A certain group of crazy Madridistas accidentally happened to cheer for Andres Iniesta going past Rafael van Der Vaart on the eve of 11th July, 2010 at the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg. An unfathomable sight but the love for the nation brought the unexpected out from the streets of Madrid and apparently Iniesta became the only second Barcelona player after Ronaldinho to receive praises from the Madrid fans – the latter of course earned a veneration gesture from the rival fans with his commanding performance at the Santiago Bernabeu during 2005, the same season he bagged the European Footballer of the Year award too.
It’s been well past four months since the event and things are much back to square one by now. The fans mean business again and so do the teams. It would be the date of 29th November, 2010 that would mark its presence felt in the history books. The El Clasico between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid to be played at Camp Nou in Barcelona has managed to catch an amount of limelight which even the finals of bigger tournaments have failed to in recent times during the decade nearing to an end.
There is an array of factors that makes this epic clash an even more special one (pun intended). Barcelona have nurtured a top notch team in their ranks courtesy enormous efforts at the ground level where people like Josep Guardiola and Luis Enrique have personally taken interest into the perseverance of players playing in the youth academies of the team. Real Madrid on the other hand, have preferred a more hurried approach where acquiring the services of best players from all around the world has been their top priority – duly upheld by the unending squandering capacities of club president Florentino Perez.
The approach to attain glory may have differed from one club to another but the record books are hardly bothered about that. One thing that cannot be discounted is that at present both these teams form the two most fierce, mighty and authoritative congregations in the European football and given the list of players on paper, no other contest could be as intense as this one prospects to be.
The fact that Real Madrid president has hired the services of Jose Mourinho – arguably the shrewdest manager in world football after a limitlessly triumphant season with Inter – speaks volumes for the club’s ambitions for this season and breaking the immortality of Barcelona in the domestic circuit is the most important agenda for the club. A win therefore in the initial edition of El Clasico would set the perfect tone for Madrid’s campaign for the rest of the season as it would take the confidence level of the players to another level.
Barcelona however have had a topsy-turvy beginning to the season having dropped points twice at home in the league and twice in the group games of the Champions League too. The Catalans though seem to be reclaiming the top form and the latest routing of Almeira speaks for their momentum.
TACTICAL ANALYSIS: REAL MADRID
It is the time of the year when the extremely decisive Christmas week is fast approaching and the managers of the big teams are expected to have made up their minds for the approach to be carried forward during the remainder of the season and that looks exactly the case with both Mourinho and Guardiola.
The Portuguese having come to the capital of Spain with enormous expectations has not disappointed yet. He has found the correct mantra to induce cohesion in the Madrid game and his new acquisitions since his arrival have all clicked. Sami Khedira shoulders the responsibilities with Xabi Alonso in the heart of midfield whereas Ozil with his ball skills and vision has caught the attention of many. Angel de Maria on the right flank extends the options for Mourinho to set an attacking ploy and at the same time the Argentine is highly inventive in creating chances.
Without much scrutiny, Mourinho would deploy his favored 4-2-3-1 with Gonzalo Higuain playing upfront fed by Ozil playing the attacking midfielder. The defense led by Ricardo Carvalho in the centre has had a tremendous time thus far conceding only six goals but of course this is the first real test.
Ideal starting Line-up:
Casillas – Ramos, Carvalho, Pepe, Marcelo – Khedira, Alonso – de Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo – Higuain.
TACTICAL ANALYSIS: FC BARCELONA
Pep Guardiola has not dropped any points as manager in El Clasico and he would be in no mood to change what the records have to say so far. Hence, the Spanish mastermind would not opt to chop and change his composition and rely on the cohesive Barcelona approach that adapts the inter-play of a level which frustrates even the toughest oppositions and compels them err.
One of the major concerns for Guardiola at the beginning of the season was the fatigued fitness of his first choice players as most of them played a key role in Del Bosque’s La Furia Roja during the summer in South Africa. Pep’s apprehensions much showed in club’s languid performances during the initial set of games but all the players have come good by now and have found their clinical touch going into the big game.
Pep’s biggest challenge would be to counter Real Madrid’s ferociously paced wing based play led by Portuguese talisman Cristiano Ronaldo. The ex- Manchester United striker is yet to register a goal against Barcelona but given the form he is in, no net looks impenetrable for CR7.
Barcelona have to heavily depend on their midfield to keep innovating their play as Mourinho may well restrict Khedira and Alonso for the defensive duties. The man that matters to raise Barcelona’s fortunes is the tiny Argentine Lionel Messi. The gifted left-footed magician – classically winger but lately advanced forward – will face his national teammates in the other half of the pitch but the home fans would demand nothing less than a spree of goals from their cult hero.
Xavi and Iniesta will remain the heart of Barcelona’s play as ever but much lies on the veteran shoulders of Carles Puyol. The Barcelona skipper will have to deliver his best to limit Madrid’s perilously destructing moves while attacking. Guardiola must keep in mind Madrid’s abilities this season while counter attacking and therefore the centre of defense cannot afford a single slip in positioning for as long as the play keeps rolling.
Ideal starting line-up:
Valdes – Dani Alves, Puyol, Pique, Abidal – Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta – Pedro, Villa – Messi.
INTENSE ONE-ON-ONE BATTLES
While the world eyes this one as a Messi vs. Ronaldo show, let us be clear about the fact that the two would seldom feature into the same frame during the ninety minutes of time. Some of the individualistic battles that carry the substance to make this one an irrepressibly hysteric clash are mostly happening in the final third. Here is the look at the ones most likely to take place and intoxicate the viewers over a spinning ride of thrill.
Mesut Ozil vs. Carles Puyol
This promises to be a déjà vu of the semi final clash between Germany and Spain. The German sensation was conveniently subjugated by the seasoned Spanish centre back. The strength of Puyol lies in his match reading skills as he on many occasions rightly anticipates a player’s move and easily restricts him. Tonight however, the soul of Barca defense may find it a little tough to deal with the pacy Ozil for two reasons. The first is sweet and simple. Ozil is definitely a better player than he four months back was and has so effortlessly shaped his game into the Spanish idea of football.
The second reason being a little tactically tricky one would once again test Puyol at the highest level. Barcelona have an identified and well documented problem in their Right Back position. The Brazilian Dani Alves is wondrous while partnering the midfield create chances but does fall short on speed while tracking back. With Cristiano Ronaldo likely to command the same flank as that of Alves, the onus will much lie on Puyol to counter Ronaldo’s moves when Alves is either caught out of position or is outsmarted by the Portuguese’s extremely imaginative play.
Anders Iniesta vs. Xabi Alonso
The two formed a highly enviable partnership during the summer in South Africa. Xabi’s pin point long crosses and Iniesta’s precise positioning while receiving them made it much convenient for someone like David Villa to proceed further.
However, as the stage sets for the first round of the big match, the two are wearing opposite colors and are expected to live the stature of their names. The two, extremely inventive midfielders have always managed an eye for creating something from nowhere. Though the two take care of entirely different departments for their respective teams, are the most crucial players should their team hope for the best result.
Mourinho understands the importance of a night like this and thus would not leave any knot remain loosened for Barca to expose. This may well ask Xabi to compromise on his playmaking aspirations and would restrict the Madrid engineer for long balls solely to the defensive duties shielding a layer above the defensive line. This approach would propel the number of instances where Xabi and Iniesta would be battling over the ball. With both the players being gifted with their ball skills, their position off the ball too would be needed to be tracked.
This battle deep in the Madrid half of the midfield promises to be of the highest level during the whole encounter and would treat the eyes of the viewers. A series of rough tackles may well be in store.
Lionel Messi vs. Ricardo Carvalho
Ever since his arrival at Bernabeu, the Portuguese veteran has so seamlessly gelled into the Madrid defense and brings with him his ideas that help the defense function as an organized unit.
Tonight is going to be his biggest night in Spain undoubtedly. The man he is going to deal with is reckoned to be an unearthly perception by many. The fact that when Messi plays the centre forward, he tends to proceed a little too closely from the backline leaving no space to work with for the defenders. Add more to that, Messi revolves around everywhere in the final third and it becomes difficult to keep track of his movements.
With Marcelo at Left Back position being a player who is highly ambitious on making runs upfront, Carvalho would need to maintain the discipline in the defense that leaves no obvious space to work around for opponents. His partner Pepe in the heart of defense is highly vulnerable to cautions and given his nature to tackle tough, Carvalho remains the commander-in-chief as far as Madrid defense is concerned.
ALL THAT MATTERS
The path to success may have been paved under different mannerisms by the two clubs. The culture, the customs, the composition and the conventions at both the clubs may differ. The pattern in enriching the medal tally too may differ and the whole value system comprising game ethics and flavor of play may contrast. The fact however that haunts all these propositions and theorems is that they cease to carry any significance as soon as the whistle blows and count for nothing for as long as another whistle blows.