If Mourinho did not see it, everyone else did – except the referee, César Muñiz Fernández. TV cameras showed the incident clearly and Pepe is on the cover of all four sports dailies. Marca called it "unacceptable" and "shameful", its editorial admitting: "The episode with [Getafe midfielder Javi] Casquero cannot be seen as isolated, but the sad reality. Pepe is not worthy of Real Madrid."
As for the Catalan daily El Mundo Deportivo, there was indignation and enjoyment. Its cover talked of "Heroes and villains: Barcelona imposed their football on Madrid's violence". "Pepe, a danger to the public," the paper added, "was the greatest expression of a Madrid side that was impotent and out of control." Inside, Fernando Polo insisted: "Good had beaten evil." And that, he said, "is not melodrama, it is the truth: Barcelona wanted the ball and attacked and beat a Madrid side that has a complex, a violent team lost in its own lack of control and adrift thanks to Mourinho – the man that was supposed to end Barcelona's hegemony."