FC Barcelona: Key Battles in the Clásico

Ronaldo tries to beat Dani Alves

With the Clásico fast approaching I feel it is important to have a look at the key areas where the game could be won or lost for Barcelona. We all know about the huge rivalry between the two clubs but I am interested in the tactics both Guardiola and Mourinho will be deploying in order to see his side become the victors.

I will start in defence. I think Guardiola will favour the reformed Javier Mascherano over Carles Puyol. Purely because Mascherano will be completely defence minded and won’t risk venturing forward. This is key because with attacking full backs such as Alves and Adriano, Barça are vulnerable to a counter attack especially with the pace of Ronaldo and Di Maria on the wings. Although Mascherano is not as quick as Ronaldo and Di Maria, I believe his football intelligence will be vital to understanding and stopping Madrid’s play.

I also think Guardiola will start Gerard Piqué purely because of his height advantage. Of course he has great defensive ability but with the height of Madrid, Barcelona will need a strong, tall defender in the box for defending set pieces. Also the defender should be fit to start after suffering an injury in the Milan game.

Guardiola will also have to warn his full backs about leaving space behind during their ventures forward. This is where the midfielders come in, in particular Sergio Busquets. When the full backs do push up, I expect Busquets to drop back into the defence and form a defensive three with Piqué and Mascherano. Then I expect either of the central defenders to push out to cover the wings.

The midfield battle will be also be important. Barcelona like to dominate the midfield and Mourinho deployed Pepe in the last Clásico to try and break up the rhythm. We all know this wasn’t successful and Pepe’s reputation hit a new low. This time I think Pepe will stay in defence and instead Mourinho will turn to Khedira, Xabi Alonso and Özil to break up the play of Xavi and Iniesta. Lionel Messi also likes to drop deep in search of the ball, this will cause a problem for Sergio Ramos, who will have to decide whether to follow Messi or remain in defence. This could allow space in behind Ramos for Alexis or Cesc.

Up front I think Pep will start with Alexis, Cesc and Leo. I was toying with who would play left wing but I think the experience of Cesc gives him the nod over Cuenca. This means the battles will likely be Marcelo vs. Alexis, Messi vs. Ramos & Pepe while Cesc will face Arbeloa. Marcelo vs. Alexis is an interesting one as both players are clearly very quick and Alexis will find it hard to beat Marcelo purely on pace. This means he will either try to beat him on skill or cut inside to attack Pepe. Another bonus for Alexis is Marcelo, like Alves, is a very attack minded full back leaving space for Alexis to get behind him. Also as I mentioned before Messi likes to drag defenders out of position, which will leave room for the Chilean. Making a lobbed through ball from Xavi or Iniesta a perfect route to attack the Madrid defence.

For Madrid’s offense clearly the most dangerous player is Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese forward has been in great form this season and will be looking to cause Dani Alves problems in the defence. I think it will be important for either Piqué or Mascherano to double up on Ronaldo, in order to restrict the winger’s space. Of course in the first Copa del Rey Clásico Ronaldo opened the scoring by getting in behind Alves and had the skill to get past Piqué before slotting past Pinto. Therefore Alves must be extremely disciplined about his ventures forward. Alves recently gave a very interesting interview to the Guardian’s Sid Lowe.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2012/apr/16/dani-alves-barcelona-chelsea

In it he states "People automatically think that because you attack, you can't defend. Not true." He then went on to explain his positioning for the Madrid game "Against Madrid I hardly attacked because they counter so well. We needed control; if not, they steamroller you. If I am asked to defend, it's tough because I like attacking, I like to participate, but I will do it." So although he prefers to attack he acknowledges that Madrid are too good of a side to play with just three in defence. I also think Mascherano will move into the middle and mark Benzema while Adriano tucks in to track any attacking Madrid players. Vice versa if it is Di Maria on the wing.

There is no doubt the game will be an interesting contest, and although Madrid are currently four points ahead it can be argued that this game is a title decider. Barcelona are 4/6 favourites to win the match but Mou’s men can not be written off. Even if it is at the CampNou.

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