REAL MADRID
v
BARCELONA

Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid
17th April, 2011 – 1:30 AM IST

Subdued Start To An Uncompromising Encounter

The ‘least’ of ‘El Clasicos’ is upon us and yet with even the media hype surrounding it, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a final. However, unlike the previous Clasicos in which both the teams exchanged verbal barbs and sniped at each other, this Clasico has seen little of that. Rather than two street fighters looking to decide it on the streets, this one has more in common with two ninjas, deep in trance, tapping into their inner energy and meditating so that they don’t lose fight on the day itself.

Jose Mourinho talked about training with 10 men, as he felt that one of his players was sure to get sent off during the matches. He may have a point. The last three “clásicos” have produced three red cards in total. Pep on the other hand preferred to stay quiet and avoid any mutterings about how the other teams are ‘frightening’ before his side demolishes them 5-0. Although both the teams would not publicly admit it: La Liga is going to Catalonia. Taken in that context this match becomes a dead rubber. But when the bigger picture is looked at, the stakes become much more significant. At battle is pride and also the subsequent psychological battle that will impact the matches that are yet to come.

The Cules have never won six consecutive league matches against their greatest rivals, something that Real Madrid accomplished between 1962 and 1965. If Barcelona win, it will be another record that Barcelona will wrest from their arch enemies. For Madrid, it can lead to a domino effect. You lose one and it becomes a chain of losses. The master of psychological warfare Mourinho will only be too aware of this.


Team News and Tactical Brief

Real Madrid

Last time around Real Madrid were found wanting on the pitch. Ozil became the invisible man and barely got any touch of the ball, forcing Jose to change him at the half time. Against Barcelona, deep defending never works as Barcelona have scored the maximum number of goals from outside the box: 15 in total.

High backlines are also suicidal as Real Madrid discovered last time around. Because to, hold that line one needs the sort of game, that currently only Barcelona can play. Thus, possession will be the key. The only way to get it is, to have players who can move the ball around to counter Barca’s possession play. This is where Kaka comes in. He has been there, done that: against the most physical of sides in the Serie A and UCL.

No wonder Mourinho wanted to play Kaka as much as possible before this game with a view to making him sharper. He might spring a surprise and bench Di Maria and put Ozil in his place: in the same position he played for Germany. Last time around, one of the biggest things lacking for Real was the fact that they were unclear how to approach the game. They tried to blend too many differing approaches to the game and ended up embarrassing themselves. This time around it is vital that Mourinho does not make the same mistake. It is better to play to your strengths than to match your opponents play.

One of the ideal strategies would be to employ a slightly deeper backline with a twin purpose – Primarily to retain possession and draw out Barcelona but also to hit them on the counter. This seems the way to go considering Puyol will be missing and Busquets will not be in his usual defensive midfielder role. With Kaka, this strategy can work wonders. Ozil can be easily be bullied by Keita but Kaka is a different beast altogether and the central playmaker cannot afford to have an off day if Real Madrid are to stand a chance. Cristiano Ronaldo will also need to bring his A-game, but if Kaka fails to turn in a magical performance, the Portuguese wonder will end up on the losing side again.

Starting XI: Casillas; Ramos, Pepe, Carvalho, Marcelo; Khedira, Alonso; Ronaldo, Ozil, Kaka; Benzema


Barcelona

Barcelona have Mascherano suspended and Puyol and Abidal are not fit enough to play in match of this magnitude. This leaves Barcelona with very few options to choose from as far as defensive options are concerned. Barcelona will look to press Real Madrid all over the pitch and will hold a high backline. With the absence of Abidal and Puyol, Barca’s defense lacks pace at the centre of defense and with Alves and Adriano more interested in attacking, the flanks are free to be exploited. Puyol has been declared fit for this fixture, but it is a doubt if Pep will start him as he has not had a competitive game for long time. He may be used as a substitute.

It will be interesting to see who will partner Pique as Masccherano is suspended and Busquets is the only available defensive midfielder. The rest of the places will pick itself and Messi will be keen to break his duck against Jose Mourinho. The key for the Cules, will be Iniesta and Xavi. Xavi has assisted 6 goals in the last two meetings between these two sides. Playing Busquets in midfield will be the best option for Pep as Busquets is very quick with his passing that can throw Real Madrid’s men out of position when initiating the attack. Alves and Adriano will need to be instructed not to venture too high up the field together. Adriano will need to be more conservative than Alves is, in order to bail out his defense.

On the whole, there’s nothing much that will spring a surprise as far as Barca’s tactics go, unless Pep comes up with something totally outrageous.

Starting XI: Valdes; Alves, Pique, Busquets, Adriano; Xavi, Keita, Iniesta; Villa, Messi, Pedro

Form Guide

Real Madrid: W-W-W-L-W

Barcelona: W-W-W-W-W

TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR

Kaka(Real Madrid): The Brazilian may not even start. Yet he could prove to be the man, who will decide the outcome of this game. He is sure to feature in the game at some point or the other and Real will surely need the former World Player of the Year to be at his former best, if his side are to beat the Catalans.

Real Madrid need this man back

Lionel Messi (Barcelona): Easily the man the man to watch out for, last time around ‘La Pulga’ did not score, but provided 2 very valuable assists which set the ball rolling. With Marcelo on the left wing, Messi will surely be looking to run rings around him and score for the first time against Mourinho for the first time.

TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION

Real Madrid 1-3 Barcelona

While Real Madrid may like to win this one, it is unlikely that they will be able to do so. Barcelona are currently in superhuman form and it unlikely that Real will be able to match their hard pressing game. Although a much closer match, even if it ends in a defeat will do wonders for their confidence and might help them later.

TheHardTackle’s Blast From The Past