Lionel Messi didn’t score against Chelsea. Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t score against Bayern. Incredible. Even more incredible? Both teams, Barcelona and Real Madrid, will be heading into the Clasico after defeats. Not league defeats, don’t be funny. Champions League. Still, it adds another dimension of pressure and urgency to the match. Especially for Barca.
The focus from league to Champions League shifts in a matter of days. It doesn’t really matter. In the La Liga, Real Madrid have a 4 point lead. They can afford not to win. Barcelona? They can’t afford not to win, twice, at home, in a matter of 3 days between two huge matches for them. When Guardiola was scratching his head as he went off the Stamford Bridge pitch, a slither of doubt regarding Barca’s ability to come through unscathed from this week entered a lot of people’s minds.
Fatigue – Andres Iniesta spoke about Barcelona’s lack of ruthlessness during their 0-1 defeat against Chelsea. They were the better side, but they weren’t aggressive enough, incisive enough, urgent enough. It was very similar in their 0-0 draw with AC Milan in the quarter finals. No doubt who was the better team. Milan just didn’t have the good fortunes of striking through a rare counter attack.
Tired? Or saving strength. Barcelona play 3 huge games, the biggest of the season for them, in 7 days. Real Madrid, for once, if you think like Mourinho, got the luck of the draw by enjoying 4 days before the Clasico, 4 days after. I wonder if he’ll keep that in mind next time he decided to whine about injustice and unfair treatment. Real should be the fresher team at the Camp Nou, for all the difference that it makes. In mid-late April, everyone’s tired.
But the pendulum has taken a slight nudge. If during all the weeks leading to this match no one gave Real Madrid a chance of winning, I think it’s a little bit different now. Guardiola’s been selling to everyone that there’s no chance of winning the La Liga. Great mind trick, as Real Madrid, along with their manager, lost control for a bit. How will that play out on Saturday, with the whole world watching?
The fear of another Manita. Everyone knew what Manita was 17 months ago. Jose Mourinho has tried everything, tactics-wise, against the Blaugrana. Except for one time, he never managed winning. He’s visited the Camp Nou with Real Madrid, in all competition, four times. He has lost twice and drawn twice. Everyone remembers just one match, just one result. The fear, the unspoken fear, is a return of that game. That will completely unhinge Real in both League and Europe, paving way for a colossal collapse.
But it’s hard to see it happening. Mourinho has learnt not to press with a high line of defenders. It exploded in his face on that November night. It changed something in him, seen or not seen. The violence that erupts on the pitch when the two teams meet has something to do with him. If he allows himself and his team to get caught up in that kind of match again, it won’t end well for Real.
And then there are the Wild Cards. Referees, Ronaldo and Messi. The latter have nothing to do with how good the game will be going. Well, Messi does have more dependency on his teammates regarding his output, but he can score goals out of nothing. Ronaldo? The worse Real play, the less they create organized attack, the more surprising and demoralizing his goals.
Referees. Nightmare of a match for them. Mourinho and Guardiola have been talking about diving for weeks. As usual, the big question will be how hard will Real players tackle Barca players, and how hard will they fall and dive. It was a bit too brutal in their copa del rey encounter, when a frustrated Real Madrid team could have walked off with 8 men if the man with the whistle had TV coverage in his eyes.
On to the numbers, of the 164th league Clasico. Real Madrid enjoy the win advantage: 68-64. However, they haven’t won a league Clasico since May 2008, 4 years, and that memorable 4-1 win when Barcelona players were forced to greet the new champions into the stadium. In all, Real have failed to beat Barcelona in their last seven league meetings, losing six of those matches.
Worse? They haven’t even scored at the Camp Nou during their last three league visits, losing all three matches by a combined score of 8-0. Julio Baptista, in that 1-0 win on December 2007, was the last to score for the Blancos. It’s Real’s only win at the Camp Nou over the last nine years. Yes, it’s that hard for them come away with a win when visiting.