FC Barcelona has a finger on its first title of the season, the Supercopa de España, a title the team has lifted more than any other club—a stunning ten times (Real Madrid has managed 8). Both clubs sit pretty with a streak of three consecutive Copas under their belts in the past, but Barcelona could make it an unprecedented four with a victory or a draw Wednesday at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu.
The uncomfortable defeat sustained by Jose Mourinho’s men last week puts them very far from out of the competition. An impressive two away goals means a fast break and 90 minutes of sitting ugly will allow him to lift the trophy for the first time in his silver-studded career. Tito Vilanova, however, certainly has other ideas and plenty of tactical options to keep the Portuguese from getting smug at such an early stage of the season.
Real Madrid CF
Though Mourinho stated Tuesday he has no plans to include his newest signing, former Tottenham star Luka Modric, or out-of-favor defender Ricardo Carvalho, a terrifying prospect awaits in the central midfield or defense, demolition man Pepe, who is either likely spiked or completely distracted by the birth of his daughter on Monday.
Fortunately, the Portuguese must be a little rattled given his team has not managed a victory in three competitive matches, but he has a pack of hungry blancos ready to prove themselves to their loyal fans on their home turf. Certainly, Madrid will come out on the attack and pray for that early goal.
Though in principle, a defensive display would offend the Bernabéu faithful, cutting down Barça over a piece of silver would hardly be something worth nitpicking over. Expect an ultra-aggressive lineup featuring the likes of Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Álvaro Arbeloa, Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso, Lassana Diarra and Marcelo ready to smother any type of blazing possession the Catalans hope to keep in the final third.
Predicted starting XI: Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo; Alonso, Lass; Ronaldo, Khedira, Di Maria; Benzema
With the potential for an appearance on the champions’ podium, Vilanova will be traveling with all available players with the exception of Marc Muniesa (knee surgery) and Éric Abidal (liver transplant). This includes Barça B star Cristian Tello, whose form as of late has been fast and threatening.
Surely any chance to draw blood in the Bernabéu will be met with firm offensive presence, which is enough to assume marauding wing backs Jordi Alba and Dani Alves will provide plenty of width. The obvious problem with this double-edged tactic during this season so far has been the lack of cover and the lack of diagonal runs from the wings, particularly Alexis Sanchez on the right. Admittedly, Tello has been far less guilty of this but bus-parking tactics certainly seemed to be effective enough in the weekend contest in Pamplona.
Should Barcelona find itself down early, Tito might revert to the last-ditch tactic he used against Osasuna and put on just about every striker at his disposal.
Tito’s side needs to be particularly wary of threats down the left flank as it was through this avenue from which came nearly every Real Madrid counter attack. Alves, who needs to be more conscious than ever of his positioning, must share his swashbuckling duties with Alba to stretch Mourinho’s back six.
While Sergio Busquets played solidly and took advantage of his positional freedom to cover for most of his central teammates, Barcelona still appeared very vulnerable over the last two matches at the back.
Piqué showed greater presence of mind in the last contest and the psychological edge a masked-marauding Carles Puyol could provide indicates it could be a classic central midfield pairing left to stifle the like of Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel Di Maria, and Karim Benzema.
There is no way Barcelona’s coach will omit any one of Xavi, Andrés Iniesta or Busquets from the starting lineup, but a potentially misused Cesc Fàbregas could slide in better with a diagonal-running Iniesta, or a Pedro, or a free-wheeling Lionel Messi.
Predicted starting XI: Valdés; Alves, Puyol, Piqué, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Fábregas
Prediction: Madrid and Barcelona are at such a high level right now that this promises to be an amazing contest. Expect goals, red cards and perhaps a Lionel Messi and/or Pedro goal so beautifully humiliating that the Madrid faithful will be applauding.
Real Madrid CF 1-3 FC Barcelona
PHOTO: Eduard Omedes (MD)