REAL MADRID CF
Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid
1st leg, Supercopa de España
August 14, 2011
Finally, it begins again. After all the transfer market nonsense, pre-season tours and the customary season previews, the new season begins with a bang. The Spanish Supercopa brings the two biggest teams in Europe face to face again in what could be only the starting of a war that could be much bigger than the previous season. It’s been 14 years since the two eternal nemeses clashed in the Spanish SuperCopa and it could not have come at a better time as both the teams are probably at the peak of their powers; one hungry to assert its authority and the other to re-gain supremacy.
The second best team in SuperCopa history needs just one more trophy to equal the most successful team, Barcelona, who have won it nine times. Los Blancos might have lost out to the Catalans in the crucial battles last year but José Mourinho now looks to be prepared more than ever. The new signings make perfect sense and there is a definite and solid back-up for every position on the pitch which gives the Portuguese multiple options to start a match or change the course of his team mid-way. You could sense a certain swagger in this Real Madrid outfit which was lacking from couple of years and this conveys the confidence and faith the players have among themselves to overcome this great Barcelona team.
Ricardo Carvalho, Pepe and Marcelo will be the default starters and with Sergio Ramos injured, Arbeloa will start in his place. Last year, a 4-2-3-1 proved to be disastrous for the team and Mourinho realizing this, shifted to a 4-3-3 for Barcelona. He may go for the same 4-3-3 in the match with Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira reprising their conventional roles. The third midfield player was supposed to be Nuri Sahin but due to his injury and lack of match practice, Mourinho might not start him and instead go for another ‘all-round’ signing, Fábio Coentrão. Coentrão played a couple of matches in the center of midfield and has been decent enough, for Jose to let him start against Barcelona. It remains to be seen if he can be influential against the mighty Catalans.
The offense would comprise of Ronaldo and Benzema with both being in ominous form in pre-season, while another spot would be a toss-up between Mesut Özil and Angel Di Maria. Di Maria brings pace while Özil raises the creativity by a notch. Mourinho might start with Özil and then bring on Di Maria later to take advantage of a tired Barca defense.
Pressing would be the key but the players cannot possibly press for the entire ninety minutes and have to be assigned specific targets to press at specific intervals. If they press incessantly in the first half, Madrid are in danger of exhausting themselves allowing Barcelona to assert their supremacy on the game – sooner or later.
Probable XI: (4-3-3) Casillas;Arbeloa,Pepe,Carvalho,Marcelo;Khedira,Alonso,Coentrao;Ozil,Benzema,Ronaldo
FC Barcelona haven’t done very well in the pre-season. Their star players – Messi, Alves, Mascherano – were playing at the Copa America while their captain – Carlos Puyol – remained sidelined. Xavi was also injured but looks ready to start against the Copa Del Rey champions. The biggest problem for Barcelona, as admitted by Guardiola, has been the lack of playing time and training in pre-season. Pep preferred to give his players more rest than use them in training and this could actually have some negative early-season effect on the Catalans. They could be less sharp on the field which can give Real Madrid massive advantage in this first leg.
Barcelona also will have a depleted defense in place as Puyol is injured and Pique is also in doubt to start, which could mean that Alves, Mascherano, Abidal and Adriano could be starting. Sergio Busquets has also been injured playing the friendly against Italy and is unlikely to feature in the Spanish SuperCopa.
But according to reports, Pique might be fit to start which will allow Pep to put Mascherano in the midfield, alongside the best midfield combo in the world of Xavi and Iniesta. The forward line will not see many changes and Messi would be leading the attack as a false-9, with Villa and Pedro alongside him. Alexis Sanchez could be a substitute later in the match.
Probable XI: (4-3 -3) Valdes; Alves,Pique,Abidal,Adriano; Xavi,Mascherano,Iniesta; Pedro,Messi,Villa
TheHardTackle’s Players to Watch Out For
The ‘X’ factors – Xavi (Barca) and Xabi (Madrid)
Xavi and Xabi Alonso are the heart of the two Spanish sides. They would be the first names on the team sheet for both managers and their ability to pick out a player with space and vision of play is already the stuff of legends. Its no surprise that these two would be the again pulling the strings for both the teams and could pretty much influence the outcome of the game.
Real Madrid 1-0 FC Barcelona
Going by the pre-season form of both teams(which could actually mean nothing) and by the injuries to Pique and Busquets in the recent international friendly, FC Barcelona could be weaker defensively and hence could let in a goal, but still they are a team that always performs well against Real Madrid and an exciting match is definitely on the cards.
Last year, the world witnessed an overkill of Clasicos which were more like a war than a football match with heated press conferences, players tumbling down, hard tackles and even racist accusations. We can only hope that the new season can cool things at least off the pitch and all the heat would be on it.