herald

Thursday 21 September 2017

Pepe puts Real in a fine Mess'

Stamp on Messi compounds Clasico defeat

A stamp by Real Madrid's Pepe on Lionel Messi's hand had Jose Mourinho on the back foot after a 2-1 home loss to Barcelona in their King's Cup quarter-final first leg last night.

The Portugal international was seen to nudge into Messi when the World Player of the Year was on the floor after a tackle, then stood on his hand as he walked past around 20 minutes from the end of the game. When asked about Pepe during the post-match news conference, Real coach Mourinho first said he had not seen the incident.

A second reporter asked if Pepe's action would merit internal discipline from the club if he thought Pepe had stood on Messi's hand intentionally.

"Obviously if it is intentional, is it punishable," Mourinho replied.

Real's deployment of the robust centre back in a midfield destroyer role alongside Xabi Alonso and Lassana Diarra signaled their intentions in seeking to disrupt Barcelona's trademark link-up play and look for swift counter-attacks.

Pepe, sent off in the Champions League semi-finals against Barca last year, picked up a yellow card early in the first half after catching Sergio Busquets' foot with a lunge. Later, some theatrical play-acting after Cesc Fabregas' hand brushed across Pepe's body -- rolling around clutching his face -- drew derision from home fans, getting frustrated as Barca dominated.

Moments later, Pepe clashed with Messi, drawing a tweet from Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney, who said: "Pepe. What an idiot. Sometimes people wind u up."

Guardiola was asked about the incident but said: "The players have said something, but I haven't seen the images, there isn't a TV in the dressing room. It's up to you to comment on them."

Pepe's Portuguese compatriot Ricardo Carvalho, after a making a surprise return to the Madrid starting XI, defended his team-mate.

Limit

"He plays near the limit sometimes," he said. "But he always tries to get the ball and plays cleanly."

Mourinho substituted Pepe before the end of the game to whistles from the Bernabeu crowd.

Cristiano Ronaldo had opened the scoring for Real before Carles Puyol and Eric Abidal got Barcelona's goals in the second half.

The two-game series concludes at Barcelona's Camp Nou on January 25. It's the fifth time Mourinho's Real have failed to beat Barcelona at home since the Portuguese became coach of the nine-time European champion in 2010.

Ronaldo gave Real the lead after 11 minutes, rounding off a counterattack by firing his shot through the legs of stand-in Barcelona goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto.

Barcelona's Alexis Sanchez headed a cross from Fabregas against the top of the crossbar and Messi had a shot pushed out of the bottom corner of the goal by Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas before the interval.

Puyol dived unchallenged to head in a corner to make it 1-1 three minutes after half time. Abidal made it 2-1 after 77 minutes, controlling a chip by Messi with his chest and guiding the ball past Casillas.

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