Real Madrid CF vs FC Barcelona
Supercopa de España: Second-leg
Kick-off: 22:30 CET
FC Barcelona are 90 minutes away from their first trophy of the 2012/13 season, and their first under new coach Tito Vilanova. Standing in their way? As usual, it’s Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid. The Blaugrana will take a slender 3-2 lead to the Santiago Bernabeu tomorrow, and therefore do not even need to win on the night to lift the Spanish Supercopa. A draw will be enough, making Barcelona the overwhelming favourites to lift their first title at the Bernabeu since 1997. It may only be the Supercopa, but it is a trophy, and whenever there is a trophy up for grabs, it matters.
Should Barcelona emerge victorious tomorrow it will be their 15th trophy win out of a possible 20 in the last five seasons...let that sink in. It would mean a 75% success rate, not in individual matches, but with regards to entire tournaments! Going by the numbers, Barcelona win three of every four competitions and as Gerard Piqué noted last week, few teams can boast such an excellent record. Given that the Catalans have emerged victorious the last three times when facing Real Madrid in two-legged scenarios, it would take a brave man to bet on a Madridista win.
You didn’t think we could get away with it did you? Three games into the new season, and already Barcelona have their first "major" injury in the form of a broken cheekbone for Carles Puyol. Frustratingly, it came right at the end of Sunday’s win over Osasuna, and it looked like an innocuous challenge from Roland Lamah, but Puyol went down and stayed down. Initially, reports were surfacing that claimed Puyol would miss 3-4 weeks of action, but ever the warrior, our captain may well play tomorrow night, albeit with a protective mask.
Moving onto the team news, Victor Valdés will continue in goal and undoubtedly the biggest test for him will be the crowd at the Santiago Bernabeu. After his mistake in the first leg, Valdés has come in for some criticism from his own fans, but the Madridista crowd will be keen to remind him of that mistake and his error in last season’s league encounter between the two clubs. Will he be able to cope with the jeers and whistles and stay true to his usual style of play?
In defense, Dani Alves should make his fourth successive start under Tito Vilanova at right-back and as Real Madrid couldn’t cope with the Brazilian’s threat in the first leg, he may well fancy his chances once again. While his goal in last season’s Copa del Rey was a once-in-a-lifetime strike, he could contribute again, whether it is with a goal or assist, or just through good attacking play. Not only that, but Alves was able to put the shackles on Cristiano Ronaldo in the first-leg; can he do it again? It would certainly make Valdés’ life easier if he does.
In the heart of defense, I anticipate Tito Vilanova to restore Javier Mascherano to the starting line-up, with Gerard Piqué keeping his place alongside him. Puyol might be available, but wasn’t his usual self on Sunday and given his injury, it wouldn’t be so much of a straight-forward "drop", more of a safety precaution to stop him from causing further damage. That being said, I would love to see Puyol given a few minutes at the end if the score-line permits so that he is the one to lift the trophy if we are successful at the end of the match.
The left-back position is also up for grabs with Adriano Correia and Jordi Alba the two candidates; in our poll, we asked you who you would pick if given the choice and Alba emerged victorious with 65% of the vote, but will Tito Vilanova agree and start the former Valencia star? My own personal opinion is that Adriano should start, although it doesn’t overly matter as both options are exceptional. Whichever starts, I don’t think anyone will find themselves too disappointed.
Sergio Busquets should start at pivote, although there is a case for Alex Song to make his debut. Perhaps if the aggregate lead was at 3-1, I would agree, but at 3-2, Song would probably be made the scapegoat if Real were to turn the tie around. The best option though is to start with Busquets and bring Song on at a later stage if circumstance allows.
Ahead of Busquets, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta are the favourites to start, but will have competition in the shape of Cesc Fàbregas. Cesc hasn’t had the greatest start to the season, but if Messi finds himself dropping deeper once again, Fàbregas could thrive in a more attacking role, especially if Tito has one eye on Sunday’s clash with Valencia at the Camp Nou. Another alternative is that Iniesta starts on the wing, allowing Cesc to start in the midfield, and after Alexis’ performances in his past two starts, it is a distinct possibility.
Lionel Messi will start in attack, and after sitting out an hour of Sunday’s win over Osasuna, he is likely to be joined in attack by Pedro Rodriguez, who appears to be firing on all cylinders. The only question is who will start alongside them; will it be the inexperienced Cristian Tello? What about Jordi Alba? Or completely out of left-field, what about Ibrahim Afellay? The truth is, it’s unlikely to be any of them, with Alexis or Iniesta the two most obvious candidates.
As I’m sure you are all well aware, Luka Modric has finally joined Real Madrid, and could feature at some stage tomorrow. However, given that he played little part in pre-season for Tottenham, he is probably lacking match fitness and may not even make the bench. If he does start though, it’s likely to be more an extreme reason. Either he is good to start and will perform well, or Mourinho has run out of ideas and Luka will become the scapegoat for any defeat. But, as I said, it’s more likely that he starts on the bench, or watches on from the stands.
Instead, Real Madrid are likely to go with Iker Casillas in goal, with a defense of Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Raul Albiol and Fabio Coentrao. Pepe could return to the starting line-up, and he may have sat out Sunday’s defeat to rest for this match, but the chances are that he is still feeling some ill-effects from that concussion and Real are playing it safe. Marcelo is another candidate to start, but with Coentrao suspended for league action, it makes sense to stick with the Portuguese full-back in this situation.
In midfield, I expect Mourinho is toying with the idea of a trivote (that could even include Pepe), but given the score after the first-leg, he may want to stick with his usual 4-2-3-1. Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso will start, as should Mesut Ozil, but will it be in his usual #10 position, or out wide to accommodate an extra holding midfielder (or Luka)? I expect the former, with Angel Di Maria and Ronaldo out-wide to support Karim Benzema (even though Gonzalo Higuain would be the better choice).
Real Madrid: WWWDLL
FC Barcelona 3-2 Real Madrid – 23rd August 2012 – Spanish Supercopa
Barcelona came from behind to defeat their arch-rivals with goals from Pedro, Lionel Messi (PK) and Xavi cancelling out Ronaldo’s opener before Victor Valdés gifted Angel Di Maria a late consolation.
FC Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Adriano; Busquets, Xavi, Fàbregas; Pedro, Messi, Iniesta
Real Madrid (4-2-3-1): Casillas; Arbeloa, Albiol, Ramos, Coentrao; Khedira, Alonso; Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo; Benzema
Barcelona have been superb in recent trips to the Bernabeu, and I don’t see a change in the imminent future. Barca to win 3-1 on the night, 6-3 on aggregate