Barcelona vs. Real Madrid: 10 Lessons José Mourinho Learned from the Supercopa
Late Wednesday night at the Camp Nou, Spain's two powerhouses clashed in the second leg of the Spanish Supercopa. Real Madrid were dominant in the first leg's 2-2 draw, but Barcelona traveled home with an away goals advantage.
Although Los Blancos were well-organized and dangerous going forward, an 87th minute late-winner from Lionel Messi sealed Barcelona's Supercopa victory by an aggregate scoreline of 5-4.
A poor challenge from Madrid's Marcelo on returning Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fàbregas ignited a benches-clearing scuffle in extra-time. Marcelo, Mesut Özil and David Villa received red cards for their involvement.
Wednesday's brawl has dominated the headlines, but there was breathtaking football on display as well. Madrid manager José Mourinho will be happy with his team's performance, despite the defeat.
Over the two legs, the Portuguese tactician will have gained valuable knowledge about his players and tactics. Here are 10 lessons Mourinho learned from the Supercopa.
Real Madrid Need Sami Khedira in Midfield
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Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira was a workhorse over the two legs of the Supercopa.
The German international received a yellow card in the first half of Wednesday's match, which forced Mourinho to replace him at halftime. Although he was sacrificed early in the second leg, Khedira was undoubtedly one of Madrid's best players in the Supercopa.
Madrid's new No. 6 has an outstanding work-rate and defensive mentality. Khedira closes down opponents well and provides constant pressure on the ball. With pass-master Xabi Alonso as his midfield partner, the German assumes significant defensive responsibilities.
Although Fábio Coentrão performed well as a defensive midfielder in the second half of both legs, Madrid missed Khedira's steel and positional awareness. The German was partially at fault for Messi's goal in the first leg, but his defensive contributions were key to the success of Madrid's 4-2-3-1 system. He tracked opposition midfielders well, disrupted Barcelona's tiki-taka passing style, and made intelligent box-to-box runs.
Coentrão has the quickness and tenacity to excel in midfield, but Madrid need Khedira in order to contain Barcelona's maestros.
Ángel di María Can Create Space for Others With His Slalom Runs
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Ángel di María gave an industrious performance on Wednesday night, bursting forward into the final third and tracking back defensively as well.
With the Argentine winger's electric pace and relentless closing down of opponents, Madrid were able to pressure the ball high up the pitch. Di María tirelessly pursued Barcelona's Éric Abidal, bursting his lungs to force mistakes and back-passes.
Although he provides endless running down the flanks, Di María is most dangerous when driving at opponents. The Argentine has outstanding close control when moving with great speed. His ability to quickly shift the ball and side-step challenges at pace creates havoc in the final third.
Di María's dribbling ability and quickness almost unlocked Barcelona's defense in the second leg. Early in the match, he was able to evade a challenge from Gerard Piqué and play a delicate chip over-the-top to the streaking Khedira.
The Argentine has the skill to beat defenders off the dribble and find teammates when he cuts inside onto his favored left foot.
Guardiola has trained Barcelona to quickly pressure the ball once they have lost possession. If Di María side-steps the first challenge, he will create space for others when the covering defender moves up to make the tackle.
When the Argentine goes on his slalom runs against Barcelona, Madrid look dangerous in the final third.
Cristiano Ronaldo Cannot Be Contained for an Entire Match
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Cristiano Ronaldo has been criticized for his performances in big matches. The former Ballon d'Or winner will disappear for short periods of time, but he cannot be contained for the entire match.
In last season's Copa del Rey Final, the Portuguese winger showed that he could deliver in the biggest moment. Ronaldo scored a crucial header in extra-time, sending Madrid into Copa del Rey ecstasy.
Although Dani Alves was arguably the best player on the pitch Wednesday night, the Madrid star was still able to get on the score-sheet. The Brazilian repeatedly stopped Ronaldo when isolated one-on-one out wide, ignoring the quick stepovers and making perfectly timed tackles.
Alves was outstanding defensively, but Ronaldo scored Madrid's first goal and almost thundered home a second. The Portuguese winger turned in a Karim Benzema cross to level the match at 1-1 in the 20th minute.
Shortly after, Ronaldo received the ball in space and fired a blistering shot on goal before Alves could make the block. Barcelona's Victor Valdes was saved by the crossbar, as his weak punch re-directed what was sure to be a breathtaking goal.
Ronaldo has not been dominant against Barcelona in the past few years, but he cannot be contained for an entire match. The Portuguese winger created great goalscoring opportunities for Benzema in the first leg and scored Madrid's first goal at the Camp Nou.
Sergio Ramos Has Improved When Isolated in 1-on-1 Situations
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Sergio Ramos was impressive in both legs of the Supercopa. Although he was at fault for David Villa's brilliant goal at the Santiago Bernabéu, the Spanish international performed well upon his return from injury.
The Madrid right-back looked sharp on Wednesday night as well, limiting Villa's impact down Barcelona's left wing. In recent seasons, Ramos has been criticized for his poor positional awareness and tendency to lunge into mis-timed tackles.
He was responsible for keeping Iniesta onside for the first goal, failing to step-up and catch the Barcelona midfielder offside. Although his positioning was poor, Ramos noticeably improved when isolated one-on-one out wide.
Villa was rarely given room to turn, as the Madrid vice-captain quickly closed down the space and put pressure on the former Valencia striker. Ramos timed his challenges well, winning back possession for Los Blancos.
Mourinho has been critical of the Spaniard's defending in the past, but he showed significant improvements Wednesday night. If Ramos continues to polish his defending, reliable right-back Álvaro Arbeloa will struggle to get first-team football this season.
Fábio Coentrão Can Suppress Pedro
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Fábio Coentrão has become the most expensive utility player in world football. In Real Madrid's preseason, the former Benfica left-back primarily played as a defensive midfielder and winger.
After Marcelo's sensational 2010-11 campaign, the Brazilian looked set to retain his place in Mourinho's starting XI. Although Coentrão featured in midfield during preseason, he started the second leg of the Supercopa at left-back.
The Portuguese international had not played single minute at left-back for Madrid, but he slotted in perfectly as Marcelo's replacement. Coentrão's defending against Spanish winger Pedro justified Mourinho's decision to start the former Benfica star.
Coentrão was able to suppress the Barcelona star, and contain him for large portions of the match. With his defensive tenacity and quickness, the Portuguese international won tackles when isolated out on the wing.
Pedro has the trickery and pace to beat defenders in one-on-one situations, but he struggled to get past Coentrão.
Although Marcelo will most likely remain Madrid's first-choice left-back this season, Coentrão could be the best option against Barcelona.
Karim Benzema Can Deliver in the Big Matches
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Karim Benzema has struggled to find his best form since moving to Real Madrid in 2009. The former Lyon star has scored over 30 goals for Los Blancos, but he was clearly the second-choice striker before Higuaín missed the majority of last season with a back injury.
Although Benzema has shown flashes of brilliance and world-class ability, the Frenchman has been ineffective in big matches over the past two seasons.
After a stellar preseason, the Madrid No. 9 looks set for a great 2011-12 campaign. Benzema entered the Supercopa as Mourinho's first-choice striker, firing eight goals in seven matches this summer.
The French international was wasteful in front of goal at the Santiago Bernabéu, but he created and provided the assist for Özil's goal. Although Benzema failed to convert a few goalscoring opportunities, he was sharp and lively in the first leg.
The Madrid striker carried his good form into the second leg, scoring a crucial equalizer in the 82nd minute. He was composed in the box, using one touch to control and the second to find the back of the net.
Benzema can be more ruthless and clinical, but the Frenchman proved that he can deliver in the big matches.
Real Madrid's High Line Can Stop Barcelona's Tiki-Taka Football
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Real Madrid used the standard 4-2-3-1 last year against Barcelona and suffered a humiliating 5-0 defeat at the Camp Nou. Los Blancos were much more successful in the Supercopa using the same formation. The key difference was Mourinho's slight change in tactics.
Madrid played with a significantly higher line in both legs of the Supercopa. Led by Ronaldo, Benzema and Di María upfront, the reigning Copa del Rey champions pressured Barcelona's backline in their own defensive third.
By closing down the likes of Abidal and Mascherano, Madrid were able to stop Barcelona's tiki-taka football for the most part. Barcelona's playmakers did not have the time and space to receive the ball, pick their heads up and combine with teammates in midfield.
Mourinho's decision to apply pressure higher up the pitch forced significantly more misplaced passes and rushed clearances from Barcelona. Madrid closed down the space quickly, hounding opposing players in possession.
Although the high line largely stopped Barcelona's passing rhythm, it left Los Blancos vulnerable at the back. There was an unbelievable amount of space to exploit in behind Madrid's defenders. Iniesta's goal on Wednesday night revealed the drawbacks of Mourinho's high line.
In order for Madrid to be effective, the backline must stay organized and coordinate a solid offside trap.
Barcelona unlocked Madrid's defense a few times over the two legs, but Mourinho's men were able to stop their tiki-taka football.
Real Madrid Must Capitalize on All Set-Piece Opportunities
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With their outstanding physical presence and athleticism, Real Madrid must capitalize on all set-piece opportunities. Barcelona may be the most dangerous team in the world from open play, but they lack the height to pose a serious threat in the air.
Madrid have three significant aerial threats in Ramos, Ronaldo and Pepe. They all have the leap and heading ability to score from corner kicks or flighted crosses into the box.
In the second leg at the Camp Nou, Ramos had a golden opportunity to score the equalizing goal. The Madrid vice-captain had a free header from Özil's in-swinging corner, but he failed to hit the target.
Although Benzema scored following Barcelona's poor clearance from a corner, Madrid must be more effective. Against Barcelona, Madrid have to use their height and athletic advantage to score from set pieces.
Real Madrid Should Use the 4-3-3 Against Barcelona
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Although Real Madrid played well with their standard 4-2-3-1 in the Supercopa, Mourinho should use the 4-3-3 against Barcelona in the future. Los Blancos were able to disrupt Barca's passing rhythm, but Guardiola's men still scored five goals.
While the 4-2-3-1 gave Madrid a solid attacking quartet, the two defensive midfielders struggled against Barcelona's dynamic midfield.
When Messi dropped into midfield, he was given too much time on the ball. The reigning Ballon d'Or winner was able to receive, turn and run at defenders. With Messi's ability to create goalscoring opportunities, Madrid should not have allowed him to receive the ball in space.
Alonso and Khedira had to mark Xavi and Iniesta, but the Argentine star would drift into dangerous positions as well. Pepe would close down Messi or step up to make an interception, but Los Blancos were left with a void at the back.
If Madrid switch to a 4-3-3, they would be able to match Barcelona's central midfielders. Mourinho's men could play with a similar high line, but they would have more cover in the middle of the pitch.
In addition, the three-man midfield would give one player the freedom to man-mark Messi as he floats between the midfield and frontline.
Although Madrid would be less effective in the attack, the 4-3-3 is better suited to combat Barcelona's system and passing style of play. Di María or Özil would most likely be sacrificed, but the introduction of another defensive midfielder should help contain Barca's little maestros.
The 4-2-3-1 will have great success in La Liga and the Champions League. However, against Barcelona, Mourinho should switch to the 4-3-3.
Against Barcelona, Pepe Is More Effective as a Defensive Midfielder
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Pepe was outstanding for Real Madrid in the Supercopa. The Portuguese centre-back performed well in both legs, playing an instrumental role in Mourinho's 4-2-3-1.
The Madrid defender showed great determination and commitment in the challenge, using his strength to shrug opponents off the ball. With his tenacity and quickness, Pepe was able to make last-ditch tackles and key interceptions in midfield.
Although the Portuguese enforcer is a natural centre-back, he can be more effective as a defensive midfielder against Barcelona. In last season's El Clásico series, Mourinho experimented using a 4-3-3 system with Pepe in midfield.
Madrid were less dangerous going forward, but they won the Copa del Rey Final with the new formation.
As a defensive midfielder, Pepe was able to neutralize Messi and minimize his impact. Mourinho gave him the tactical freedom to man-mark the Barcelona No. 10 and deny him the space to turn.
Pepe frequently dispossessed Messi in the Copa del Rey Final, making it difficult for the Argentine to combine with the likes of Xavi and Iniesta.
Madrid played well with the 4-2-3-1 formation, but Barcelona still scored five goals over the two legs. If Messi, Xavi and Iniesta have space and time on the ball, they will pick apart defenses with their intricate passing and exceptional vision.
When Madrid face Barcelona later this season, Mourinho should move Pepe back to midfield. He was solid at the back during the Supercopa, but he is more effective as a defensive midfielder. His ability to contain Messi changes the entire dynamic of the match.