Tomorrow evening, FC Barcelona host their eternal rivals Real Madrid in the first-leg of the 2012/13 Supercopa de España. This is the second successive season that the two sides are to square off for the Supercopa and after emerging as victors in last year’s edition, the Blaugrana will be eager to repeat their success and put further pressure on Los Blancos coach, Jose Mourinho. While their opening day draw with Valencia was far from disastrous, it isn’t often that Real Madrid goes successive matches without a win and a loss could significantly hurt morale.
After an interview with Portuguese TV station SIC, Jose "The Only One" Mourinho has inadvertently put himself under added pressure to succeed – after all, how can a talented, one-of-a-kind manager lose to a rookie coach with just one competitive match under his belt? How embarrassing would it be for Jose if he were to lose to the man whose eye he poked roughly one year previous?
"¿Pito Vilanova? No sé quién es ese Pito."
It’s a miracle! One league match down, and Barcelona are without any concrete injury concerns heading into tomorrow evening’s match. There are slight question marks over the fitness of Carles Puyol who was taken off in the 5-1 win over Real Sociedad as a precaution after El Capitan reported some slight discomfort, but one suspects that it was a very minor problem indeed and Puyol will be fit to lead the team out – unless Tito opts for the partnership of Javier Mascherano and Gerard Piqué.
Victor Valdés should start in goal for the Blaugrana who haven’t kept a clean sheet against Real in the past seven encounters. Valdés under-performed in the last Clasico, but has shown signs of improvement in Vilanova’s short reign. Undoubtedly, a strike-force that can boast the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema will be the ultimate test of his rediscovered confidence. Will Valdés be up to the task? I guess we will just have to wait and see.
In defense, I expect Tito Vilanova to make one change from Sunday’s team with Dani Alves the obvious choice at right-back. Alves started the last Clasico in an advanced position on the right-wing, and is it any coincidence that it was one of his worst performances in a Clasico to date? Back in his usual position, Alves has a huge part to play in tomorrow’s match. At left-back, Jordi Alba should start, especially after such a promising performance against Sociedad, but if Tito wants to be more "defensive", then he may opt for Adriano given his experience with the club, but Alba should start nonetheless. At centre-back, I anticipate that Carles Puyol will keep his place, but I feel Javier Mascherano may not be so lucky. Mascherano was at fault for Ronaldo’s winner in the last Clasico, and his start to the season hasn’t exactly set the world alight, which is why I expect Tito to start with Gerard Piqué. Geri’s reading of the game is second to none and his aerial presence (something Barcelona have missed in recent Clasicos) could be vital with Eric Abidal still out injured.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets will start at pivote, meaning that new signing Alex Song is likely to have to settle for a place on the bench. Xavi should start, and Andrés Iniesta is the most likely choice to fill the final midfield role so Cesc Fàbregas may have to wait until late in the game for the opportunity to make his 50th appearance for the club.
Offensively, Lionel Messi will start as the false #9 just one goal behind Cesar Rodriguez who is the all-time top-scorer in El Clasico, at least from a Barcelona perspective with 14 goals. Leo is also one goal behind Ferenc Puskas, Francisco Gento and two goals behind Raul, although even he is unlikely to reach Alfredo Di Stefano’s 18 goal tally in this edition of the Supercopa. In fact, Leo has gone four games against Real without scoring at all, but it was in this competition last season that he stole the show with three goals and two MOTM performances. Can he do the same again? Again, we will just have to wait and find out.
Alexis Sanchez and Pedro are the two stand-out choices for the remaining two positions, although it is possible that Cristian Tello could feature out wide. We asked your opinion on whether or not Tello should start, and at the time of publish, voting is very close with 56% of people in favour of leaving Tello out of the XI, despite his performance against Sociedad. In the comments section, most were in favour of starting Pedro-Messi-Sanchez with Tello on the bench as an impact sub and as JBeck12 pointed out, starting Tello after so few matches last season was what effectively lost us the game. It was a rare mistake from Guardiola, and while many wish that Tito emulates Pep in terms of success, it would be better if he didn’t make the same mistakes, if that means leaving Tello on the bench, then so be it.
Iker Casillas shook off a nasty collision with Pepe on Sunday to finish the game against Valencia, and after showing no ill-effects, he will start in goal tomorrow. However, Pepe was not so lucky. Regaining consciousness after the clash, Pepe was so disorientated that he thought his name was Pablo and had to spend a night in hospital. In his absence, Raul Albiol should start alongside Sergio Ramos with Marcelo likely to return to the starting XI at left-back. Other than that, it’s a question of how adventurous Mourinho is feeling. Does he go for a trivote and sacrifice Angel Di Maria/Mesut Ozil, or does he continue with his tried-and-trusted 4-2-3-1? Will Gonzalo Higuain continue at centre-forward, or will Karim Benzema be restored to the line-up?
Real Madrid: LWWWWD
FC Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid – 21st April 2012 – La Liga
The Blaugrana slumped to a 2-1 defeat which all but sealed the title for Jose Mourinho’s men. It was a poor performance, although Alexis Sanchez’ performance did provide a glimmer of hope.
Carlos Clos Gomez will be in charge tomorrow for his first ever Clasico. The 40 year-old has a reputation as a card-happy referee, and issued two red cards (both to Granada players) in his last Real Madrid match. Barcelona have won the past two matches that he has officiated them in though (a 2-1 win vs Sociedad and a 1-0 victory over Sporting Gijon).
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Pedro
Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Casillas; Arbeloa, Albiol, Ramos, Marcelo; Khedira, Alonso; Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo; Benzema
With home advantage, Barcelona are the favourites, but I suspect a closely-contested match, with a 2-1 home win my official prediction. That being said, I do think there are similarities between this match and a certain November night...