Barcelona vs Real Madrid Preview

Posted on 29 Nov, 2010, by in Soccer

Well, we’ve already been through what happened the last two seasons (Barcelona dominating Real) and a bit about the history and numbers surrounding this clash. What’s left to say about the biggest game in the world? Plenty.

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Like in most years, both teams enter the match ranked 1 and 2. Real, top of the Spanish La Liga, have 32 points after 12 matches and have yet to lose under Mourinho. Their record at home so far is perfect (6 of 6) and the 4 points they’ve dropped have come away from home. Barcelona, one point short of the top spot, have lost one match and drawn one. Their only loss was that shocking 2-0 defeat at the Camp Nou against Hercules. Still, the meetings with the rest of the La Liga, with the gulf between the two giants and the rest of the league just getting bigger, wider and more evident each season don’t suggest any indication to the match tonight.

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It’s hard to talk about favorites when the two teams are going in to this match hotter than a burning fire. Still, due to the last two seasons, with Barcelona dominating the match up and winning the two league titles. It’s also the Camp Nou, where Real have won only once in the last seven years. It’s Lionel Messi, the best player in the world (until proven otherwise, which might happen tonight), who has scored 17 goals in his last 10 matches for Barcelona, netting once in each of them. It’s Puyol and Pique, who seem to frighten Ronaldo every time he sees them coming, unless it’s a friendly match.

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But I think it’s all a matter of how you choose and twist your words. Real have plenty of weapons, maybe even more than Barcelona, at least on the individual level, to give them the win. Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 14 goals in 12 league matches, one better than Messi so far. He doesn’t have that scoring streak going for him, but every time he scores, it also means he exploded, scoring a hat trick against Bilbao just over a week ago and four goals against Santander last month. He’s staying healthy and isn’t getting carried away with childish and rash actions like last year that got him sent off more than once. He seems determined and focused on one thing – scoring, assisting, and scoring some more. The anger and frustration in him when he doesn’t seem to drive him into a positive direction. And that probably has a lot to do with his new Manager, and the rivalry with Messi.

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Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Ramos are the only two Real Madrid players on their squad to have scored against Barcelona, and don’t be surprised if they both do it or get close to it tonight. Ramos is playing the best football of his life on both ends (Real have the best defense in the La Liga, only 6 conceded) while Higuain, who doesn’t shine bright or dazzle with Ronaldo around, still finds the net pretty easily (7 goals in 12 matches). Maybe the biggest improvement and addition to Real this season is Mesut Ozil, who has just rocketed into super stardom in just over a year. His fantastic World Cup is backed up by a wonderful season so far, doing what Real hoped Kaka would do when he arrived last season. Ozil, unlike Kaka, doesn’t need the game to flow through him every opportunity, making him a huge success so far at Madrid.

As with most contests, the midfield is the place to look at when trying to identify a winner. Soccer, maybe more than other sports, can showcase a winner in a match despite being the lesser side, but it never hurts to dominate a match. Xavi, Iniesta and Mascherano will be the Barca trio in the middle probably, and although I wasn’t a big believer in him earlier in the season, it seems Mascherano is doing well as the DM with Barca. He doesn’t have too many attacking qualities, but his defense and awareness makes up for it. If it’s not him, it’ll be Sergi, with Barcelona losing nothing with him in the lineup. It’ll be interesting to see if Messi drops back a lot to the role of play maker like he did against Panathinaikos, giving Barcelona another advantage in the midfield, hopefully drawing defenders with him and allowing Villa, Pedro and Dani Alves more room to operate.

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Real doesn’t exactly work in the same way, but the main man will be Xabi Alonso, who like Ozil, had a fantastic World Cup (teaming up with Sergi in the middle) and is carrying his form into 2010-2011. Real won’t be the team with the most of the possession, it’s almost impossible against Barcelona, but defending wisely and making the most of their time with the ball, including Alonso’s killer through balls and his ability to feed Ozil, Di Maria and the boys up front will be crucial. Khedira is supposed to be fit to start tonight, and his presence, both as a stopper and as another player to join the attack is vital for Real’s success tonight. Diarra just doesn’t do well in big matches, doesn’t have what it takes.

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The Manager War – I don’t think Mourinho will be affected too much by the atmosphere against him and the UEFA investigation. On the contrary, he probably hopes all of the focus and attention falls on him, relieving his players from the pressure. Although he can’t play with Real like he did with Inter a year ago, don’t expect Real to play Barcelona and try to dictate the pace. A more counter attacking style will be probably the thing we’ll see tonight from Real, hoping to catch the champions unaware. For Guardiola, it’s better not to get sucked into the mind games. He is much less experienced that the “special one”, but there doesn’t seem to be a faster learner than him, adapting to the role of head coach in one of the world’s biggest clubs in no time. The way he reacts to Mouriho’s changes in the match will be another key factor. Barcelona are a thinking team, probably the most intelligent bunch of players on the planet. Forcing Real’s and especially Ronaldo to try and win this match on their own could provide the essential ingredient in securing a victory and grabbing the top spot.

So, what’s left but predicting the outcome? Gut feeling? I don’t see Real losing this time. I don’t know why – maybe it’s Mourinho, maybe it’s the usual “circle of life” thing in the Spanish League, but this just feels like Real Madrid’s year.