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Can there be a bigger match in the European circuit? Well, not really. It does not get bigger than this in Europe! On the 27th of April, Real Madrid will host FC Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Keeping with the tradition of TheHardTackle, here’s The Rival Rendezvous© where in-house representatives of the respective clubs question each other regarding the opposition. The questions, of course, are not limited to the impending match.

Representing Real Madrid, we have Prakhar Deep Gupta, a die-hard Madridista, and in Barcelona’s corner, we have Anustup Sikdar, a Blaugrana forever.

Time to get the ball rolling!

Prakhar will start off with answering my questions.

AS: Winning against FC Barcelona after 3 years and that too in a final. How does it feel?

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PDG: I am filled with conflicting emotions. It feels both normal and special. Winning against FC Barcelona is always mandatory and because it is in a final makes it even more special.

But that said and occasional blips apart, I am more used to seeing Barca being dominated, at least at the Bernabeu. So this victory makes me hope that Jose will finally make a ‘team’ rather than leave a squad.

AS: How would you rate/differentiate the Real Madrid under Fabio Capello to the one under Jose Mourinho. Both managers are known for their defensive strategies.

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PDG: Rather than answering your question, I’d like to question the premise on which Jose is called a ‘defensive’ manager. Every team in any league he has coached has ended up being the highest or the second highest scorer in that league in that year.

His career stats read:

  • Matches Played – 503
  • Goals Scored – 925
  • Goals Against – 362
  • An average of 1.84 goals scored per game and 0.72 conceded per game

Mourinho For Real Madrid:

  • Matches Played – 52
  • Goals Scored – 124
  • Goals Against – 33
  • An average of 2.38 goals scored per game and 0.63 conceded per game

Pep’s stats as coach:

  • Matches Played – 174
  • Goals Scored – 433
  • Goals Against – 127
  • An average of 2.49 goals scored per game and 0.73 conceded per game

Even right now, for all the flair FC Barcelona possess and the attacking football of which they are the self appointed champions, they have not outscored Real Madrid by much. In UCL, we both have scored 24 goals each. In La Liga, Barca are ahead only by 9 goals in goals scored section. This is remarkable for two reasons –

  1. The entire Barcelona squad has been playing together for several years and half of them are from ‘La Masia‘.
  2. Pep did not need to impose his ‘philosophy’ and style of play. Jose had to.

I don’t think Mourinho is defensive at all. Just that he is a pragmatist to the core and makes winning his priority. “Youtube” moments can be created against Levante and Hercules. In big matches, winning is the priority. His philosophy is: “winning is everything; everything else is flexible.”

Coming to the other part, I think both of them are very different managers and despite the superficial similarities, they are radically different. Capello never allowed his players creative freedom. Mourinho allows that creativity in most of the matches.

In a way, Capello was necessary and we Madridistas will forever be grateful for what was achieved in his time. But his philosophy was always going to be at loggerheads with the “White House”.

AS: Surprisingly, you left out Fabio Capello from the equation (read statistics). I wanted a comparison between the Italian and the Portuguese. Maybe the desire to match FC Barcelona drew out this. However, moving onto the next question now.

AS: This Real Madrid team has an ensemble cast. What more should they achieve to go down in history books as one of the best teams in the history of the game?

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PDG: Yes, Real Madrid have a very wide variety of nationalities in their team. But that has always been a part of Real Madrid culture. Some of the legends of Real such as Di Stefano, Puskas, Hugo Sanchez have not been Spaniards. So, it will take sometime before these disparate individuals gel.

Frankly speaking, talking of going down in history as one the best, one needs to achieve a lot more than a solitary Copa win against FC Barcelona.

This team has right now, won nothing and done nothing to start such talk. Only the next few years will tell whether this work-in-progress becomes a finished article or another one of those broken promises.

AS: When Di Stefano praised this Barca team’s game, it represented something more for a Cule. It is a rarity for a rival team to get praise from an icon of his stature. How does a Blanco see his comments, particularly the way he praised FC Barcelona?

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PDG: Disappointed, bitter and saddened. These 3 words sum up my feelings. I think it was more a part of backroom politics than an actual opinion. But regardless of the actual motives, it was like ignoring the best part and highlighting the worst.

We, Blancos, admit that FC Barcelona are a great squad, who play awesome football and one can understand appreciating the game-play of Barcelona, but the “Lion and Mouse” and “no personality” comments left a bitter aftertaste.

Mourinho has done some remarkable work in a very short span of time. He needs all the support he can get. But Di Stefano’s remarks were totally out of the line. He broke the sacred code of ‘Omerta’. It is one thing to be appreciative, and quite another to demean yourself. Our club legend did just that.


AS:  Do you think that FC Barcelona’s time is coming to an end? Do you see Real Madrid starting the next cycle of domination?

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PDG: Much as I would love to say yes for both the parts of this question, the answer is “Unlikely”. Real will be stronger next season. More cohesive and more dangerous, but that doesn’t mean that Barcelona’s time is up. Both have very young squads, which need very few changes over the years to come.

On the contrary, this is one of the many “Clasico” series that are going to take place in the next decade. European scene is for Real and Barcelona to dominate. Who will emerge the winner? Only time will tell.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi

AS: Now, it’s my turn to answer.

PDG: Many Real Madrid fans seem to think that FC Barcelona are a one-man team – Lionel Messi. Of the 137 goals scored by Barcelona this season, Messi has a hand in 73 of them. (50 Goals, 23 assists). So stop Messi and stop Barca?

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AS: At FC Barcelona, no individual is bigger than the club. Every team has a player on whom the team relies. Arsenal has Cesc, Milan has Zlatan, Madrid has Ronaldo. Similarly, Barcelona has Messi. Yes, at times, we depend on him more, because it’s Messi who can do the impossible and depending on him isn’t a bad thing. Guardiola himself said that the current Barcelona team wouldn’t have been the same without Messi. Messi makes the difference. Without him, we are a very good team, but Messi takes us to a different level altogether. Pep also said that without Barcelona, Messi wouldn’t have been who he is today. Messi and FC Barcelona complement each other. It’s a match made in heaven, so a little bit of over-dependence on him isn’t a bad thing.

PDG: Honestly speaking, what do you think of the role of Pepe, and was it a masterstroke by ‘The Special One’?

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AS: In one word – FABULOUS. Jose Mourinho played Pepe in the midfield, as a shield over the defense, against Athletic Bilbao  prior to the match against FC Barcelona and the move worked really well. The marauding Portuguese did not allow the Barca players as much space as they would have liked! In short, that move made a huge difference.

PDG: Let’s make a hypothetical situation and try giving an honest answer. Lose 2-6 and 0-5 while trying to attack OR play like we did and get 1-1 and 1-0 scorelines?

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AS: It all boils down to philosophy. FC Barcelona has been in existence for 111 years now. In over a century of existence, administrations changed, players changed, managers changed but one thing did not change. Our philosophy. We have ALWAYS attacked and we will ALWAYS attack! That is the philosophy of our game and it makes me proud that no manager has ever been able to change the philosophy, like they do so easily in other clubs! Our players go out to the pitch to fight, to win. What happens next isn’t always in our control! However, we always make it a point to stick to our philosophy – ATTACK! If that gets us half a dozen goals at the home of our rivals, or a Manita at our home, I don’t mind that. Similarly a 1-1 draw or a 1-0 loss is also equally acceptable! What matters is the attitude and willingness to give it all on the pitch and FC Barcelona can never be intimidated on that front!

PDG: Thiago Alcantara or Cesc Fabregas?

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AS: Thiago Alcantara. The bloke has worked his way to the senior team and he deserves every bit of chance! Cesc’s arrival would mean a deduction in playing time for Thiago. Moreover Thiago won’t cost us anything. He’s from the academy. Cesc would cost us a fortune! We can spend that money to bolster our squad with players who we really need.

PDG: Till now, on season’s performance – David Villa or Karim Benzema. Who was a better signing?

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AS: This is absolutely relative! David Villa has been sensational for FC Barcelona and only recently did he hit a bad patch. Similarly, Karim Benzema had a forgettable start to his season and midway he reportedly became the pawn in the Valdano-Mourinho battle! However, the striker has risen to the occasion and has delivered when it mattered the most for Real Madrid. I guess both Villa and Benzema contributed to the cause of their clubs when it mattered and I do not think I can say that one is better than the other.

PDG: Ozil was about to join FC Barcelona. Pedro kept him out. In the hindsight, was it a mistake by Pep Guardiola?

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AS: (Wink) We saved about 15 million, didn’t we? Ozil is a fabulous player and with age on his side, I am sure, he’ll only get better. Pedro too has been a revelation for us. Comparing Ozil to Pedro would be foolish. The former is a playmaker/attacking midfielder and Pedro is a winger. Both have contributed to their club in their own special ways. However, not buying a player can not be a mistake. Especially when we have Iniesta who does what Ozil does for Real Madrid, and maybe in a more matured way!

With this we come to the end of this edition of Rival Rendezvous. See you soon in the next edition. Hope to have an injury-free and cracking match!