Real Madrid vs. Barcelona: Halftime Thoughts on Tonight's El Clasico

Greg Johnson@gregianjohnsonSpecial to Bleacher ReportDecember 10, 2011

Real Madrid vs. Barcelona: Halftime Thoughts on Tonight's El Clasico

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    Real Madrid and Barcelona are at halftime, and the score stands at 1-all.

    So far the match has been as fast, furious and hurried an affair as you'd expect from El Clasico, especially when the stakes are so high for both sides.

    Mourinho's Madrid, who currently hold an advantage over the league table have been clever tactically, committed and restrained. They only need a draw tonight after all, but they've hardly parked the bus and chucked the keys out of the window.

    Pep and Barca on the other hand need the win, and seemed almost stressed throughout the early part of the half. Slowly though they've come back into the match and were perhaps turning the tide around the 40-minute mark.

    Here are six points thrown up by the first half of tonight's game.

    My full-time review of the match can be found here.

Valdes Gifts a 26 Second Opener to Madrid's Benezema

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    The game started rather acrimoniously for Barcelona as Valdes sliced a panicked, long-ball clearance to Di Maria for fed through to Karim Benezema for a beautiful volley into the back of the Barca net.

    Valdes, and his team, looked shaken. They'd entered the Bernerbau seemingly the wrong side of intense, and the early blow shattered their nerves.

Madrid Marshall the Midfield with Lassana Diarra

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    Against the likes of Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Fabregas and co, Madrid have turned to discipline, commitment and skilful steel to hound and hector their perhaps more cerebral opponents.

    The tackler-passer-creator model is in full effect with Diarra, Alonso and Ozil, the former two of which have patrolled across the middle of the pitch, snuffing out through balls, dribbles and passes with glee. Ozil too has come deeper at times to offer easier passing options and mop up loose balls.

    Diarra looks to be the key though. His tireless closing and tenacious will has seen him run down and block off channels and options for Barcelona all over the centre of the park.

    He isn't man-marking like Pepe did last year on Messi, acting more like a general enforcer, but could he soon find himself carded off the field of play just like his Portugese colleague was last season? With tackles and fouls flying in from all sides, the referee is being kept busy by both teams.

Moment of Messi Magic Drags Barca Back into It

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    It had to be Messi didn't it?

    As Barca's possession game struggled to ignite under Madrid's dominent pressure, up pops Messi, spurting through the middle with a gorgeously effective dribble. A snapping through ball fires forward from the flea to find Alexis Sanchez who fires his shot home past Iker Casillias.

    It was a stunning goal that lifted his team and their heads to the idea that this game could be winnable, although Barca will surely require more Messi magic considering their overall form so far tonight.

    That is what Lionel Messi brings to the game when he's on the pitch. Rather than sitting around waiting for his team to pick themselves up, back onto his level, he grabs the game by the scruff of the neck and does the dirty work himself.

    Having said that, "dirty work" has never looked so good. Messi assists, Sanchez scores and Barca are level. Game on!

Leo Then Lucky to Stay on the Pitch

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    After picking up a yellow for dissent earlier in the first half, Messi soon found himself in the midst of a dubious challenge in the centre circle at the middle of the pitch.

    It wasn't a foul worthy of a sending off per sae, but the Argentine magician was lucky to find mercy at the hands of the official. It certainly would have been a booking for a lesser player or if Barca's star man hadn't earlier picked up a card.

    A talking point if Messi continues to influence the result in the second half.

Mourinho's Wiley Tactics Produce a Fluid but Formidable Madrid Performance

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    Deploying his attacking left-back, Coentrao, as a tackling right-back was questioned by some pundits as a tactical over-think too far, but so far, the left footed Portugese full-back has been able to take on Iniesta and his runs inside well.

    Similarly, they said Barca's midfield could not be tempered without cynicism and foul play, yet Madrid's central trio are currently holding out well.

    Could tonight be Mourinho's greatest victory if he wins in style? He has long been a manager able to grind great teams to dust in his wake, but glory doesn't just come from the hard data of results, especially at a club such as Real Madrid, a club who want to win everything in style.

Pep Tweaks and Fiddles as Barca Strike Back on the Counter

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    Pep's opening tactical gambit was his 4-3-3 formation, but after Madrid's early breakthrough, Barcelona's coach made a brave move, switching to 3-4-3.

    Dani Alves shifted forwards into a more focussed attacking role on the wing whilst Busquets dropped deeper to compensate.

    As the match evolved, so did Guardiola's response. Puyol drifted out to the right flank as Busquets began to operate more centrally in a back two with Pique.

    It looked as if Pep was playing mouse to Mourinho's cat, trying to stay one step ahead of Madrid's coach in the tactical game from the benches.

    So far it has worked to an extent, allowing Barca to adapt their style without their usual glut of possession, breaking fast and wide on the counter. Will his constant meddling cause more problems than it solves in the second half?

    How will tonight's epic tussle finish? So the two Spanish titans have offered up a brilliantly feisty spectacle without boiling over into an overly physical battle. Its been end to end stuff, almost like a glossed up, technically excellent Premier League showcase, but who will come out on top? Will the contest fade or will one side or controversy win the day?

    Read my full-time match report here. Thanks for reading!