FC Barcelona and Real Madrid meet yet again tomorrow night in the Copa del Rey quarter final first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium (kick off 10pm local time). The two sides have already faced each other seven times in the past nine months and they probably know each other better than any other two club sides in the world. If you are bored by the prospect of another clash between these two giants then you should probably stop reading now. For anybody who wishes to attend the match live you can buy Real Madrid v Barcelona tickets for Wednesday’s game for just under £90.
The most recent clasicos have been characterised by personal battles. It is not just about who is better, Barça or Madrid?, there are also the comparisons between Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and between Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho. Messi of course has been winning the battle with Cristiano, and it seems that he loves to play against Madrid having scored no fewer than 13 goals in clasicos compared to just two goals from the Portuguese forward. Guardiola also has the advantage over Mou with four wins to one in eight head-to-head clasicos, Barça scoring 17 to Madrid’s 8 in these games. For natural born winners like Mourinho and Ronaldo these figures hurt a lot and there is always the danger that they will become obsessed with overcoming their rivals. We can hope, particularly with Ronaldo, that this obsession will lead him to be even more selfish than usual on the field and that Madrid’s attacks will be wasted due to CR’s anxiety to score.
Despite knowing each other so well, the tactical battle continues to be fascinating. Madrid will be without the injured Khedira and Di Maria and the suspended Arbeloa, so Mourinho will have to shuffle a bit and there are many who believe he is again planning to use Pepe as a destroyer in midfield. Mourinho may revert to the very negative tactics employed in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final in April when he admitted quite openly that he would be happy with a 0-0 scoreline to take to Camp Nou. He may be thinking on similar lines but he may also remember the negative reaction from others inside Real Madrid to these tactics as it was not seen worthy of a club of such stature to play so defensively at home.
Guardiola, on the other hand, will again be toying with the idea of a defence of three. Alves will almost certainly return to the starting line-up and no doubt he will switch between full-back and winger according to Pep’s wishes. With the sale of Maxwell, the absence of Keita and the growing injury list we are looking a bit thin for the coming games and Guardiola will have to choose very carefully when deciding to rest anybody. We have no problem to put out a stunning first eleven but with a tough game at Malaga at the weekend followed by the return with Madrid next Wednesday it may be an idea to rotate a little. Tickets for both of these games can be purchased at the online tickets exchange TicketBis.
Tomorrow I think it will be Pinto and our ten best players, the only question really is whether Piqué comes in for Mascherano or Puyol at the back. Given the record of Piqué and Puyol together against Madrid I believe it will be this pairing that we will see. That should give us a team of Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc, Messi and Alexis with the possible options for change being Mascherano, Adriano and Thiago backed up by our youngsters Cuenca, Montoya, Dos Santos and Sergi Roberto.
I admit I have a slight worry over Pinto though I totally support the policy of playing the second goalie in the Copa. His control with his feet has improved while at Barça, no doubt thanks to the hours of rondos, however, he still has that traditional goalkeeper’s madness about him that does make him a slight liability at times. It may just be coincidental that Pinto was in goal for our only defeat to Mourinho’s Madrid and I certainly wouldn’t blame him for not stopping Ronaldo’s header in Mestalla, but he was also sent off rather foolishly in that half time scuffle in the Champions League game and I would not be at all surprised if Mourinho instructs his players to try and wind him up.
Neither team is in its best moment following the Christmas break but this only adds to the intrigue. The winner of the tie will serve a blow to their rival which could also have its influence in the outcome of La Liga, though of course it could also be argued that losing will allow more rest days for future league matches which could also have an influence. Whatever the case it is another massively important game for us.
Possible starting XIs:
Real Madrid: Casillas; Lass, Sergio Ramos, Albiol, Marcelo; Pepe, Alonso, Coentroa; Ozil, Higuian, Ronaldo.
Barça: Pinto; Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Abidal; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Fabregas, Alexis.
My prediction: Madrid 2 Barça 3