Sunday, 17 April 2011

Five things we learned from El Clásico

The next two weeks will be fun
Tonight’s game was merely a precursor to events to come in the next fortnight. This result merely confirms that Barca will make it a hat-trick of titles but Real showed enough – particularly with 10 men – that they can push the Champions all the way in the next three games. The use of a much deeper defensive line allied to more solid 4-3-3 to match up with Barca meant this was a much closer fought game than the 5-0 rout in December.

Barcelona missed Mascherano

As unlikely as it may have seemed only a few months ago the Argentine has become a key player. Once Carles Puyol was replaced by Seydou Keita and Sergio Busquets was moved back into central defence, the energy and tenacity of Pepe and Sammi Khedira caused Barcelona problems. The interesting point on Mascherano’s return on Wednesday will be as to where he plays. In the likely event that Puyol is judged not fit enough for two games in four days after a four-month lay-off, Mascherano will probably deputise at centre-back like he did in Donetsk last week.

Ozil must play
As expected Mourinho went for a solid 4-3-3 to combat Barcelona’s passing in midfield. However, the introduction of Ozil was instrumental in getting Real back into the game. The trick now is how to incorporate the German into a 4-3-3 system instead of the 4-2-3-1 he has thrived in for both club and country in the past year. The most obvious solution would be to drop Benzema and play Ronaldo down the middle with Di Maria and Ozil supporting from the wide areas. This would also allow the Portuguese to test the lack of pace in Barcelona’s central defence.

Guardiola still owns Mourinho
After the Champions League semi-final between Barca and Inter last season much was written about the genius of Mourinho. The truth is Mourinho and Guardiola have now gone head-to-head on six occasions with the Portuguese coach winning only one. Mourinho always has a plan and whether he will be able to execute those successfully in the next couple of weeks remains to be seen, but for now he hasn’t quite worked out the method to beat Guardiola’s Barcelona.

Barcelona get complacent in big games

In a trend I have noticed for the past few seasons, Guardiola’s men do have a habit of taking the foot of the pedal at inopportune times. For example:

1.Emirates 2010 (Arsenal 2 Barcelona 2): After a truly amazing start to the match that reaped no reward Barcelona take control with two goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Yet, with the tie all but decided they concede two late goals to allow the Gunners back into it. At one point in the second-leg Arsenal even led the tie having been dominated throughout.
2.San Siro 2010 (Inter Milan 3 Barcelona 1 ): Again Barcelona control the opening half an hour and lead through a Pedro goal. However, in the final 15 minutes of the half and the first quarter of an hour after the break Inter take control scoring three times. Barca then respond to dominate the last thirty minutes but to no avail and Inter hang on to protect their lead in the second-leg.
3.Emirates 2011 (Arsenal 2 Barcelona 1): Again Arsenal score two late goals having been thoroughly outplayed at home. A similar pattern emerges whereby once Barcelona go in front they fail to push on and kill the tie and once the opponent has equalised they are opened up on the counter-attack.
4.Bernabeu 2011 (Real Madrid 1 – Barcelona 1): Tonight’s game followed exactly the same pattern to the previous three. Barca didn’t pass up as many chances as those other games but with a goal and a man advantage they failed to retain the ball and open Madrid up like they can do, and Villa was particularly wasteful when those few chances did arrive. Madrid’s equaliser was very fortunate but it was coming as the visitors failed to put the game away.

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