Real Madrid
Real Madrid player celebrate with the Copa Del Rey trophy after defeating Barcelona in the final, 16 April. Reuters

Before the start of the El Clasico Copa Del Rey final between Barcelona and Real Madrid, all talk surrounded the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo and how it would affect the team in white.

Someone needed to step up in the talisman's absence, and it came as little surprise that it was the man with a wicked left foot, the man who had taken over the world's most expensive player mantle from Ronaldo. The more popular left-footed forward had a third straight forgettable game, a game in which he was as invisible as a One Direction fan at a Judas Priest concert.

Instead, it was Gareth Bale, living up to that world record price tag with every passing day, that grabbed the headlines with a run that even Usain Bolt would have been proud to achieve, and a finish that only emphasised the player's growing stature in world football.

Lionel Messi at the other end was having a nightmare game, his third consecutive one, after forgettable outings against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League and Granada in La Liga. Without Messi at his best, Barcelona rarely look potent enough to trouble the best teams, and the little Argentine's fade-away performances have put the Spanish club in a crisis, and then some.

The Cup final against Real Madrid at the Mestalla was supposed to be Barcelona's redemption, after two scathing defeats put them out of the Champions League, and consigned them to third favourites for the La Liga title.

However, what followed was 90 minutes of "how on earth are we going to find a goal" and a 2-1 loss to their biggest rivals. The opening goal from Angel Di Maria should have been kept out by goalkeeper Pinto, but it was just rewards for Real, who looked more potent, posed a lot more of a threat, and were a lot better to watch with their searing pace and quickfire attacks.

Calling Barcelona's and their big players' performances lethargical would be doing them a favour - there was no intensity in the passing, no verve, no one-touch, the ball pings around and there it goes into the back of the net moves, no Messi magic - instead, all that was witnessed from the famous team was some messy football.

Real looked like they wanted it more, with plenty of chances going begging after they took the lead, while Barca came back into the game with a little over 20 minutes remaining from the most unlikely of Barcelona goals - a header, from Marc Bartra, and a wonderful one at that, off a corner.

Time was then ripe for Barcelona, who again dominated possession for the 90 minutes, to push for the winner, but, almost inevitably, it was Real that found the winning goal.

A quick counter saw Fabio Coentrao pass the ball to Bale down the left touchline inside Real's own half. Bale, knowing his pace could take him past anyone, played the ball into space ahead of him, looking to outrun Bartra, who despite pushing his opponent out of the touchline, still could get nowhere near enough to give the Welshman any trouble. Bale, turbo charge on, despite it being the 85th minute, scorched the Mestalla pitch, ran into the box in the left hand channel and astutely poked the ball past Pinto from a tight angle to give Real the 2-1 lead.

Neymar, Messi's support act, was as bad as his teammate on the night, but could have turned hero right at the end, had he found the corner of the net rather than the post, off an exquisite pass from Xavi.

But it was to be Bale and Real's day, as Messi and co, were left to ponder on another we-never-want-to-remember-this night, and staring at a season without, most likely, a single piece of silverware.