El Clasico: God’s gift to mankind
Football enthusiasts around the world, and particularly ones partial to La Liga, have a feast of beautiful football to look forward to in the next two weeks.
In case you have been living under a rock for the past week or so, an unprecedented deal of four El Clasicos were scheduled in the span of four weeks. Two have already taken place with Barcelona and Real Madrid involved in a 1-1 stalemate in the league. As both goals came from the spot, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo finished with honours even.
The second was a match-up in the Copa del Rey which ended with Ronaldo’s first starring role against Barcelona, his 103rd-minute header giving the Los Merengues their first trophy this season. The story now moves on to the two-legged semi-finals of the Champions League on April 27 and May 3.
The first two encounters have shown that Jose Mourinho is committed to a counter-attacking style while letting Barcelona have 70 per cent of possession. It is a tactic he successfully used during his Inter Milan days, leading them to the treble and the only thing the ‘Special One’ wants is a win at all costs. Mourinho also has the personnel to successfully implement such a game plan: Ronaldo and Angel di Maria provide blistering pace while Mesut Ozil has, even at this nascent stage of his career, an almost Laudrupesque skill and awareness. In previous years, Real Madrid were always susceptible to a lack of defensive solidity but this has been changed with the arrival of Ricardo Carvalho and Raul Albiol. Along with Pepe in defensive midfield and Sami Khedira in an anchoring midfield position, this quartet provides a robust physical presence to a previously soft core.
Barcelona, in contrast, are happy to play in their tiki-taka style with the Xavi-Iniesta-Messi combination at the hub of almost every creative move. Barcelona do not hesitate to use the long-ball or shoot from distance. Variety is the spice of more than just life and the Catalans understand that.
One particular area where Barcelona might be a little vulnerable is the left full-back position where the absence of Eric Abidal due to an operation on a tumor may leave a chink in the Catalans’ otherwise-impregnable armour. It would not be a surprise to see Ronaldo switch flanks.
The last time Barcelona met Real Madrid in the league, the result was a 5-0 rout. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. Defensively, both sides might be a lacking a bit compared to their attacking prowess that should provide substantial goal-mouth action. It is also significant that these games are built as a clash of philosophies along with footballing styles with most of the Barcelona team being youth-teamers apart for the obscenely expensive David Villa.
Facing them, you have Real Madrid whose star player costs fractionally less than the entire Newcastle United. They have the pantomime villain manager, the sulking, diving forwards, some cynical defenders and a win-at-all-costs mentality. Don’t miss it.
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