The capital of Cataluña will shake on Monday night as the two best football teams in the world--and yes, Real Madrid and Barcelona are the best in the world right now--take the pitch in the Camp Nou. There has been a lot of hype surrounding this game: Sid Lowe of the Guardian and SI.com has called this year’s match the Super Clásico. Spanish newspapers have touted this particular chapter in the Real Madrid-Barcelona rivalry as “the best Clásico of all time” (“el major de los clásicos” according to Marca.com). This might sound absurd, right?
Somehow this rivalry has gotten even bigger--and it’s already the biggest club football match in the world. I mean, think about it like this: if you were going to create two separate, yet seemingly perfect squads in FIFA 11, they would both look something like Real Madrid and Barcelona. Throw in that Spain just won the World Cup, that these teams already detest each other, and that the two top scorers in the major European leagues are on each side of the pitch--well, how can a match can get any more intense?
Well, there’s this guy called José… and all the Barça fans (and most of the world) hate his guts. He has been throwing jabs at the blaugranas throughout the season already, and has caused various semi-scandalous uproars that have rocked the Liga BBVA. He accused a coach of “giving” Barcelona points (the Preciado affair); and recently, he had two of his players expel themselves from the same game by wasting time.
Some “experts” are absolutely aghast at Mourinho’s “disrespectful” tactics; they think he has besmirched the soul of the game. Others, and if you’ve read anything I’ve written before you’ll know that I’m a big Mourinho fan, feel that these “disrespectful” or “disreputable” moments of “cheating” are actually brilliant tactical maneuvers designed to get the most out of his players.
This type of debate only serves to fan the flames of the already massive bonfire that is El Clásico, and I’m sure they will only intensify in the coming days.
All of this being said, I’m going to break down this Clásico bit by bit: from the key individual match-ups to the broad tactical patterns, this article will be an extremely in-depth pre-Clásico guide. Get excited.
*A word of caution before some of the individual break-downs: both teams play a very fluid attacking game, which means that players move from position to position throughout their attacking sets. This means that particular individual match-ups are hard to identify perfectly: for example, one match-up could be Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Eric Abidal, but becaue CR7 will switch between right wing, center mid, left wing, and striker, it will be hard to analyze. So, I’m going to stick to a few match-ups that will be more noticeable, and use the tactics section to address dynamic players like Messi or CR7.*
For more clásico coverage, check out Gabe's blog, and follow him as he chronicles Real Madrid's 2010-2011 season on B/R. A por ellos!