If you are not excited by the 4-match clasico-fest we are about to enjoy then I find it difficult to believe you are human. Ever since the possibility arose after the Champions League draw was made in March it has been eagerly anticipated but the semi-final clash was only confirmed on Wednesday when Madrid completed the job of finishing Tottenham’s european adventure.
With two coaches who pay so much attention to detail it will be a fascinating set of matches. Mourinho has said that he will take each game individually as it comes, which for some people would be the best and most logical way to approach things, though with Mourinho we should have learnt by now that what he says and what he does are very often two different things altogether. From the outset it would seem that the Champions League semi-final is more important than the first two games, and given the eight-point gap in La Liga the first game could be seen as not to matter quite so much since even if Madrid win, it is extremely unlikely that they can recover the difference in the remaining six games. I am sure Mourinho will see it like this, and considering his particurlar love of the Champions League I think he will almost definitely play the first two matches with the Champions League in mind, though I should say I still think he will want to win these games. With this is mind it has been suggested that Mourinho could send out a player tomorrow with the intention of injuring Leo Messi. This may sound like paranoid-culé syndrome but the sad thing is it could actually make sense for Madrid to use such a tactic, and I had to ask myself this morning about why Jorge Valdano felt the necessity to say that Madrid have more answers without Cristiano Ronaldo than Barça have without Messi. Under normal circumstances I would expect Messi to play all 90 minutes of the four Madrid games (if he needs a break he could rest for one of the league games with Osasuna on April 23 or Real Sociedad on April 30).
It is difficult to know what Mourinho might have up his sleeve, and tactically he has more options than Guardiola especially now that Higuian and Kaka are fit again. Guardiola will also see the Champions League as most important but I feel it is impossible that we don’t go all out to win tomorrow as it is part of the Guardiola philosophy. Perhaps he might think about resting somebody but with the injury situation there are few options for change and as a consequence it may be more difficult to surprise Madrid with team selection and positioning. With Mascherano suspended tomorrow it seems likely that he has decided to play Busquets as the holding midfielder rather than in defence which would mean Milito would play which won’t be too popular with some fans. He might also give Afellay another start and leave either Villa or Pedro on the bench. Maxwell could come in for Adriano, but I doubt it as Adriano is in good form, while there could also be a place for Keita in order to rest somebody else, but aside from that we’ve only got youngsters like Thiago and Fontás and I don’t think either of these will start tomorrow.
I believe it is worth going all out for victory tomorrow, not only will it be the final nail in Madrid’s title challenge, it also surely has to be better going into the next game with a victory rather than a draw or defeat. Let Madrid players get a complex about never being able to beat us. To win, however, we are going to need another very high level performance, and given Villa’s poor run and Pedro’s recent injury we may again find ourselves relying on the magic of Leo Messi. There are a lot of different stats in the papers about how many goals Messi has scored recently but his importance goes far beyond putting the ball in the net with incredible regularity, we saw in the 5-0 game at Camp Nou that Messi can also help destroy the opposition without scoring himself. The other player who could be vital for us is Victor Valdés who is in an excellent moment, the Soccerlens blog made an interesting comparison to show why Valdés is better than Casillas. With our lack of speed at the back it seems sure that Valdés will face some action tomorrow.
The biggest threat from Madrid is likely to come from Cristiano Ronaldo though let me go on record here as saying I hope he never signs for us. He is quick and strong and extremely gifted technically, however he is far too individualistic and although his long shots can occasionally fool goalkeepers like Tottenham’s Heurelho Gomes most of his long-range efforts do not hit the target and he often shoots when he has other options. The other problem with Cristiano is his character, while he is undoubtably has a winner’s singular mentality he really does come across as a most unlikable spoilt brat. A question: you hear Cristiano Ronaldo is marrying your sister, how do you react? Are you happy because of the financial stability this might offer your family? I think it is more likely that I would be worried about how to stop myself from committing physical assault?
In fact from Madrid’s squad there are only three players who I could see fitting in at Barça and they are Ozil, Di Maria and Marcelo, and this summer we didn’t go for the first two when we had the option. However, they have been two good signings for Madrid who might shine even more without Cristiano. Marcelo is not so great defensively but he is good going forward and he also offers Mourinho the option of coming into midfield and he could be used like this as an anti-Alves card. Of the rest Xavi Alonso is very good but we have that position covered, Sergio Ramos is very over-rated in my opinion and his weaknesses were again revealed by Gareth Bale, and Casillas may be very good but I’ll stick with Valdés as he is better with his feet.
With the bookmakers Barça are favourite to win each of the four games though it is much less likely that we will win all four games, you will get odds of around 16/1 for that. As Johan Cruyff said earlier this week it is unlikely either team will win all 4 matches but it isn’t necessary to achieve our season goal of winning the treble again. A draw at the Bernabeu tomorrow will be an excellent result and that is what I’m predicting.
Madrid: Casillas; Ramos, Pepe, Carvalho, Marcelo; Khedira, Alonso; Ronaldo, Ozil, Di Maria; Adebayor.
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Milito, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Villa.
My prediction: Madrid 2 Barça 2