Twice before the feeling that Real Madrid are going to beat Barcelona has been in the air, coming. Two years ago when Cristiano Ronaldo played his first clasico and Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored Barcelona’s only goal. Again last year, when Jose Mourinho coached his first, and got hammered with a five pound Barca fist.
The last time Real Madrid didn’t win six straight league clashes with Barca was in the late 1990’s, between May 1997 and October 1999. Barcelona won two La Liga titles under Louis Van Gaal in those years, winning four of he six matches. The current streak? Five wins in six, including a 6-2 at the Bernabeu and a 5-0 at home, and three league titles. The rivalry, despite not at the same fiery place among fans like in the days when Figo left for Real Madrid, is at an all time high in terms of intensity between the clubs and players themselves.
The Jose Mourinho arrival made it so, and last season’s four matches in two weeks helped a lot. The mandatory red card for Real Madrid players, the Barcelona diving and exaggerating, Mourinho’s every action and word, even when he doesn’t say anything, has an immense effect on the matches, before, during and after, preparing for the next one.
In terms of football, this is Real Madrid’s time to overthrow the Messi-Guardiola Catalan rule, and they’re playing the right kind of game these days to do it. We got quite a few negative comments, as always, when we wrote about how Real Madrid have improved from Cristiano Ronaldo not looking to score or take the game on his back alone each and every night. It’s not saying Ronaldo scoring is bad for Real. It’s just saying Ronaldo scoring through team plays is good for Real Madrid.
But as much as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo bring to the table and can score at any given moment, the match will be won by other players, in other areas. Real Madrid will look to expose Barcelona’s problematic defense this season by beating the forward pressure Barca usually applies. Barcelona have struggled with their full court press this season, because of the fragility and constant changes to the back four. Confidence in their defense will make it easier for the front to press Real. Pepe, as always, is the Achilles heel. His rather foolish decision making combined with the Red Card just waiting to happen could come in handy.
Still, quick ball movement is where Real excel, and it’s to Xabi Alonso to spread those balls. Angel Di Maria is probably the most important player for Real Madrid on the field tonight, and if he can torment whoever gets to mark him on the wing, it might be the edge Real need to finally beat Barcelona in a league match. For Barca, it’ll be Xavi and keeping this game at a pace they want. Possession, plenty of it, but doing something with it. Frustrate Real, and avoid those lighting quick counters.
You might say it’s some sort of chess battle between Guardiola and Mourinho. It is, to a point. With so much talent and emotion on the pitch, it’s not exactly in the head coaches hands.