FC BARCELONA
v

REAL MADRID

Camp Nou, Barcelona
3 April, 2011; 12:15 am, IST

The tainted match at the Bernabeu put the match in Barcelona’s favour. Nonetheless, the match is certainly far from over. Iker Casillas thoughts echoed this too and this would definitely be the case with millions of Blancos across the globe. The diminutive Argentine ran-riot in the Madrid defense before leaving Casillas gaping, as he notched his second of the night at Bernabeu to give Barcelona a 2-goal advantage. With both sides resorting to unsporting means, the match was surely not what people expected it to be and Mourinho’s caustic remarks after the bitter loss only deepened the scars. The Holy trinity of Jose-Pepe-Ramos won’t be there for this match and FC Barcelona will be without a host of first teamers as well. The entire world prays and hopes for a better match at the Camp Nou. What is in store for us, your guess is as good as ours!

Team News and Tactical Brief

FC Barcelona

An away win, that too by a 2-goal margin, always gives the winners an upper hand. FC Barcelona is no exception. Guardiola’s men might go into this match as the more likely of the teams to go the finals, but there will definitely be no complacence. The neo-galacticos of Real Madrid are as good as they get and are definitely no push-overs, even with FC Barcelona having a priceless 2-away-goal lead. Jose Mourinho-led Real Madrid has nothing to lose and they will go all guns blazing at the Camp Nou. The absence of Pepe and Ramos might just alter Jose’s plans of scurrying the Barca midfield; however, the Portuguese has other options too. Mourinho might not be present in the dug-out, but AitorKaranka will definitely be prepared, as to how to stop the Barcelona juggernaut.

Barca has clearly dominated, whenever they played at the Camp Nou. The Catalans won 47 times to Real’s 18, in all competitions. This time around, the dominance of FC Barcelona might just be thawed by a wounded Real Madrid.  The return of Andres Iniesta will be a boost to Guardiola’s team; however, that is subjected to the midfielder’s return to fitness. The defense went from bad to worse against Sociedad. Gabi Milito suffered a muscle tear and Montoya fractured his collarbone. But Abidal’s inclusion in the squad will definitely be encouraging. Guardiola rested a few key players against Real Sociedad keeping in mind the crucial tie. The makeshift defense should comprise of Alves, Pique and Puyol with Busquets and Mascherano interchanging their position according to the need of the hour. Midfield should be anchored by Xavi. Partnering him might be Iniesta. However, if the World Cup winner doesn’t make it, the experienced Keita or the extremely talented Thiago might just replace him. However, given the gravity of the situation, the former is more likely to get the nod. Villa and Messi chose themselves and Afellay might just get a surprise nod ahead of Pedro, after his mercurial cameo against Madrid in the first leg. Victor Valdes will return to man the 3 posts. Although the first team might look formidable, one must not forget that the bench is as good as empty. An injury or card might just expose the frail Barcelona squad.

Probable Starting XI: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Puyol, Busquets, Iniesta, Xavi, Keita, Villa, Messi

Real Madrid

Carvalho (suspended in the first leg) and youth teamer Nacho have made the cut. Pepe and Ramos are suspended for the game. Gago and Khedira have stayed in Madrid due to injuries. Canales and Pedro Leon have been left out. Madrid are down 2-0 and despite all protests to the contrary, the tie seems to be all but over. Mourinho has built the side on the principle of counter attacks. A team with such a style of play will find it difficult to overturn such a deficit against the likes of Hercules, let alone FC Barcelona. It is ironic that a team which prides or maybe used to pride itself on playing attacking football, played with 5 defenders and 2 defensive midfielders, when the opposition were forced to play Mascherano, a midfielder, in the heart of their defense. Back then, Iniesta was out with injury and Puyol, who was freshly out of injury, was played out of position, as a left back. If Ronaldo had been deployed on the right to exploit this weakness and  Benzema and Higuain to exploit the lack of pace of Pique and Mascherano, things could have been a lot different.

However, Madridistas can only rue a lost opportunity. Kaka, a onetime world footballer of the year, is yet to play even a single minute in this series of ‘El Clasicos’. The Brazilian showcased his talent against Valencia. Simple, but extremely effective play. The deadly trio of Benzema, Higuain and Kaka blew the Los Che out of water. Now the onus is on Real Madrid to attack and turn the tie around. They have the tools to do it. But the million-dollar question is – Will they do it? The man holding them back, is ironically the man without whom this would not have been possible – Jose Mourinho. This is the last throw of dice in this year’s UEFA Champions League and one hopes that Mourinho is willing to stake it all to try to win. A 1-0 victory or defeat will make no difference whatsoever. A 5-0 defeat too will also make no difference, as long as one tries.

Bring out all the big guns and let’s see what happens. But knowing Mourinho, it seems unlikely that he will do that

Probable Starting XI: Casillas, Arbeloa, Carvalho, Albiol, Marcelo, Ronaldo, Alonso, Lass, Di Maria, Ozil, Benzema

One of things to be noted in Mourinho’s line-up is that Benzema is a solitary striker. Benzema is good with the ball at his feet and his movement off the ball equally bad. Invariably, he ends up being blocked or isolated and then he is substituted later on. Ozil too is bullied in the middle and he plays best on the wings. Di Maria falls at the slightest touch and disrupts the build up play. Lass is no good, as a foil for Alonso, and cannot help in playmaking.

The above lineup is a surefire recipe for disaster and FC Barcelona would love to play against this squad. However, all these weaknesses can be addressed by playing Kaka and Higuain. Higuain will look to draw out defenders and create spaces in which Benzema can run into. Kaka’s direct running and passing will be of a great help to Ronaldo and will result in the game play being more focused in the middle of the park, where Madrid can try to prevail.

TheHardTackle’s PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR

Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)

Lionel Messi - From a different planet

It is not a surprise that little Leo makes an appearance in this column. He is a player, who has risen to the occasion in the past and has all the potential to do so against Real Madrid as well. With 52 goals and 24 assists, the sky is no longer the limit for the little man from Argentina. However, Real Madrid will definitely have a strategy in place for him and it will surely make up for a fascinating contest.

Mourinho and Kaka (Real Madrid)

Kaka and Jose Mourinho: Can they do it?

A lot depends on Kaka. If he plays, it means that Lass will not playing and it will make a lot difference to the squad. However, if he fails to start yet again, Real are doomed for failure. He has penchant for performing in the big games and as far as big games go, they don’t come much bigger than this.

However, the decision to play him depends on Mourinho. He just needs to send him on the pitch and Kaka will do the rest. No more mind games, no more tactics. Just plain simple game will be enough to get through FC Barcelona.

TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION

FC Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid

The Blancos have nothing to lose and in all probability will go out all guns blazing at the Camp Nou. Attacking FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou is certainly not a good idea and 29th November, 2010 bears testimony to that. However, an early goal from the visitors will definitely poise the game delicately, but it is expected that the Blaugranas will prevail. The fragile defense might just succumb to Real Madrid’s attackers

TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST