El Clásico: Why Real Madrid Will Beat Barcelona in the Spanish Supercopa
Real Madrid's domestic campaign starts this Sunday against rivals Barcelona in the much-anticipated Spanish Supercopa.
Madrid will face off against the reigning Spanish and European champions over two legs. The Copa del Rey winners will host Sunday's match at the Santiago Bernabéu, and then travel Barcelona on Wednesday, August 17th.
Both teams are well-prepared for these early Clásicos, as a Supercopa victory could set a winning tone for the entire campaign.
Madrid will be looking to eradicate memories of last season's defeat in the Champions League Semifinals, and leave the Camp Nou with the first title of the 2011-12 campaign.
Here are six reasons why Real Madrid will beat Barcelona in the Spanish Supercopa.
Outstanding Preseason Form
Real Madrid finished their preseason with a perfect seven wins out of seven matches.
Los Merengues scored a combined 27 goals, while only conceding five. Manager José Mourinho had the majority of his first-team players on the summer tour, which increased the intensity and competition within the squad.
New signings Fábio Coentrão, Raphaël Varane and José Callejón featured heavily in Madrid's preseason, and looked comfortable in Mourinho's system.
Although Madrid do not face world-class opposition, they maintained an outstanding level of form throughout the summer. With the large number of returning players, the squad's chemistry improved with each match.
Los Merengues were compact in defense and ruthless in the attack, playing exceptionally well in Mourinho's favored 4-2-3-1 formation. Madrid's new arrivals and key first-team players looked sharp in preseason, and motivated to start the 2011-12 campaign in great form.
Barcelona's Slow Start
Contrary to Real Madrid's impressive preseason, reigning Spanish and European champions Barcelona got off to a slow start.
La Blaugrana faced two world-class teams this summer, playing Bayern Munich in the Audi Cup and Manchester United on US soil.
Pep Guardiola's men won two out of the six matches, suffering defeats to the English champions and Chivas Guadalajara. Barcelona had a goal differential of zero, scoring eight goals and conceding eight as well.
In addition to their challenging preseason schedule, Barcelona were hampered by injuries and first-team absences.
Guardiola was forced to rotate his squad and bring in players from Barcelona B, such as Carlos Carmona and Jonathan dos Santos. The European champions were vulnerable at the back, and largely underwhelming going forward.
Thiago Alcântara has been a standout performer, but the squad has undoubtedly lacked match sharpness and precision in the final third.
Without a few key starters, Barcelona have not been able to find their chemistry and top form of previous seasons.
Barcelona's Copa América Participants
The 2011 Copa América had a significant impact on Barcelona's preseason tour.
Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano played every minute for host nation Argentina, while Dani Alves and Adriano represented quart-finalists Brazil. Although Guardiola had the majority of his starting XI this summer, the team did not look the same without Messi and Alves.
The reigning Ballon d'Or winner has been instrumental towards the success of Barcelona's 4-3-3 system and tiki-taka style of play. Messi's combination play with Xavi and Iniesta has been a key element of the club's recent European dominance.
While Barcelona played with a similar passing philosophy throughout the preseason, Guardiola's men noticeably lacked the quality and precision in the attacking third.
Although Barcelona struggled to compensate for Messi's absence, losing Alves for the summer was significant as well. The Brazilian's contributions down the flank cannot be understated. He consistently bursts forward in support of the attack, providing an outlet and genuine width down the right.
Without Alves in the squad, Barcelona lacked that explosive and dynamic presence at right-back.
Both stars will most likely feature in the Supercopa, but it will be their first match experience with the squad since the end of last season. Messi and Alves are world-class players that will easily slot into Guardiola's starting XI. However, they still have to find that timing and rhythm with their Barcelona teammates.
Guardiola will be taking a risk with the Copa América participants, as they are clearly behind the rest of the squad in terms of preparation for the Supercopa.
Fábio Coentrão's Versatility
Fábio Coentrão was one of Madrid's best performers in the preseason.
The former Benfica left-back arrived in the Spanish capital for a €30 million transfer fee earlier this summer. With Marcelo coming off his best season at the club, it was unclear where Coentrao would play under José Mourinho.
Although the Portuguese star is the first-choice left-back for the national team, he has yet to feature in that position for Madrid. Coentrão has emerged as a world-class utility player for Los Merengues. He has excelled as a defensive midfielder and winger in Mourinho's 4-2-3-1 system.
Whether Coentrão starts in the heart of midfield or out on the flank, his versatility will be key to Madrid's success in the Supercopa. With his experience at left-back, the Portuguese international will provide cover for Marcelo when the Brazilian moves forward in the attack.
Coentrão's inclusion as the left-sided defensive midfielder, or left winger, will give Madrid fluid movement and great defensive support down the flank. The Madrid star should help Marcelo cope with Barcelona's deadly combination of Messi and Alves, especially when the Argentine maestro drifts out to the right. Coentrão will be comfortable tracking back defensively, marking Messi through the middle or Alves out wide.
With his versatility, quickness and defensive tenacity, the Portuguese international will play a significant role in Madrid's defensive approach. Coentrão has the work-rate and energy to provide pressure high up the pitch, and close down the space in midfield.
Pepe: The Anti-Messi
In last season's 18 days of El Clásico, Real Madrid defender Pepe was arguably team's most valuable player on the pitch.
Against Barcelona, Mourinho used the Portuguese centre-back as a defensive midfielder. Pepe played alongside Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira, as Madrid switched to a more conservative 4-3-3 formation.
As a defensive midfielder, Pepe was given the tactical freedom to track and man-mark Messi. In his new role, the Madrid star was able to contain the Argentine maestro for extended periods of time. The Barcelona No. 10 was largely ineffective when the Portuguese defender was on the pitch.
Whether Mourinho moves Pepe back to central defense or keeps him in midfield, the Madrid enforcer will play a significant role in the Supercopa. With his combative spirit and defensive tenacity, Pepe has the ability to subdue Barcelona's most dangerous player.
The Argentine maestro has the quality to create a goalscoring opportunity at any moment. However, if Pepe can avoid getting sent off, Madrid will be able to minimize Messi's impact over the two legs.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema's Chemistry
Real Madrid's impressive preseason tour was a direct result of the squad's growing chemistry.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema's chemistry has improved exponentially over the summer. The two have been in outstanding form, using the preseason to build a greater understanding of each other’s strengths, weaknesses and style of play.
Ronaldo and Benzema were unstoppable during Madrid's summer tour, as the two combined for a total of 15 goals in seven matches. The Frenchman led the club with eight goals, solidifying his place as the first-choice striker.
With the two Madrid stars playing all seven preseason matches, they were able to improve their chemistry and combination play. Ronaldo and Benzema both have exceptional technical ability and skill on the ball. Although they excel playing quick, one and two-touch football, the two were not always in sync last season.
As they continued to train and play together this summer, Ronaldo and Benzema became more familiar with each other’s movements and tendencies. The pair linked up well with playmaker Mesut Özil, and worked intricate triangles around the box.
With their skill and speed of play, the Portuguese winger and French striker are able to use deft touches and flicks to create space in the final third.
If Barcelona wants to keep clean sheets in both legs, their slower defenders will have to stop Madrid's quick combination play and swift counter-attacks.
Ronaldo and Benzema's chemistry has made Madrid more lethal and dynamic going forward. As Barcelona prepare for the Supercopa, Guardiola will have to account for both in-form attackers.