Mesut Ozil (L) of Real Madrid duels for the ball with Adriano of Barcelona during the la Liga match between Real Madrid and Barcelona at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 16, 2011 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
Are you ready to rumble? This year's Copa del Rey final promises to be an absolute cracker. To get you ready for the match, here's the latest news, some words from Pep and Jose, and keys to victory for both clubs.
Carles Puyol and Adriano are on Guardiola’s list, despite leaving Saturday’s Clásico with injuries. Both will most likely start, although Puyol’s status is technically in doubt. The big difference will be backup keeper Jose Manuel Pinto in goal. The starting eleven should look like this: Pinto, Alves, Puyol, Piqué, Adriano, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Messi, Pedro.
Centerback Raúl Albiol will serve a suspension. Will Mourinho bow to the wishes of Madrid fans and insert playmaker Mesut Ozil, or stay ultra-defensive and play Álvaro Arbeloa, leaving Pepe up in midfield and free to harass Lionel Messi?
He could do both. I’ll say Di Maria sits out, and Adebayor gets the nod over Benzema. Madrid’s starting eleven should then look like this: Casillas, Marcelo, Carvalho, Ramos, Árbeloa, Pepe, Khedira, Alonso, Ozil, Ronaldo, Adebayor.
In the pre-match press conference, Guardiola was his usual tactful self. He said Barcelona will continue to play as they always have: by controlling possession and playing attacking football. He acknowledged that, compared to Saturday’s Clásico, Barcelona needs to find a way to hold on to the ball more, and cut deeper into the defense.
Mourinho attended the pre-match conference, and this time decided to actually speak to the press (before El Clásico, Mourinho didn’t utter a word at the conference). He said that there are no favorites for this match, that the nature of cup finals dictates that both teams have equal chance of winning.
In regards to his defensive tactics in round one, Mourinho said frankly that because of Barcelona's quality, Madrid must defend: “We have to defend as a team, and when teams defend, they defend with eleven men”.
In light of Real Madrid legend Di Stefano’s praise for Barcelona following Saturday’s match, Mourinho was respectful: “Di Stefano is the most important man in the history of Real Madrid, so one must respect his words”. But he also asserted himself: “I am the coach, and the coach is the one who makes the decisions and sets the lineup”.
Keys to Victory
For Barcelona to prevail, they'll need to crack open the Madrid defense and get some balls into the danger area. I hope we’ll see Dani Alves in space on the right wing, because this will mean Barcelona’s attack is clicking. Madrid is too strong in the middle for nifty little combinations—Barcelona must spread the ball to the wings and work from the outside-in.
Pedro and Villa will need to bring the pressure harder than ever. This is the secret ingredient to Barcelona’s possession football—these little guys win the ball back when it’s lost. Villa also needs to play more like David Villa, and less like Dani Guiza.
In defense, Piqué and (hopefully) Puyol will need to make more diving clearances, as Madrid will inevitably mount some blistering counterattacks. Adriano and Alves will need to get back in a hurry, and Pinto will need to rise to the occasion (as he’s done before), and come up with some big saves.
For Madrid to win, Mourinho’s men need to continue to clog the middle of the field, hack away at Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta, and break up their combinations. They’ll also need to keep all eleven men on for the entire match, which isn’t a given considering the aggressive tendencies of players like Ramos and Pepe.
Up top, Madrid needs to take advantage of their height and athleticism. A header goal is probably the best way to beat Barcelona. Ronaldo and Marcelo can find space up the wing, and should look to send balls in whenever possible. Adebayor is a force to be reckoned with in the air.
They’ll also need to take their time—Madrid failed to hold the ball for even a few minutes in round 1, and they’ll play right into Barcelona’s hands if they continue to fire off shots in a hurry.
This game will be way more fun to watch than Saturday’s yawner. Both teams need to win, so there will be no letting down at any point. The grass is shorter; too, which means by default game-play will be faster. This all favors Barcelona, and I predict La Blaugrana will strike a serious blow to El Madridismo by outscoring Los Blancos 4-2.