There are so many reasons to watch Barcelona and Real Madrid face off. It’s a showdown with historical implications, an ego-flaunting contest of epic proportions, and we haven’t even talked about the tactical side of things yet.
If you want to learn about the history check out this site dedicated to the rivalry.
The ego? Just look at the spending. While it’s easy to point the finger at Madrid as the big ticket buyers, this is a Barcelona team that – with the World Player of the Year on their books – paid 60 million pounds (plus Samuel Eto’o) for Zlatan Ibrahimovic then loaned him out and dropped a cool 44 million pounds on David Villa. And 36 million on Dani Alves. And 25 million on Javier Mascherano.
But you know all this.
Test runs are over
Now that we are two matches into this unprecedented run of four meetings in under three weeks, the big test has arrived: 180 minutes to determine who goes to the Champions League final. Leave the history aside. At this point, the matches are a tactician’s dream. How often do you get two chances to test out your tactics against an opponent? To try something and see how well it works?
The best manager in the world has taken his Madrid team from 5-0 losers to 1-0 Cup winners in two games. Should Barcelona be worried?
Oh yes. They should.
Ever since Barcelona anointed themselves Best Team in the World, they have played one style of soccer: A tika-takka possession system taught at every level of their prosperous academy. But Barcelona is not hiding the ball. Maxwell Kuhl recently described it as a case of “possession game permanently leaning forward.” And when they lose it, Barca doesn’t let you possess: Their defense is leaning forward too.
So confident are the Blaugrana in their style of play that Xavi Hernandez recently said, “Inter won the Champions League but no one talks about them.”
Of course, Xavi left out one important bit of information. Nobody talks about Inter, but everybody talks about Mourinho.
Special one (Why not? Very nice)
It is the rare manager who has the ability to make overpaid, pampered players understand the gestalt of the game. A team united is greater than the sum of its parts. Over the two legs against Barca in 2010, Inter Milan was a better team. In the first match they counterattacked with purpose and precision, never pushing unless they spied a weakness.
The second leg is remembered for Inter’s incredible “ninety of nothing.” The Italian champions never even tried to leave their half of the field. But a close watching of the match reveals something more important: Inter rarely even left their own eighteen yard box. Barcelona has, at any one time, about six players who can nail a free kick from 35 yards and in. What Mourinho showed that night was that they wouldn’t do it in open play.
The plan is the plan! There is no other plan
Barca has no Plan B. They won’t speed up or change the point of their attack. It is what it is. Lucky for Barca, it’s damn hard to stop. No amount of tactical preparation can stop Barcelona without an exceedingly high quality of player on the pitch. Mourinho has those players at Real Madrid, and for the past two games he has dared Barcelona to step outside of their comfort zone. They have refused.
There will be minor changes for both teams going into the first leg of their Champions League match. Carvalho is unavailable for Madrid. Puyol should be back for Barca.
Unless the Catalan team can learn to adjust on the fly (put in the occasional cross, perhaps?), the result will be similar to the past two. Between the November blowout and the April 16th tie, Real Madrid found an identity as a team that has so much offensive talent it can win while rarely leaving its defensive shape.
It’s a trick Inter learned last year. Will Barcelona learn a new trick? Or will they once again entrust the European Championship to the tika-takka gods?
Eli and I will have a full analysis and player ratings after the first leg of this fantastic soccer event. Tell us what you think about Madrid and Barcelona. Is it over-hyped? Did the first two matchups get your adrenaline pumping or do you wish they’d just start playing other teams already?
Questions for Real Madrid fans
- Really? You’re not bothered by the whole fascism thing? I mean, it’s cool. Just making sure.
- First leg at home. A lot of teams like it the other way around. Can you build a lead in the first leg? That would require playing a full 90 like the first 45 of the Copa del Rey.
- How will you cope without Carvalho? He was pretty bad in the 5-0 loss. He was pretty great in the last two matches.
- Has Mourinho solved Barca? Or have we just seen a pair of fantastic defensive efforts?
- Higuain was great against Valencia. Should he start?
Questions for Barcelona fans
- Do you change anything in your approach? Barca is supremely confident in their system, but they haven’t scored in open play against Madrid in 210 minutes.
- Should Barca sit back and wait for the second leg to attack? Cruyff will cringe if they do.
- Will the Blaugrana ever cross the ball? Maybe just once? See what it feels like?
- Who should play left back? Adriano was beaten on the winning header in the Copa del Rey. Should Maxwell get on the pitch?
- Should Mascherano step in for Busquets? Sergio is a great player but he has been less than effective in the past two games against Madrid.