The first ‘Game of the Century’ of the season is hours away! What do we think will happen and what are the interesting talking points here? Find out more after the jump.
We call each el Clasico ‘The Game of the Century’, but yet each passing el Clasico has always made us clamor for more and often live up to its name tag and expectations. It is hard to overstate when it comes to the Clasico – the biggest football match in the world. But both Guardiola and Mourinho chose to play down the importance of el Clasico, opting to make the diplomatic statement, “It is important, but not decisive“. The past four Clasicos ended with victory for us because we had a better teamwork and lethal finishing, but this season it is a different Real Madrid. So far, Madrid has conceded less goals than us in all competitions, and this could be a sign of how this game will unwind.
Since the arrival of Jose Mourinho – the self proclaimed ‘The Special One’, he did what he always does with each team he manages – build a team from the defense up. Gone are the likes of Garay from the starting line up, to be replaced by his trusted accomplice Carvalho from the Porto and Chelsea years. Mourinho is known for being able to maximize the potential of players who are nearing their peak. The emergence of Lucio, Samuel, Zanetti, and the likes are ample proof of this statement, and this prudent Carvalho transfer will add another to the growing list of players that hit their best form under his tutelage.
He then proceeded to utilize the strategy he always uses in his first season, while he’s still building the foundation of the club: counter attacking football. Mourinho doesn’t like the variance that comes with attacking football, as one slight error in the build-up of play can result in a goal for the opposing side. That is why players like Cristiano Ronaldo are suited this play style, not just because he is very athletic, quick, and two-footed but also because he will shoot for the goal regardless whether the strings of passes made a clear-cut chance or not. He won’t take risk of retaining possession for too long (especially against another big team) and would rather like to just try to finish the build-up regardless as it will reset the state of play and the defense can position themselves accordingly.
In situations where Madrid needs a goal, he has often resorted to 3-5-2 formation that will utilize the width of the field. If we look closer at the build-up, the main orchestrator is Xabi Alonso. Ozil, along with di Maria and Ronaldo try to hog the ball until the defense is out of shape, and then strike. In this formation, they often use long passes and crosses to a large extent. Crosses are very hard to defend if the opposition have only two or three players inside the box and this is usually how their opponents concede the first goal. Long passes are another threat that I often see in the goals they scored.
Barcelona is currently enjoying their best start to their season so far, and all the crisis that the pundits were talking about in the first month have been laid to rest. Despite this, Barcelona are still in the second place in La Liga, trailing league leaders Real Madrid by a point. Messi is on a song, scoring in nine games in a row (ten if counting the match against Brazil with the Argentina national team) and playing very well against Panathinaikos. Other players who are also enjoying a good performance streak are Iniesta and Pedro. Barcelona seem to have found an effective way to resolve the most stubborn defenses and their opponents are desperately looking for another antidote to the ‘Barcelona brand of football’.
Lately, Barcelona have played an interesting mixture of 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1, with Messi always playing in the centre forward position either to make defensive midfielders drop too deep, or so that central defenders mark him too far from his position. Villa and Pedro proved themselves to be working very well with Messi and the rest of the team with this scheme. Iniesta is operating as the ball-wizard in the left flank as I think that Guardiola sees that he needs to get out of his partnership with Xavi to further improve his game and to give place for another player to learn from Xavi.
The only drawback from the previous Barcelona is we see less of Messi-Alves partnership and Xavi-Iniesta in the middle of the pitch but the good effect outweighs the bad on this one. Xavi and Busquets are playing as a duo right now, with Busquets often dropping deep and Xavi occupying any part of the pitch that he deemes good for the next build-up play. It will be interesting to see how many reckless challenges does Busquets receive from the oppostion, how many yellow cards, if any are handed out tonight.
With Pique not receiving any other yellow card in the Almeria match he will definitely be a starter for tonight’s match. Guardiola is reportedly training with all the first team players (except Gabriel Milito who is still injured) and Thiago Alcantara. So Guardiola can field his best eleven with the best starting tactics that he deems necessary.
Predicted Starting XI: Valdes-Puyol-Pique-Alves-Abidal-Busquets-Xavi-Iniesta-Pedro-Villa-Messi.
Real Madrid FC
Sami Khedira, Ricardo Carvalho, and Gonzalo Higuain are all included in the squad that will face Barcelona. The trio recovered from their injuries in time to take part in the match. Garay and Canales are not included in the squad for footballing reasons so they will not be available to play.
Predicted Starting XI: Casillas-Carvalho-Pepe-Ramos-Arbeloa-Xabi Alonso-Sami Khedira-Ozil-Di Maria-Cristiano Ronaldo-Higuain
This will be a very tough game with hard tackles from either side. Mourinho will assess first the strategy employed by Guardiola, how attacking they are, how far will the wingbacks go to support the attack and so on, and will accordingly instruct his players to be on their toes and look for counter-attacking chances. Ramos will likely to be instructed to mark Messi and will either stay in the right back position if Messi is attacking from the middle or left flank, and will switch to the other side should Messi drop to the right flank of Barcelona.
In tonight’s Clasico, I predict that the quality of the players from both sides will be so high that they would almost cancel one another, but Messi usually strives under pressure, and will try to bring the team forward. Cristiano Ronaldo looks mature enough to not just play for himself anymore, so Pique and Puyol need to know that they need to be extra careful not to get nutmegged by him, and hold their defense line together with Abidal and Alves. If Xavi-Messi partnership is allowed to flourish again just like in the last Clasico, then we can see a lot of chances from both of them.
If Barca can make Real Madrid chase for a goal, this will be much easier as they will resort to a 3-5-2 formation mentioned earlier, and if Barca trail by a goal, it will require a harder effort to score against Real Madrid that can employ full counter-attack strategy. I predict that by the end of the first half, it will still be a draw (1-1), and in the second half one of our defenders scored again for a hard-earned lead that will stay until the end of the match. Of course if Pep decides to use an unorthodox tactics and starting line-up like in the last Clasico, the match will play out differently, but if both Barca and Real play with their predicted formation then that’s how we think it will play out.
FC Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid FC