Barcelona vs Real Madrid: Champions League Preview

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Barcelona vs Real Madrid: Champions League Preview
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images
Has Jose Mourinho found a way to stop Barcelona?

Two Clásico's down, two to go.

The first Clásico was the second leg of the La Liga campaign which resulted in a draw at the Bernabéu in Madrid. Mathematically, the result of this match will not matter for Barcelona, barring an Arsenal-like meltdown en route to another La Liga title. 

Some have viewed the result as a moral victory for Real Madrid who have struggled to find any sort of form against Barcelona in quite some time. While Pep Guardiola probably did not view this match as much of a priority, José Mourinho needed this game to set the tone for the next three games between the two Spanish/European powerhouses. 

The second Clásico was for the Copa Del Rey final in Valencia and this time Real Madrid was victorious as they nabbed their first domestic cup since 1993 thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo goal in extra time (brilliant set up by Marcelo and Ángel di María).   

Throughout the first two matches, Barcelona have yet to score an actual goal in open play (Barcelona's lone goal coming from a penalty). Could it be that Mourinho discovered Barcelona's kryptonite? 

In the first matchup, Mourinho used a three-man defensive midfield comprised of Pepe, Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso—two defensive midfielders and Pepe who is versatile enough to play in a defensive midfield role.  

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Additionally, Madrid let Barcelona pass the ball around and did not chase them until absolutely necessary, at which point Madrid was more focused and less dizzy from the constant passing Barcelona has been known for.

Just as critical were the amazing stops by Iker Casillas, arguably one of the top three keepers in the world today.  

For the Copa Del Rey matchup, Mourinho brought in Mesut Özil as the central playmaker while the rest of the midfield and defense let Barcelona come to them instead of chasing the ball which is what happened in the 5-0 debacle back in November.  

Even though both teams fielded a slightly different side than the prior match, Real did not modify their strategy and played a very physical game and were able to get into the heads of Barcelona.  

For anyone who did not watch the game and only looked at the stats, it would appear Barcelona dominated the game, but Barcelona was not as threatening as they have been throughout this season. 

Whenever Madrid did have the ball, they were very direct and created some good chances to score the few times they did have possession. By the time Los Blancos took the lead it seemed Barcelona were worn down by "wielding their own sword" too much.  

While it was nice for Real to win this domestic cup, the next two Clásico's will turn out to be the most watched and important games for both teams. 

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Which manager will emerge?

 

TEAM PREVIEWS

Barcelona:

For the first leg of the Champion's League semi final, FCB will be without left back Adriano and possibly captain Carles Puyol while the rest of the lineup will remain in tact.

Players to look out for will be the usual suspects: Lionel Messi, David Villa, Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Dani Alves. There are no big surprises at this point in the season as the core team has been able to stay injury-free for the most part and maintain a level of form that has been rivaled by probably no other team in the history of football. 

Depth wise, if there are any problems with Carles Puyol, Javier Mascherano is available to help anchor the defense. Offensively, Ibrahim Affelay has been a great addition this season, while Jeffrén Suárez is always a threat up front. This season has also been good to Thiago Alcántara, who has been able to get enough experience to be ready to come off the bench if necessary.

The only other position that is questionable is the left back role. With Abidal out the rest of the season and Adriano out as well, Maxwell is the only other option and he too is questionable for the first leg.  

 

Real Madrid:

Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Kaka and Higuain have yet to feature in the first two Clasicos

The most notable absence will be defensive midfielder Khedira, who went down due to injury. In his absence, watch out for Lassana Diarra, the jack of all defensive trades to step up.  Everyone else should be ready to go. 

Two players who have yet to make an impact for Madrid in the first two Clasicos are Gonzalo Higuaín and Kaká. While both have suffered from injuries this year, neither player can ever be taken lightly. 

If used properly and efficiently, Madrid may use either player as the "ace in the hole." Against Valencia this past Saturday, both players combined for five goals.

This is where Real Madrid may have an advantage—having world class options such as Kaká, Higuaín, Emmanuel Adebayor and Esteban Granero give los blancos the edge when it comes to overall depth.

 

Outcome?

Judging by the way the season has gone for both sides, it certainly would appear that Barcelona would be the heavy favorite as they have had a full season of positive momentum, while Real has had a few bumps in the road.But with the first two clasicos in favor of Los Blancos, there is no telling who will come out on top. 

It seems that the Special One may be on the verge of finding a way to stop one of the best teams ever assembled.  It may be hard to believe, but Real Madrid probably has the slight edge momentum-wise as they have been able to maintain La Blaugrana's attack the past two matches.  

These two games alone have given the confidence to a team that has been stymied by Barcelona the past couple of seasons. Additionally, Real Madrid's depth will allow Mourinho to have a flexible lineup and a level of unpredictability that Barcelona does not have.  

Anyone who follows football can predict and thoroughly scout the lineup that Barcelona will put out on Wednesday with about 99 percent accuracy.

On the other hand, Real Madrid has so many world class, experienced offensive and defensive options, that it may be harder to anticipate what lineup we may see in the Champion's League.

As dominant as Barcelona has been this season, it appears Real Madrid may actually have the edge going into what will be the two most watched games of the year.  

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