Round 10. In the left corner, the challenger, hailing from Setúbal, Portugal, he will tell his players to do whatever to whomever to avoid defeat, despite never pulling on the shorts himself, it’s José “SuperPoke” Mourinho. And in the right corner, with a career Clásico record of 9 wins, 3 draws, and just 1 defeat, from humble ballboy to legendary captain and now master leader, the essence of a gentleman, Josep “Pep” Guardiola. And here we are again. Barely breath caught from the last football (soap opera/Greek tradedy?) encounter, the battle commences all over again. Make no mistake, this is a battle. FC Barcelona vs Real Madrid. Pep vs Mou. Lio vs Cristiano. Good vs Evil.
I don’t think even the fact it’s “only” the Copa del Rey can detract from the anticipation of the match. With all the fallout from Pepe, who was eventually not been punished, to Madrid fans turning on their coach, and the recent uncoverings of divisions forming in the Real Madrid lockerroom, I would be surprised to see anything but a furious encounter tomorrow evening. Mourinho will pretty much have to go for it, needing at a minimum 2 goals in the Camp Nou, something he has not achieved ever against us in 7 opportunities. Still, he isn’t going to go guns blazing, that’s just not in the man. It will be a controlled defensive performance with counter attacks and forward penetration in spurts, if they can. Personel wise, Khedira and Di Maria will be last minute calls, but Arbeloa returns from suspension. Then we get to the animal that is Pepe. I firmly believe he will start because firstly Mourinho believes he is influential in stopping Barça and secondly because it will be a huge “I’m the boss” to all those calling for Pepe to be sold as he desicrated the image of Real Madrid, including the Madrid press that have to a significant degree abandoned the Less-Special One this week.
For Barça, there really isn’t much to say. We will go out to win, to play our game, like we did Wednesday, like we did, Sunday and like we will do next Saturday. The team has never failed to rise to the occasion against Real Madrid, so why speculate that it will be any different tomorrow. To consider the lineup, I believe it will be the exact starting 11 from Leg 1, which is unfortunate for our magnificent monster Masch, but it is something I think he takes in his stride. Adriano played well versus Málaga but I don’t see that warranting a place over Cesc or Alexis, and he surely won’t be at the back.
The players will walk out the tunnel to the vision of “Som-Hi Barça” in bright red, blue, and gold. This is Pep’s Barça, who do the business each and every time when the pressure is on. It won’t be easy, it never has, no matter how easy the team make it look. It will require total focus and effort but I expect nothing less.