"El Clasico" is back again! On August 23rd, the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup kicks off at 10:30 p.m. local time in the Camp Nou.
José Mourinho has been under fire after many controversial choices in his starting lineup from fans of Real Madrid and Barcelona alike, especially since his record against the Catalan giants has been mostly negative.
When he included Pepe in the Copa Del Rey final as a defensive midfielder, the Portuguese coach was lambasted for an overly defensive approach, mostly from Barcelona fans. On the other hand, Mourinho has also been greatly criticized for the inclusion of Lassana Diarra, as many think he is careless and does not keep possession well. Furthermore, the internal battle between left backs Fábio Coentrão and Marcelo, as well as the striker duel between Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema have been debated over the past season.
Here is my best guess for the starting lineup for Thursday in order to maximize success. However, I do not think that anyone can accurately predict Mourinho's thinking.
Iker Casillas will start against Barcelona, no doubt.
Although Iker had a collision with Pepe against Valencia that left him groggy, he seems to have recovered quickly, as he was fine during the second half of the match.
The best keeper in the world will have to demonstrate his skills that coin him "Saint Iker," as he always does in "El Clasico" matches.
Enjoy a compilation of some of the captain's best saves.
Left Back: Fábio Coentrao
Marcelo was recently at the Olympics with Brazil in which he featured in every match, so Mourinho probably will not play him. Also, the "only one" will prefer to stay cautious away at the Camp Nou, with the 5-0 loss from two years ago still fresh in his mind. Especially with Pepe missing, Madrid will not take any risks.
Center Back: Raúl Albiol
Because Pepe had a nasty collision with Casillas this weekend against Valencia, he will not be playing as a precaution. Mourinho has confirmed that Albiol will be filling in, which is quite worrying for Madrid fans. Not only have Madrid conceded 13 goals in four games (three losses, one draw), Albiol is a slow center back who has difficulty handling the fast pace of Barcelona.
Center Back: Sergio Ramos
Ever since his move to center back at both Madrid and Spain, things have been looking great for the vice-captain. Although he does have occasional mistakes, Ramos is a rock in defense by making last-ditch tackles to stop an on-coming striker. Not only is he amazing defensively, the Spaniard is a great threat in the air with corners and set pieces, which Madrid must take advantage of against La Blaugrana.
Right Back: Álvaro Arbeloa
Although many fans criticize him for his inconsistency, Arbeloa was one of the best right-backs in Euro 2012, showing his ability with keeping the left flank quiet. Although he's not a great attacking threat (only one assist last year), his defensive mindedness will be helpful against Barca. Mourinho will most likely go for the defensive approach because of Pepe's absence, so the former Liverpool man will be crucial.
Defensive Midfielder: Xabi Alonso
The Basque midfielder has been pivotal for Real Madrid because not only does he protect the defensive line with his well-timed tackles, he also provides an outlet for the ball to be passed far up the field. Because Barca have so many midfielders that clog up the passing space, his accurate long-ball passing will be necessary to get the ball upfield towards the opposition goal.
Defensive Midfielder: Sami Khedira
Khedira was rested against Valencia (which came back to bite Mourinho), most likely to ensure that he would be lively enough against Barca. Although he probably will not score again, his job will be difficult, as the German needs to try his hardest to keep the ball away from Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas.
Center Attacking Midfielder: Mesut Özil
No doubt, Mr. "Avatar Eyes" will start against the Catalans. His midfield prowess is unmatched, as through balls have always been dangerous for the Barcelona defense. Enjoy a short clip of his performance in the Copa Del Rey.
Left Winger: Cristiano Ronaldo
No question. Ronaldo will try to exploit Dani Alves in his ventures forward, and he would like to have an especially amazing performance after a mediocre match against Valencia.
Right Winger: Angel Di Maria
Di Maria will look to rival Jordi Alba, and becuase of their speed, this will be a battle you cannot miss. With the Argentine's trickery and pace, he could easily get around Alba and score a quick goal. Alba is known to make adventurous runs forward, so Di Maria not only needs to attack quickly, but get back to defend just as quickly.
Striker: Karim Benzema
Although Gonzalo Higuaín did score on the weekend, he had a very mediocre performance against Valencia and was caught offsides quite a bit.
Efficiency is key. Benzema can switch with Ozil, Ronaldo and Di Maria very quickly, which will catch the Barcelona defense off guard for a few seconds. This could provide a window for Los Blancos to score an away goal, which could be crucial going into the second leg at the Bernabeu.
This would most be the most probable starting lineup against Barca. If Madrid is down toward the end of the game, we could see the insertion of José Callejón or Gonzalo Higuain. However, most likely, Mourinho will try to limit his losses away from home, so perhaps Lassana Diarra could be substituted for Ozil in last 20 minutes or so.
What are your predictions for the starting lineup? Will Mourinho go out attacking, or stay more cautious?
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