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Ray Hudson Talks Barcelona-Atletico Madrid, El Clasico, Champions League, and Guardiola

Player, manager, and now world-class announcer for beIN Sports, Ray Hudson spoke with us about the Liga race and the Champions League hunt. The magisterial verbal gymnast shares his thoughts as only he can...

Denis Doyle

If you don't know who Ray Hudson is, you're missing out.  He is the man who brings the color to the phrase "color commentator" on beIN Sports, the channel which airs La Liga in the United States. Here is a small sample of his work:

We just had to have his thoughts on the current state of affairs in Spain, with a thrill-a-minute league race, the heat of the Champions League knockout rounds, and the wiz-bang of what some called the "Clasico of the Century" the main subjects.

BB: The Liga title is a three-way race. Is there a favorite between Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid?

Ray Hudson: I don't think there's a clear favorite at all. I've said it a half a dozen games ago, Luis, that this title race is going to come down right to the final drama of the last game. And I still believe that. I said before the season started that Atletico would split the big two. I truly believed that, and it's come to fruition. I'm surprised at the maintenance of Atletico, defying all of the critics still. And they could well come out on top. But I wouldn't back against Real Madrid, still. And I wouldn't back against Barcelona at all.

I think it's so difficult to pick out a clear favorite, especially now, with the curse of losing Victor Valdes, which is an enormous blow for Barcelona, unquestionably. We just have to wait and see. It's Shakespearean, this season, truly. It's gonna come down to the final act. Just when everyone thinks Juliet's dead, she bounces back up... and Romeo's dead! I think it's gonna have one really beautiful twist. It'll be heartbreaking for two of the teams, considering the three of them are wonderful.

BB: What is your opinion on Jose Manuel Pinto?

Ray: Hey, listen. Every time they've relied on Pinto, he's came through the test. Even when he came in for Valdes in the first game, against Celta, he was amazing. Age isn't an issue. People keep going on about his age - that's not a factor at all. Because he's not gonna suddenly age before our eyes. He's where he is and the wealth of experience he brings has a great comforting effect. He's won trophies with Barcelona. He's handled the pressure. He's been absolutely wonderful in replacing Victor.

But those situations where Valdes pulls these saves out of his magic hat like Iker Casillas does, in one-on-one situations, is flabbergasting. And that's what Barcelona will miss. How many times has Valdes rescued Barcelona with those world-class saves? I'm not sure Pinto has that. I'm not sure. We all will find out. Barcelona don't have a choice anymore. Pinto is so popular in the locker room, of course. The players adore him. He's a wonderful humanitarian, he's right out of the Barcelona DNA. All good stuff.

The pressure is not an issue either. I think he will be fine. Actually, a lot of the aerial attacks he can deal with better than Victor, in many ways. But coming down to that crunch time, when pure world class is required - I'm talking about the kind of save that Saint Iker pulled against Arjen Robben in the World Cup, that completely breathtaking save that keeps teams in games - I'm not sure that Pinto has that. It's tragic for Barcelona, losing a pivotal player such as Valdes. But Pinto will be fine, I think, but he's certainly no Victor Valdes.

BB: Switching to the Champions League tie between Atletico and Barcelona. Tata Martino said that Barcelona had to match Atletico's intensity. Can they do that?

Ray: The wonderful focus this Atleti team have, the hunger and the desire... I've said it before, they're the compete embodiment of Diego Simeone. It's so fueled by their manager to have that concentration and intensity. And that's all very well and it's very, very admirable.

But when Barcelona come into these games, seemingly, year after year, they dig so deep and find something that's so elusive and so indescribable... it seems to overcome everything, virtually all of the time. Every time they have been called upon, when they've got teams that are gonna beat them, and should beat them, because of the form that they're in - the likes of Manchester City, the likes of Real Madrid. Both those teams were playing imperious football. Yet Barcelona went into their backyards and beat them.

They call on a reserve called "class", and that's truly what it is. You can talk about all of the tactics that you like, and all the mental focus and the desire... It comes down to players in the end. Barcelona have had the players. Again, they're going to be a little more weakened now because of the goalkeeping situation. That's undeniable. They're gonna have to dig deeper and call on greater resources.

I think with Atletico, it's easier, sometimes, Luis, for that type of team with their personality and their character to capture that resolve and focus. It's easier for those types of teams because so much of their game is built around that. Of course, it's not all about spirit and guts and gusto with Atletico, they've got their wonderful players. It's just that Barcelona are a different element. They are the cobweb of football and brilliance, and if all the strands are not connected right, it doesn't quite seem to work. Against Atletico they're gonna have to be super, duper sharp. And when they are like that, they can beat any team, anywhere. Come these games, we'll see if they can summon it up.

They have to play that pinpoint accurate game, and now with Valdes out, how much is that actually gonna sharpen up Barcelona? Because they are very cognizant of the fact they're gonna have to play that possession game a little bit more to strangle the opposition, because you see, it's not Victor back there.. So who knows, that may add a little bit more impetus. This Atletico team have certainly got the capability to wound them. Whether or not they will, I'm not sure. I still think that over two legs, Barcelona's game will match up against Atletico's slightly better.

BB: The last Clasico was called "The Clasico of the Century", do you agree with that characterization?

Ray: It certainly was one of the best Clasicos I've ever seen. It was a delight. It was played with a wonderful spirit by both these fabulous, world-class institutions. I thought Real Madrid were absolutely tremendous, and I thought Carlo Ancelotti drew up his team bravely and brilliantly. They grabbed the lead at 2-1, and I thought that might be the undoing of Barcelona, but again they defied the odds and rose back.

Stupefying drama, wonderful controversies. It could have went either way. I think Barcelona were fortunate; I'm not using the word "lucky." That's not luck, but they were fortunate in the way the game eventually played out. The proper score maybe would have been 3-3, and it would have been an absolutely very fair reflection of the game. But then there is Lionel Messi. And that was the difference, and that was the exclamation point. More often than not, he is the difference. He proved it again.

The game itself between the coaches, between the players, in that wonderful atmosphere... yeah. It was close to the best Clasico that I had ever seen. Certainly the most even and thrilling and spectacular. The other games have been wonderful, when one of the teams has won out. This was just much more a real tug of war either way. And it wasn't just a one man show, but the one man was the difference - Messi.

BB: Do you think Barcelona or anyone can beat Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich in the Champions League?

Ray: I think Bayern are understandably the favorites. I certainly think that, on their day, a team can possibly beat them. But Bayern are a wonderfully balanced team, brilliant from the goalkeeper right up to the man up top. Guardiola has truly enhanced them, although people say they're not as good this year - they're pretty damn good! They're the team to knock off, no question. I think they'll be the first team to retain the Champions League, in all honesty. But I think if Real Madrid or Barcelona get them... maybe at their best, with a full strength team, they could beat Bayern Munich. And I hope Real Madrid or Barca do get there to take them on, because I think they are the two teams that can knock down this Munich side, if they are at full tilt... which Barcelona is not going to be without Valdes. But still, you can never count out Barcelona with Messi.

Be sure to watch Ray Hudson on beIN Sports! And follow him on Twitter, @RayHudson, for more bombastic words from the Disco Man himself. Thanks again, Ray!

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