Barcelona vs. Real Madrid: 5 Keys for Real Madrid to Find Victory in El Clasico
Real Madrid have had a hard time defeating their Catalan rivals. Barcelona have bested them in nearly all of their recent clashes. Jose Mourinho continues to search for an answer and while Madrid's efforts in the Copa del Rey clash were admirable, the tactics were wrong.
Real Madrid have the potential to beat Barcelona, but they must keep five things in mind.
Dominate the Flanks
Barcelona's defense is not unbeatable. If anything, the previous Copa del Rey matchup revealed that they are defensively lacking on the wings. Dani Alves was consistently out of position on the left, and Eric Abidal is aging and lacks pace. Madrid must take control in the wide areas to keep pressure on Barcelona's defense and to feed Cristiano Ronaldo.
I predict Madrid will better capitalize on wing play with the return of Angel Di Maria on the right side. He has the ability to dominate Abidal and we all know what he did with the final cross in the Copa del Rey final.
Start Marcelo, Lass and Ozil
In the last matchup, Mourinho opted for Fabio Coentrao on the left side over Marcelo due to injury. Should Marcelo start on Wednesday, the left side will primed for the attack.
Although Coentrao is better than Marcelo defensively and is able to keep his cool for the entirety of the match, Marcelo is much better on the counterattack and has incredible chemistry with friend and left-wing counterpart Cristiano Ronaldo. Coentrao can play on the right side if Mourinho feels he must start.
Lassana Diara also must start. Although not a consistent starter in Madrid since the arrival of Mourinho, Diara is one of the better tacklers on the team and is always running and playing hard. He, like Pepe, has been able to restrain Lionel Messi and often is able to keep his game cleaner than Pepe's.
Mesut Ozil also needs to start, too. In the last matchup, Mourinho put Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain in the front three. There were no true playmakers on the field. Xabi Alonso, in midfield, was under too much pressure from Barcelona to consistently make plays. Madrid were in need of men up front to dictate play.
Ozil (along with Di Maria) is one of those playmakers. Despite inconsistent performances, the German is still brilliant and can shine if given the chance. He can release Ronaldo and Benzema and open up the attack to help tear through Barcelona's defense.
Conversely, Hamit Altintop must sit. He was dreadful in the last meeting. His passes went astray far too often, he was constantly caught out of position and he hardly contributed to the defensive.
Get Pepe out of Midfield
Pepe has been an outright ruthless defender in his time at Madrid. He's a rock in the back when he plays and, despite gaining a reputation for being brutal, he is one of the best center-backs in the world.
Mourinho has played him in midfield in several Clasicos and generally the results are successful. The only problem is that nearly every time Pepe starts as a holding midfielder, he is booked or involved in some violent incident. In the last meeting, it was his stepping on Messi's hand. In previous meetings there have been such incidents as the red card for "injuring" Dani Alves.
Regardless of whether or not Pepe is deserving of the fouls, they are still called and Madrid cannot afford to play a man down against Barcelona.
Putting Pepe in the middle of the back four along with Sergio Ramos makes the most sense. He plays a better game overall there and, along with Ramos, forms a formidable pairing. It also removes the need for Ricardo Carvalho, who is aging and not the defender he once was.
Control Set Pieces
Real Madrid has no excuse for letting Carles Puyol score in the last match. Standing at 5'10", he is by no means one of the taller players on the pitch. Pepe is 6'2", and Hamit Altintop and Sergio Ramos are both 6'0".
The substantial height advantage of Real Madrid's back line is obvious and must be utilized. In the last meeting, it was not.
Madrid have several players who can dominate the air on set pieces, both defensively and offensively. In addition to Ramos and Pepe, Sami Khedira is gifted in the air as is Cristiano Ronaldo. Madrid need to use this to create chances from set pieces and to properly defend.
Keep High Pressure
Earlier in the season, Madrid were able to score against this formidable Barcelona side in under two minutes. This was largely thanks to the high pressure Real put on Barca's defense from the get-go. By putting Barcelona under pressure immediately, they were able to unsettle Barca's midfield and defense and force mistakes.
Real Madrid must keep high pressure the entire game. They must force mistakes from the midfield and from the defense in order to create more chances. As the games have gone on, the pressure has lessened, resulting in more possession and chances for Barcelona. Keep the pressure high the entire game, and Barcelona might just make more mistakes.
In the last game, Barcelona were utilizing this tactic better than Madrid. They kept Xabi Alonso restrained by limiting the time he had on the ball. As a result, Madrid's ability to make plays declined tremendously. The same will work against Barcelona.
My Starting 11
In my opinion, Real Madrid need to stick to the formation and players they are used to playing with. In the Copa del Rey, they added another midfielder and they removed a playmaker, while starting a center-back who has not played all year and a right-back who has seen very limited playing time. The key for Madrid to create a working counterattack is to field they team that has chemistry together.
RB: Diara or Coentrao
CBs: Pepe and Sergio Ramos
CDMs: Xabi Alonso and Diara or Coentrao
RW: Di Maria
Callejon should be given a chance off the bench should the need for a forward arise. Sahin should be given a chance in midfield should Alonso's partner prove lacking. Varane should be the backup for Ramos and Pepe, not Carvalho.