The first Clásico of 2013 takes place tomorrow night (Wednesday, 9 pm) as Real Madrid and Barça meet in the Copa del Rey Semi Final first leg at the Santiago Bernabéu. Jordi Roura has named 19 players for the trip to the Spanish capital, leaving only Martin Montoya, Isaac Cuenca and Cristian Tello in Barcelona along with the unavailable Eric Abidal, Marc Muniesa and Johnathan dos Santos.
Real Madrid have been having a torrid time this season. Reports of dressing room discontent with coach José Mourinho have been plentiful and poor results in the league have left them fifteen points adrift of Barça at the top of the table. There is no doubt that Mourinho’s style of management has brought a certain amount of success to the teams he has coached, but at the same time it is clear that his manner also creates problems.
Marca’s recent “either he goes or we go” headline may have been complete fabrication, but despite the subsequent denial of any such ultimatum from the alleged mutineers, Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos, it seems obvious that some players are far from happy. Mourinho’s recent decision to drop Casillas will have left players wondering if their coach has completely lost it – and is it just a coincidence that Casillas gets his first important injury in years so soon after being dropped?
For tomorrow’s game Mourinho is without the injured Pepe and Casillas and the suspended Ramos, Fabio Coentrao and Angel Di Maria. New signing Diego Lopez could take over in goal but I have a feeling Mourinho will continue with Antonio Adan between the sticks. Raphael Varane, Raul Albiol and Ricardo Carvalho compete for the two centre back positions though I’d say that Carvalho is getting too old to be chasing after Leo Messi for 90 minutes. With Casillas, Pepe, Ramos and Coentrao missing there might be some expectation that Madrid might be exposed at the back. However, their defence seems much improved in recent weeks as indicated by the record of only one goal conceded in their last six games (compared to 13 in the previous six).
Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso were rested for Sunday’s 4-0 lunchtime win over Getafe, (though Khedira played the second half) and they look likely to form the double-pivot in midfield while going forward it’s likely to be Mesut Ozil, Luka Modric, Ronaldo and Benzema though there could be a chance for Callejon or Higuian.
Roura knows that despite Madrid’s problems tomorrow’s game will be far from easy, saying in today’s lunchtime press conference: ‘Barça-Madrid are very even games that can be decided by small details’. There were no clues as to team selection though the only doubts would seem to be whether the form of either Javier Mascherano, Adriano or David Villa can displace anyone in what would appear to be our best XI. Obviously Pinto should start in goal for the cup and then on current form it looks like being Alves, Piqué, Puyol and Alba at the back, Xavi, who signed a new contract until 2016 this week, with Busquets and Fabregas in midfield, and Pedro, Messi and Iniesta up front.
Messi’s four-goal haul against Osasuna take his career total for Barça to a staggering 297 goals in 361 games. It might be a bit much to ask for a hat-trick to take him to 300 but there is a good chance that with seventeen goals in Clásicos he could equal or beat Alfredo Di Stefano’s long-standing record of 18.
A repeat of Barça B’s 3-1 win over Real Madrid Castilla on Sunday would be very nice. Eusebio’s youngsters showed the way with a splendid performance which should really have led to a bigger margin of victory. The class of Rafinha, Grimaldo and Deulofeu offers us plenty of hope for the future though I was most impressed by ‘false nine’ Luis Alberto who looks better each time I see him, while Sergio Araujo has begun to shine, scoring twice to overturn the 0-1 deficit before Deulofeu slotted home from the penalty spot. It is true that Castilla had Alex Fernandez sent off with the score at 0-1 after stupidly slapping/pushing Araujo in the face, but the comeback was already very much on the cards as Castilla keeper Tomas Mejillas was by far the busier goalie throughout the game.
However, tomorrow I have a feeling that Madrid are going to make things very difficult for us at the Bernabéu. They may even benefit from the absence of Casillas, Pepe and Ramos, with the new players being more motivated and more willing to follow Mourinho’s orders. Given the number of absentees Mourinho could be tempted to revert to his spoiler tactics that he used in the games at the end of the 2010/11 season, though it seems more likely that after the more recent games between the sides he will realize that Madrid have a better chance if they come out to attack.
I have no doubt that Barça are the better team and that our philosophy of how to play the game and how to train and educate our young players will bring us greater rewards in the long run. However, anything can happen over 90 minutes at the Bernabéu and I have a feeling there will be a lot of goals. Let’s hope Roura gets the ‘small details’ right.
The second leg is not for another four weeks. Currently set for February 27th, just three days before the teams meet again in La Liga at the Bernabéu.
Barça’s 19-man squad: Pinto, Valdés, Alves, Adriano, Piqué, Bartrá, Puyol, Mascherano, Alba, Song, Busquets, Xavi, Thiago, Fabregas, Iniesta, Pedro, Alexis, Messi, Villa.
Madrid: Adan; Arbeloa, Varane, Albiol, Marcelo; Xabi Alonso, Khedira; Ozil, Modric, Ronaldo; Benzema.
Barça: Pinto; Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas; Pedro, Messi, Iniesta.
Prediction: Madrid 3 Barça 3
Date: Wednesday 30 January 2013. Kick off: 9 pm local time.