Wednesday 21:30 local time, the first piece of meaningful silverware of the 2010/11 season is up for grabs in Valencia. It is also round two of the four Clásico extravaganza. Round one ended up in a 1-1 stale mate that both sides and sets of fans considered moral victories. Personally, as my post match report made clear, because of the way we dominated long periods of the match and created enough chances, I came out feeling good about the game. But fair enough, Madrid also showed to be resolute and at times play as a unit.
But that game 4 days ago should have little bearing in this match. Wednesday is a one off, there are no second chances to recover or try a different tactic. I however still think it will be similar in style to Saturday. Madrid are going to sit back and try score on the counter or set piece. We are going to have lots of possession and try to break through a tough defense. I just hope we can be more efficient and clinical with our chances.
There has been some fun media bits coming off Saturday and building towards Wednesday. Honorary President (well at least still in my mind) Johan Cruyff came out with a very good piece. Interestingly and objectively, he had criticism for both teams. He really is truly unimpressed with Mourinho and the style of football he employs against us. Here are some excerpts that give the general picture on his view of Madrid. “Mourinho’s lineup is the biggest compliment he can give Barca. To play at home with 7 defenders is a sign that he must be very afraid”. “Full of fear but always ready, that is how Mourinho is”. “Mourinho is a coach only about titles, not football”. “Madrid insist on playing like a small inferior team, insist on playing at the back, giving up the pitch and the ball”. He also called Mou’s attitude of always making excuses and drama “annoying”, pretty much said Pepe played like a dirt bag, and likened Madrid’s tactics Saturday to how the Dutch played Spain in the 2010 World Cup final. All pretty harsh words.
But like I said, he had some criticism for us as well, and I think fairly. He was critical of how we relaxed too much after the red and did not go for the kill. He felt we were too slow with our passes and movement and we mentally assumed Madrid were dead and buried with 10 men.
So yeah, one will say, sure that’s Johan Cruyff, cule through and through, of course he is going to criticze Madrid. But would they say that about Honorary President (officially) of Real Madrid Alfredo Di Stefano? In a column for Marca, he wrote: “Barcelona’s football was simply brilliant. Their superiority was there for the whole planet to see. The whites were cornered all game. Barcelona play football and dance. They treat the ball with adoration and respect, almost nurturing it. To see this team in action is a delight. Madrid are a side with no personality. They just run back and forth constantly, tiring themselves out. We saw clearly that their approach was not the right one. Barcelona were a lion, Madrid a mouse”. That is some stern words from the biggest Madrid player of all time. Now do I think Mou gives a toss about that? Not even a little. Like Cruyff said, Jose only cares about winning, about titles, not about the other intangibles that clubs like Barcelona and Madrid (usually) pride themselves in.
Let’s get into the game itself. I’m not going to go into Madrid much. There are no injury problems to report, just the one suspension in Raul Albiol , so for the most part, Mou has a full contingency to pick from. That posses an interesting question. Does Pepe go back to the defense, or will he play that defensive midfield role he did quite effectively and brutally over the weekend. If the does, will that mean Garay gets a start? Or will Ozil or Kaka start in a more attacking looking team with Pepe back along side Carvalho?
For us, the most news worth story is that of Pinto. It’s common knowledge that Pep promises from the very start of the season that Pinto will always start in the Copa, from day one all the way to and including the final. And because it is just that, Pep’s word, I have no doubt Pinto will start in goal. Many will groan about this, possibly even curse Pep if we end up losing, but Guardiola is a man of his word and believes in the virtues of loyalty and honesty. It’s not something Mourinho would ever do, and that’s what makes them so different. Do I wish he would start Victor: of course. But I respect his decision and philosophy. It is things like this that make us a special team with legitimate and clear team unity.
The next big question is Puyol. He game off Saturday with a hamstring strain but he came to training this afternoon (despite it being a day off) and reports are that he will start again at the Mestalla. Without Valdes, Puyol becomes even more important.
However, if he does not start, then expect Busquets to fall back and join Pique while we welcome back Mascherano from suspension. Even if Puyol does play, I wonder if Mascherano could start. Maybe Iniesta pushes forward for Pedro, who has not looked quite fit yet and we use Pedro as an impact substitute.
Other than that, should be Alves, Pique, Adriano, Xavi, Messi, and Villa. I think Villa had a much improved game over the weekend, and despite poor final touches infront of goal, I have a feeling this could be the game he turns it on.
So that’s the preview. Will Mourinho stay true to his tried and tested (and unfortunately often successful) tactic of sit back and counter? Will Pep keep his word to Pinto? Will Puyol lead his troops to another trophy? Will we win our first trophy of 2011 and Pep’s 9th trophy in 3 years? By the end of Wednesday night we will know.