El Clásico Preview: Real Madrid vs FC Barcelona

Since José Mourinho took over at Real Madrid in the summer of 2010 we have already been treated to seven clásicos. Barça have the upper hand with three match victories to Madrid’s one, and that is also reflected in the trophies as Barça have lifted the Champions League, La Liga and the Spanish Supercopa while Madrid have only managed to drop the Copa del Rey under a bus. However, going into tomorrow’s league clash at the Bernabeu Madrid look more prepared than ever to challenge Barça’s hegemony. Barça have just two narrow victories in Granada and Gijon from six away games in the league this season, draws at Real Sociedad, Valencia and Athletic Bilbao and defeat at Getafe is evidence of problems on the road while Madrid’s record run of 15 victories suggest that this could well be the occasion for Madrid to get some revenge for the events of last season.

The 5-0 hiding that Madrid received at Camp Nou in Mourinho’s first clásico left its mark on the Portuguese coach. In the following encounters Madrid played an ultra-defensive formation to counter Barça’s game and during the four matches in April/May this gave our opponents some limited success with the Copa del Rey win in Valencia. However, there was a reaction from the players and some of the press against Mourinho’s tactics as some feel that a club of the stature of Real Madrid should not need to adapt to its opponent’s game especially when playing in the Bernabeu. In the Supercopa in August Madrid played a much more open game but despite doubts over Barça’s fitness they were unable to beat us. Now we are in a much more serious competition and Mourinho will probably be drawn to his more defensive instincts especially given the points advantage.

Pep Guardiola’s many options are discussed in the Talking Barça clásico special as well as in my article Who will play in Barça’s starting XI vs Real Madrid, however, Mourinho also has a few decisions to make. He has everybody except Carvalho available but before he chooses his team probably the most important decision is whether to concede to the player’s desire to go out and take the game to Barça while his instincts will lean towards conceding possession and hitting us with lightning fast counter-attacks. It seems probable that he will play the so-called trivote of Xabi Alonso, Khedira and Lass though Coentrao could also play here if Lass is preferred at right back. Most pundits suggest this means sacrificing Ozil and Kaka leaving Madrid with a front three of Di Maria, Ronaldo and Benzema, though Mourinho’s strange move of playing both Benzema and Higuian in the win at Ajax on Wednesday might suggest he is thinking of playing Di Maria and Ronaldo as Madrid’s most attacking players with Ozil or Kaka used as a link between them and the trivote.

With Adriano fit again, Pep Guardiola has all first team players available apart from Ibi Afellay who continues his recuperation in Holland. Whoever starts for us there are some keys that will be important. First, the first ten minutes are going to be very dangerous and Madrid will probably come out at 100 mph trying to punish us for any hesitancy. If we can weather the early storm we should begin to dictate the rhythm of the game. Second, we must try not to concede corners and free kicks. I’m not so worried about Ronaldo’s shooting ability and hopefully he will waste any central free kicks, but we are vulnerable to crosses as we have so few tall players and Xabi Alonso will have plenty of tall white-shirted targets to aim at. The third key is the obvious: don’t get caught in possession in dangerous positions. In our defeats to Mourinho’s Chelsea and Mourinho’s Inter this is where we were punished and its how he most believes Madrid can beat us, win possession and play the quick vertical pass into space behind our defence and use the speed of his forwards. I have argued against Gerard Piqué’s inclusion in the team but if he plays it is because he brings the ball out of defence better than Puyol and this should lower the risk of losing possession near the back.

While keeping Madrid out we will also be hoping to leave Iker Casillas on his backside again as many times as possible. Leo Messi’s got an impressive seven goals at the Bernabeu and he’ll once more be out to expose the defensive weaknesses of Sergio Ramos. Cesc Fabregas will be trying to get in behind Xabi Alonso and we’ll be looking to use the speed of Alexis or Villa to get behind Madrid’s defence if it pushes up too far. Xavi Hernandez is set to make his 600th appearance for Barça in a stadium where he has had some great games, his performance with four assists included in the 2-6 win in May 2009 should go down as one of the greatest midfield exhibitions in recent history. Who would bet against him getting another assist tomorrow?

It will never ever be easy to go to the Bernabeu and win and this year Madrid are looking stronger than ever. Added to this is the fact that a defeat for Barça will make a comeback in the league so much more complicated.  For the first time in more than two years, if I’m not mistaken, Barça go into a game as underdogs. This makes the challenge all the greater. However, the last three years have taught us to believe in Pep Guardiola and this magnificent group of players. Guardiola has still not lost in five visits to the Bernabeu and despite Madrid’s improvement I feel we still have the more talented players and this should be reflected in the scoreline at the end of the 90 minutes. Let’s hope it’s a splendid game and that tomorrow night we will be celebrating another famous victory. Visca El Barça!

Squads:

Real Madrid: Casillas, Adán, Jesús, Ramos, Varane, Pepe, Marcelo, Albiol, Arbeloa, Coentrão, Kaká, Xabi Alonso, Özil, Sahin, Callejón, Lass, Granero, Khedira, Altintop, Di Maria, Cristiano Ronaldo, Higuaín, Benzema.

Barça: Valdés, Pinto, Oier, Alves, Puyol, Mascherano, Piqué, Fontás, Maxwell, Abidal, Adriano, Busquets, Xavi, Keita, Iniesta, Thiago, Dos Santos, Fabregas, Cuenca, Pedro, Messi, Villa, Alexis.

Possible starting lineups:

Real Madrid: Casillas; Arbeloa, Pepe, S.Ramos, Marcelo; Lass, X.Alonso, Khedira; Di Maria, C.Ronaldo, Benzema.

Barça: Valdés; Alves, Mascherano, Puyol, Abidal; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Cesc, Alexis.

My prediction: Real Madrid 1 Barça 2

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18 Responses to El Clásico Preview: Real Madrid vs FC Barcelona

  1. barcacentralnic says:

    As always, an excellent tactical preview from Zonal Marking – http://www.zonalmarking.net/2011/12/09/el-clasico-tactical-preview-real-madrid-barcelona/

  2. FCBarcelonaRocks! says:

    Nice write up Nic…..i’m having this anthem up my head now. The feeling of victory is getting bigger inside me. 3-1 and above win for Barcelona for this one is what i’m anticipating!

  3. FCBarcelonaRocks! says:

  4. DAYYIB-SM says:

    i can’t wait to see this game…….hope the lucky will our side…

    Real madrid 1-3 Barcelona….. ramos for madrid,,,,, messi,cesc and alex for barca…

  5. Lee says:

    Hell I got nervous even reading the write up, which I enjoyed. It certainly will be interesting to see how Jose plays, though like you I suspect he will keep it conservative and go to the boot a lot as always. I wonder if Villa might get a start. It wouldn’t surprise me if he did and scored as well, as that would be typical of him. Just when we’re ready to dispose of Villa, boom, big goal. I hope we get the fearsome foursome of Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc, and Messi. Hard to leave any of those guys out. Pedro? He just scored two beauties that might have got him a spot, especially if Alves is left out, meaning we need width.
    What’s Messi’s shirt say in the top photo? That’s a great shot. I can’t imagine it says anything offensive, but the crowd reaction is rabid.
    Oy. Nervous.

    • barcacentralnic says:

      The Madrid fans are rabid because Messi has just scored our third goal in the 2-6 win there. The shirt was for an association fighting a rare syndrome called Sydrome X Fragil
      http://www.fundacionleomessi.org/upload/accion/adicionales/441.png?PHPSESSID=c8b94b0065cbd4fcf9eb59ab1c4275a2

      • Fredegar says:

        Should add that it came just after a Madrid press’ campaign depicting Messi as a “fragile” player, one who was often injured and who couldn’t compete physically with Ronaldo, it was just a great move from our little genius, one of my favourites “Barça moments”!
        Hi guys, back from holiday just in time for the big one, and just as Lee, I got nervous reading that. Not seen much of Barça in the last month so I don’t feel qualified to comment, just wanted to say that in the last three years, Pep always had something special in store for the clasico, it would feel so good if he could hand another footballing lesson to the translator!

  6. Babatunde abiodun says:

    i dreamt about it that barca win the match,lest i forget the octopus has predicted that barca will beat real madrid,so matter what happen tomorrow i want barca player to play with zeal to prove to the world that we are still the best teams in the world.Come on…..BARCA

  7. barcacentralnic says:

    Teams announced:
    MADRID: Casillas, Coentrao, Pepe, S.Ramos, Marcelo; X.Alonso, Lass; Di Maria, Ozil, C. Ronaldo; Benzema
    BARÇA; Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Abidal; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Fabregas, Alexis.

  8. FCBarcelonaRocks! says:

    i’m happy to get my line up prediction spot on =D

  9. blaugranaboy says:

    “However, the last three years have taught us to believe in Pep Guardiola and this magnificent group of players.”

    very much the theme i had in a preview not so long ago. i really think this is vitally important for people to appreciate

    however, i think tonight we will suffer defeat.

    lets see though, its far from a foregone conclusion

  10. FCBarcelonaRocks! says:

    lol!!i even got the score line right =D I deserve a medal of honor here !! Forca .EL Barsa!!

  11. blaugranaboy says:

    i dont know why i doubt this team. i feel ashamed about that.

    for my reckoning, this is right up there with one of our best ever performances. i dont think madrid did very well at all 1st half despite what the commentators thought and 2nd half the boys absolutely murdered them. this team is just so special.

    and puyol, come on. he’s just the best. i never should have doubted him to start, he always locks down CR and never lets us down. abidal was also spectacular, as was busquets. pique was great, and iniesta was a sensation. and also alexis deserves massive plaudits. in his 1st clasico he was super in terms of workrate and positional sense and then a super finish to boot. deserved his start and may be keeping villa out this team.

    i really am so overwhelmed with that performance.

    Soms uns color, som una manera de fer. Visca el Barca!!

  12. blaugranaboy says:

    i see madrid have already found their excuse. messi not being sent off. yeah sure, he makes one tackle all game and deserves a yellow. lets totally forget the straight red ramos and coentrao both should have received with vicious 2 footed lunges that got nowhere near the ball. pathetic losers

  13. Caleb says:

    I’m glad to say that I was confident of this team before the game. I simply knew that Madrid couldn’t compete with us in an open match.

    Great result. Good game. Didn’t really like Pique getting the start and didn’t feel he was very solid at the back.

    Sorry to come out so negatively with such a great performance, but Masch has honestly earned a place in our best XI. He’s been our best defender by far this season.

    Anyway, really good stuff. I think we saw that Cesc doesn’t slot so well into a 4-3-3, as he was not a big part of most of the game (and had a surprising number of bad passes). Even when Alves stepped up to make it a 3-4-3 it’s not the same. Alves isn’t a midfielder, and doesn’t play as well there. He put in a rather better performance when played as a fullback. Nevertheless, the two of them had a great connection to get our 3rd goal and sometimes a moment of brilliance is worth a game of mediocrity. Like tonight.

    Messi: good but needs to pass and shoot sooner sometimes. But, once again, his brilliance made the first goal possible. What an incredible run by him! Really wished he would have got a goal.

    Sanchez gave a lot of positive effort and scored a great, clutch goal. I think Pepe has a harder time guarding Sanchez than he does most of our players, whom he seems to shut down pretty well. Sanchez justified Pep’s choice to start him.

    Iniesta, Xavi, and Busquets = better than any midfield of 4 in the world. Class in a glass. These three are fantastic. A few more loose passes from Xavi than I’m accustomed to seeing, but his performance is still better than nearly any other midfielder out there.

    Puyol is amazing. I had no doubts about his ability to rise to the occasion. Abidal played a good enough game, but made a few more mistakes than when he’s at his best. Valdez had one terrible play and the rest of the game he did quite well (besides a couple sketchy clearances). Made some good saves, but needs to focus on his delivery/clearing. Granted, it’s a small part of what he does, but as we saw today it can be very costly when not done right.

    Pep didn’t really field the team I thought he would and I think he got the Pique call completely wrong. But, beyond the nitty-gritty of who starts and who doesn’t I think it’s most important to notice that Pep continually gets great performances out of this team. He helps them believe they will go in and win every game. He helps them reach their potential. Even if I don’t like some of the choices he makes for substitutions/starters, I love how good he is at managing the team. People want to say that anyone could win with a team like Barca. It’s not true. Real have a great team. Some people say it’s better than Barca’s. But they can’t really touch Barca. Is it just luck? Is Mou a bad coach? It makes more sense to accept that Pep is a great coach, and especially great for Barca. I think Pep is the glue. He makes everything stick together. Or maybe his the motor oil and keeps everything running smoothly. Or perhaps the gasoline… At any rate he’s an important liquid.

    I’m done typing. Visca Barca!!

  14. barcacentralroger says:

    Boo yah!

    (Too drunk for constructive comment)

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