In an extra late kick off tonight (11 pm local time) we host our first proper game of the 2011/12 season with the return leg of the Spanish Super Cup against our favourite Real Madrid. We escaped the Bernabeu on Sunday with a 2-2, and no, I am not using the word escape flippantly. I think anyone who would have felt a loss was unfair if we had lost, would not be totally honest with himself. That was by far the best Madrid performance we have seen in Pep’s era, unquestionably, specifically the first half. However, I without question feel they are much fitter and more prepared than us, and considering the fact we barely trained together as a first team, I think we did pretty well and the two goals were glorious and opportunistic. I thought Iniesta looked very sharp on the ball, while Adriano and Alves looked good as well. Alexis had a pretty solid debut, and with some more time with his teammates, I feel he has the footballing IQ to make the right runs and right passes to become very dangerous.
We did however improve in the second half with the introduction of Xavi and Piqué. The reports are that neither will start again, nor Sergio Busquets. I hope the reports are wrong, and with Pep you can never quite predict. He said quite frankly that to win we need to play better than Sunday night, and I agree we do and believe we will. The line-up could be the same as Sunday with Valdés ; Alves, Mascherano, Abidal, Adriano ; Thiago, Keita, Iniesta ; Alexis, Messi, Villa. However, I think it will be different. I don’t think Keita is going to start, as I feel Piqué is going to start and possibly Busquets too. That means Masch will either play alongside Piqué or go to midfield, depending if both or only one start. And maybe, just maybe, we could see Cesc Fabregas start ahead of Thiago. Thiago had oodles of talent, at times makes you oooh and awww, but personally I don’t feel he is ready for this type of game. He still misplaces far too many passes and makes risky decisions at the back. But hey, predicting a starting line-up, is as much guess work as real reporting, so who Pep will finally start with only he knows.
Madrid have been rather roused, to put it lightly, from the performance over the weekend. Di Stefano, who was quick to praise us and criticize Mourinho last year, wrote since the game this could be the “beginning of the fall of Barça”, while both their players and Karanka making it clear they felt they had the better of the game and deserved to win. Fair enough, they have been waiting to say things like this for 4 years. It’s all very overreactionary, as sports are these days, and I would like nothing more to just smash them tonight and send them back down to reality. However, I feel tonight will be a tough match as Madrid are pumped up and full of belief, though still wouldn’t be surprised to win by a 2 goal margin.
Karanka, who I see in Spain has been labelled Mouranka, announced last night that there would be some changes, but was coy of the specifics. I think we will see Coentrão start over Khedira tonight in midfield and that will be the only change. So I expect to see Casillas ; Ramos, Pepe, Carvalho, Marcelo ; Alonso, Coentrão ; Ronaldo, Özil, Di María ; Benzema.
Let’s see how it all unfolds. Enjoy the game.