Friday, 1 May 2009

Preview : Real Madrid

Venue : Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid

El Superclasico, the biggest game of the year in Spain and one of the most anticipated events in European football.

Few other matches can compare to the rivalry and the passion that is El Clasico. Celtic Rangers, River Boca and Milan Inter also come to mind but still there is something magical about the Clasico.

I'm not going to go into Spanish history in this preview as I neither think I am qualified nor do I know enough about it to truly describe the political situation that adds to the rivalry. One of major incidents that did help to infuriate the Barcelona faithful was the case of Alfredo Di Stefano. Barcelona claimed a deal with Di Stefano, however through a series of complex events (to this day the whole matter is not entirely clear) Real Madrid proceeded to also sign Di Stefano. With both clubs claiming to have signed the player, the Spanish Federation decided to allow Di Stefano to play four seasons in Spain, two for Madrid to be followed by two for Barcelona.

With the fans outraged at the decision (that had been agreed to by the Barcelona and Real Madrid Presidents) the Barcelona President resigned and the interim board agreed that Real Madrid could have Di Stefano (who had not been playing well in his first couple of games) for 4 million pesetas. Hindsight proved what a blunder that turned out to be as Di Stefano scored a hat-trick against Barca in his first game against them and then went on to lead Real Madrid to 5 consecutive European Champions Cups (scoring in 5 consecutive finals) and 8 La Liga titles including back to back titles on two occasions (54, 55 and 57, 58) and 4 consecutive titles between 1961 and 1964.

In all he scored 216 goals in 282 games for Real Madrid. To this day there remain claims that the pro Madrid government of Franco had forced Barcelona to allow Di Stefano to move to Madrid, but Madrid claim the Barcelona acted voluntarily. Top Barcelona players continued to defect to Real Madrid with Bernd Schuster leaving Barcelona for Madrid in the 80's and Laudrup leaving Barcelona for Madrid in the 90's. However the incident that really caused things to boil over occurred in 2000 when Luis Figo left Barcelona for Real Madrid.

Figo had always had problems with contracts, having signed contracts with both Juventus and Parma in 1995 and being banned from Italian football for 2 years. He joined Barca in 1995 and enjoyed great success winning league titles and European trophies rising to the role of Captain in the process. At the height of his powers in 2000, he decided he wanted to move to Arch Rivals Real Madrid resulting in outrage and indignation in catalunya. Figo would later go on to say in an interview that he never wanted to leave Barcelona but he would have had to pay Real Madrid a huge sum of money had he not done so because he had signed a pre-contract with them.

So Figo left Barca in the summer of 2000 for somewhere between 39 and 53 million pounds, much to the anger of Barcelona. Things would come to a head in the semi-final of the 2001/2002 Champions League Semi-final when fans launched objects at Figo as he took corners and throw-ins including a pig's head which resulted in Barcelona being penalized by UEFA. Not all players have moved from Barcelona to Real Madrid though, Barca signed former player Luis Enrique who went on to become a Barcelona legend and Samuel Etoo famously played for Real Madrid B before joining the Blaugrana. Several other prominent players have played for both sides including Brazilian superstar Ronaldo, Gheorghe Hagi, Javier Saviola, Robert Prosinecki and also Ricardo Zamora after whom the Zamora trophy for the best goalkeeper in La liga is named.


The Key Men: Higuain vs Etoo and Casillas vs Valdes
Real Madrid's joint top scorer with Raul, Higuain has been key to Madrid's success this year. 4 goals in the last 7 games, Higuain has tended to pop up with crucial goals this season as was proven with his spectacular winner over Getafe. A testament to his importance to Real Madrid came earlier this season when he scored all 4 goals (on the same day etoo netted 4 goals in 45 minutes) in his team's 4-3 victory over Malaga. Barca will need to keep a close eye on Higuain to ensure that they do not pay the price in the Clasico.

27 league goals in 31 games this season have seen Etoo return to his best this year, he has hit a bit of a quiet period recently however scoring just 1 goal in his last 5 games in all competitions. Quick, Strong and always with a point to prove against his old team Etoo should have no problem finding any motivation for this game. Barca need him to rediscover his scoring touch quickly if they are going to get their season back on track after the last two draws.

The best goalkeeper in Spain statistically comes up against the man whom many consider to be the best goalkeeper in the world right now. Valdes has conceded 10 fewer goals than Casillas and despite being much maligned by Barcelona fans (myself included) he has rebounded well and made two crucial saves against Drogba in the midweek game against Chelsea. He has conceded just 5 goals in his last 12 games in all competitions and before last week's game against Valencia had not conceded for 7 games in La Liga.

Casillas meanwhile had a stretch of 4 games without conceding a goal before he conceded 4 goals in Madrid's last two games. He has saved Real Madrid more points in the past two years than any other player and is a vital part of this Madrid setup. Valdes will need to be at his best if the Blaugrana are to get anything from this game while we know that "San Iker" has saved Madrid and Spain more times than anybody could remember.

Injury worry and fatigue
Real Madrid has a host of injuries and suspensions which have seen them shift around their tactics in recent games. Pepe is suspended for the rest of the La Liga season, while Sneijder (torn hamstring muscle), Guti (ankle ligament injury), Robben (pulled muscle), have all been recently ruled out with injuries. Add in the long term injuries of M. Diarra and Van Nistelrooy and Madrid have some serious injury concerns. There are some bright spots however for Madrid with Gabriel Heinze ready to return from injury possibly being able to play a part on Saturday.

Barcelona meanwhile has their own concerns with Rafa Marquez having been ruled out for the rest of the season and still no sign of Milito. But Barca's biggest concern undoubtedly has to be the thought of fatigue setting in. The Blaugrana have not looked themselves in the past two games and they need to raise their game for the biggest game of the season. Pep should not have any problem motivating the players for this game but the real question is if the player's tired legs will be able to keep up.

With all of these for injuries Madrid we should see Metzelder continue at centre-back, while Marcelo could move to left back as Madrid look to be more attacking in a game from which they desperately need 3 points. In the middle of the park we could see Gago, Diarra as the ball winners and Van der Vaart trying to create the spark in midfield with a trio up front of Raul, Higuain and Huntelaar.

For Barcelona they will want to break up the Madrid attacks in the midfield and we could once again see two of Toure, Keita and Busquets start in the middle. With Marquez out, Puyol and Pique should start at the back and the front trio of Messi Etoo Henry should start although the case can be made for Henry to start on the bench and Iniesta to run the left flank to allow Barca to have two "enforcers" in the middle of the park.

Predicted lineups
Real Madrid : Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Metzelder, Cannavaro, Marcelo, Gago, Diarra, Van der Vaart, Raul, Higuain, Huntelaar

Barcelona : Valdes, Dani Alves, Puyol, Pique, Abidal, Xavi, Toure, Busquets, Messi, Etoo, Iniesta

There has been a great deal of talk leading up to this Clasico starting with Etoo announcing that he wants to stay at Barcelona and continuing onwards. "Winning the Clasico is the key," former Real midfielder Zinedine Zidane said on Real's website. "Beating Barcelona would send a signal and create a great chance to be league champions," he added. "If Real Madrid win everything will be different and the league can have a new frontrunner." Madrid midfielder Marcelo added "If I was a Barcelona player I would be very scared to see a team like Madrid breathing down my neck," in Thursday's As newspaper.

Leo Messi stated "Let's hope we can win in Madrid and that will be a big step toward winning the title," at a media event in the Catalan capital on Wednesday. "If we win, we'll be able to go to Chelsea (next week) feeling more relaxed," he added. "We are a very close-knit team and are all very motivated to win a title for Barca after two years without one."

Andres Iniesta meanwhile told Barca TV that coming into the match, form and statistics count for nothing. "There are no favorites. It’s very difficult. There have already been cases where the team that is worse going into the match ends up winning it. It's such a different match that statistics and form don’t count," he explained.

Finally news has broken today that Real Madrid may be considering selling Arjen Robben with Manchester City and Inter Milan supposedly interested. There has been a great deal of talk and rumour leading up to this Clasico, on Saturday all of the talking will cease and the La Liga title race could be blown wide open or shut tightly in Real Madrid's face once and for all.

Last 5 Matches

B. Munich 1 - 1 Barcelona
Getafe 0 - 1 Barcelona
Barcelona 4 - 0 Sevilla
Valencia 2 - 2 Barcelona
Barcelona 0 - 0 Chelsea

Malaga 0 - 1 Real Madrid
Real Madrid 2 - 0 Valladolid
Recreativo 0 - 1 Real Madrid
Real Madrid 3 - 2 Getafe
Sevilla 2 - 4 Real Madrid

Real Madrid are on a 7 match winning streak in La liga and have won an incredible 17 of their last 18 games with their only blemish being a 1-1 draw at home with Atletico Madrid. Their last lost in La liga came at the Camp Nou in Barcelona when they were beaten 2-0 earlier this season.

Barcelona meanwhile are unbeaten in 8 in La Liga and have not lost in 13 in all competitions with 9 wins and 4 draws. Barcelona's form over the last two games has gotten a little shaky with 2 consecutive draws. Barca's worst stretch of 5 games without a win between the 14th of February and the 4th of March. Perhaps worrying for the Blaugrana these winless games have tended to come in bunches when they did come this season.

At the start of the season Barca endured a 3 game winless streak losing to Wisla Krakow and Numancia before drawing with Racing Santander, the 2nd winless bunch came when Barca drew with Betis, lost to Espanol, drew with Lyon, lost to Atletico Madrid and drew with Mallorca. Pep will need to act quickly to ensure that this 3rd winless stretch does not extend any longer than the current 2 games and Barca's title charge is not derailed by this last patch.

Real Madrid on the other hand are due a winless game you would have to feel having won so many games straight. They have not been convincing by any means and have rode their luck on several occasions, however they have refused to go away and have fought back every time they have been down.

Real Madrid have scored an amazing 36 out of 77 goals between the 31st and 60th minutes which implies that they score almost half of their goals either just before halftime or just after half time which can have a very demoralizing effect on teams. Barcelona's will want to stay awake particularly just before HT and just after HT as well.

Madrid also have the joint (with Barcelona) best home record in the league losing just once all season at home and drawing two others in 17 games. Barcelona though have been very impressive on their travels this season losing just twice and drawing 2 others out of 16 games.

Barcelona have scored a startling 25 goals between minutes 16 to 30 and 21 between minutes 76 to 90. Those two statistics will trouble Madrid as those two time periods are when they have conceded most this season. Conversely, Barca have conceded 8 of their 26 goals (twice as much as any other time period) between mins 46 and 60 when Madrid have tended to score most.

03/04 Real Madrid 1 - 2 Barcelona
04/05 Real Madrid 4 - 2 Barcelona
05/06 Real Madrid 0 - 3 Barcelona
06/07 Real Madrid 2 - 0 Barcelona
07/08 Real Madrid 4 - 1 Barcelona

Barcelona have won 2 of the past five games at the Bernabeu with Madrid winning the other two. While winning in Madrid has traditionally proven difficult but not impossible, Barca will know that 90 good minutes could effectively kill off the title race while 90 bad mins could drag up the traumatic memories of the 06/07 campaign for Cules. They will also want to put in a good performance before their Champions league semi final 2nd leg against Chelsea on Wednesday. The funny thing about the next two games is that two draws can be considered good results as they would keep Madrid and bay and possibly take them through to Rome.

Strange then that we could all be celebrating in 6 days time that Barcelona are winless in 4 games. I predict a tight game in the Saturday, Madrid are missing players and while they have beaten virtually everybody else in the league, they have not faced an opponent of Barcelona's class. Barcelona are wounded after the draw against Chelsea with questions pouring in over their real quality and statements about Barcelona being over-rated being made. In the end the two teams in this game will be too close to separate

Prediction : Real Madrid 2 - 2 Barcelona.



noubarca said...

Red card for Madrid and a few yellow card between both teams. Lots of delays and diving. I saw the game

Anurag said...

amen noubarca, amen. ill go with 2-1 though. i dont think we can score three in our current form. wonder where the form fromt he sevilla match evaporated...does anyone agree with me when i say messi deserves a rest? the madrid bastards will anyways tackle too hard and risk injuring him. play iniesta on the right in his place to keep him fit and ready to break down chelshit on wednesday.

SimonP said...

I think Real will muster a stronger lineup:

Casillas - Ramos, Cannavaro, Metzelder, Heinze - Robben, Gago, Diarra, Marcelo - Higuain, Raul

Apparently Heinze and Robben are ready to go and with Huntelaars lack of goals I don't think he will start.

Blaugrana said... - Andres Iniesta's skills - very good video ;] Amazing goals and wonderful passes :)

the pessimist said...

there is just absolutely no way we will win in the soooo pissed bcoz this is how barca is,,,win win win win and then reach the end and just give will take the league bcoz of the spirit they have that WE lack..and UCL...well i hate how chelsea pussies played in camp nou will b a tight one in the bridge...hopefully we can escape with a draw...

maybe next year we can keep a proper lead!!!!!!!!! instead of just losing the league to mid table teams!

Anonymous said...

No need to be pessimists now. This team has been fantastic all season and shown character that was not present the previous two seasons. I think we can find the right motivation for this game. My only concern is the referee. Anyone remember the last meeting in Bernabeu...? Let's hope the level is higher this time.

ElovesBarca said...

I'm praying we will win, best result 1:2. Of course I won't be that surprised if we got draw.

Bear with me I'm a new barca fan, was watching one clip from youtube last night and I was wondering...

Why our squad had to come out to the field first and lineing up to welcome Real Madrid in Bernabeu? is that a tradition? that looks so disrepect to our squad and those RM players looked so arrogant ? did they have to do that??

barca4life said...

E, its called the pasillo i believe. Barcelona had already lost the league title and had to give Madrid the guard of honour to show their respect for the winning team. Here is an article from Sid Lowe that goes through the incident. Its the ultimate embarrasment, like being forced to get on our knees for Madrid

barca4life said...

Part of the reason barca fans were so mad at etoo last season was that he intentionally got himself booked in the game before to ensure that he had missed that game because he knew he would have to line up too and he didnt want to given that he had said "Madrid Cabron Salud Al Campeon" when barca had won the league title.

ElovesBarca said...

wow~ that's awful ~~ I can image you guys must be heart-broken at that time.... ><

Thank God we won't have to do that this year..

Marc4barca said...

heart-broken? i was pissed and to think we could have gotten the pasillo this year but we threw it away, anyways the whole point is to win the league and trounce real madrid in their own stadium.

barca4life said...

We were more heart broken the year before when we lost the league on the last day of the season even though we tied on points with madrid and had scored more goals than them and also conceded fewer than them.

Anonymous said...

So why did Barca lose then, even though they tied on points, scored more goals and conceded fewer goals?

Marc4barca said...

stupid head to head record. how can people judge a 38 game league on two games, it's stupid and was set up so real can win. i hate every board in the spanishFA, all bunch of real fans cause calatans seperate themselves from spanish nation.

laliga said...

i think barca is going to win because real madrid has key players injured like robben, sneider, and pepe suspended and barca only has injured milito and marquez

SJP said...

i hate this game! it can't be as bad as last season, pep is the best manger to get the players fired up for this match, this has nothing to do with titles, i want revenge on those madrid bastards for last year, and all the other years! its time for messi to step up, make those madristas grovel and admire like they did to ronaldinho. my main concern is the ref, if he can keep at least the apperance of neutrality then i think we should win, i don't fancy the chances of that tho so reckon we will get a score draw, 2-2.

come on barca!

kamikaze kontiki said...

Geri Pique has had like 20 attempts at goal since he last scored at the Bernebeu for Spain and has been thwarted by some sort of Force-field or perhaps his own premonition that the next time he scores it would be at the Bernebeu again. Time has come !!! Lets Demolish them !!!!

ratty88 said...

no offense barca4life but i believe henry deserves the start he missed the tie earlier in nou camp and busquets is not ready for a game of this magnitude. we dont need line up changes to beat this team there is motivation enough in this trophy hungry team.

barca4life said...

None taken ratty, remember that part of the article is essentially an opinion piece, so i just try to predict what will happen. I by no means pretend to know everything and I just try to give the reader an idea of what could happen with the lineups. If I am wrong, well thats why Guardiola is in charge and not myself. LOL.

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