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Real Madrid CF
Posted by Nicholas Rigg on 04/20/2012

Did you know there's an El Clasico this weekend?

Of course you did, and it's a pretty big one as it goes. When is a Clasico never a big one? Just the La Liga title pretty much riding on this one, just to add to that usual Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry. Expect fireworks, expect Messi magic, expect hard challenges, expect brilliant football, expect touchline controversy, expect the unexpected.

Madrid lead Barca by four points at the top of the table going into Saturday night's massive clash at the Camp Nou. Victory for Pep and his boys is a must if they're to overhaul Los Blancos at the top of La Liga and stop Mourinho's men bagging a first title since 2008. For Madrid to avoid defeat would be a massive step towards the title, and there's where the problem lies. Shut up shop? All out defend? Or go for it? How does Jose approach arguably the most important Clasico match since taking charge at the Bernabeu?

I'll be honest here. I have little idea how Mourinho's going to play this one. It'd have been easy had Madrid still held their ten point gap - all out for victory. Get that win over Barca to complement their league title. Lose and it's disappointing, but at least Madrid would have gone for it, and they'll still have the title.

Now? With it all to play for? It's anyone's guess. Jose is the master of keeping us all guessing...

Looking at it in simple terms - simple being the key word here - and to go and get a draw in Catalonia would be just the tonic for Madrid. Retain their four-point cushion at the top of the league, deny Barca on their home turf and be just three wins away from lifting the title. With a tricky trip to San Mames to face Athletic Bilbao still to come, that four-point cushion could be crucial.

Chelsea showed that an all-out defence approach can nullify Barca. Mourinho's former club defended superbly at Stamford Bridge and, although the Catalans still created a number of good chances, Roberto Di Matteo's game plan ultimately paid off. Everyone, even Madrid, knows La Blaugrana will dominate possession, especially on home soil. They did it in London and they'll do it on Saturday night at the Camp Nou. Mou and his men can take plenty from Barca's midweek Champions League defeat, however. Could Chelsea's success inspire Mourinho and Madrid to play the same way?

One thing going for Los Blancos is their ability to counter attack, and do it better than Chelsea. They're the best team in the world at it, in my opinion. Ronaldo, Di Maria, Benzema, Higuain, Ozil - all players that can turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye. With Barca pushing men forward to play their tika-taka approach on Saturday, Madrid can certainly look to be lethal on the counter-attack and hit Barca with a sucker-punch, much like Chelsea did on Wednesday.

It could mean three holding midfield players instead of the usual two of Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira. Nuri Sahin is extremely unlikely to play as the third due to his lack of match action, and Spanish sports newspaper Marca this week hinted that Mourinho could opt for Lass Diarra to add some more punch to the Madrid midfield engine, leaving Ronaldo, Di Maria/Ozil/Kaka and Benzema/Higuain as the out-and-out attacking trio. Madrid could move Ozil further back into the deep midfield three, instead of Lass, to keep an extra attacking spark in there, but would he be wasted playing so far behind Madrid's forward three? Lass may not be everybody's cup of tea, but if Madrid are going defensive, to hit on the break, I'd prefer him alongside Xabi and Khedira than moving Ozil, or someone like Kaka, deeper.

A betting man would put three in the holding midfield role for Madrid on Saturday night, but could Mourinho pull a surprise and opt for a more attacking approach?

One way of looking at it is that if Madrid do go out for the win and end up returning to the Spanish capital with defeat, the title is still in their hands. The lead may have been dwindled from ten points to four, but if you'd have asked Madridistas at the start of the season if they'd have taken a one-point lead over Barca going into the last four matches of the season they'd have snapped your hands off.

There's still the burning desire for Mourinho to beat Barca, especially in their own back yard, and avoid the obvious questions of 'would the title be tainted if you can't beat Barca?'. Jose may still play this down to the press, and of course winning the title is huge whether a victory against Barca comes or not, but I'm sure Mourinho is desperate for that victory over Madrid's arch-rivals to come.

Aitor Karanka, Madrid's assistant manager, said in the pre-match press conference that both Ozil and Di Maria are fit to start. With Ronaldo also a nailed-on starter and Benzema/Higuain set to lead the line, does this mean Madrid could opt for their usual 4-2-3-1, or a variation of that, in the Camp Nou?

It'd be a bold move, and it'd one that'd probably go down well with Madridistas, and the club hierarchy to go with such a line-up in Barcelona. It's one I, and probably neutrals tuning in for this game, would like to see. Spain's best going for it toe-to-toe for the title. For Madrid to implement this and to come away with a win would surely see a huge shift in power in Spain. Even for Madrid to go to Catalonia, play in their usual attacking manner, perform well and return with a draw would be significant.

To wrap up the team dilemma, many people have been telling me on Twitter that Kaka should start the game. First off, I can't see Mourinho playing the Brazilian from the start. I think Mourinho will go with Ozil, and it's a selection I'd go with too. I can't see there being room for both players in the starting eleven, especially if Di Maria (who'll also get back and do his bit to help the defence) gets the nod. Ozil has been the better player over the course of the season in my opinion, even though Kaka has improved. The German had a pretty good game when the sides last met at the Camp Nou, too. More likely that Kaka would start from the bench and add some extra spark to Madrid's attack in the second half, if required.

Interestingly, Madrid's better performances under Mourinho (the 5-0 thumping aside) have probably come at the Camp Nou in Clasico matches. The 2-2 Copa del Rey draw there earlier in the season, although seeing Madrid lose 3-2 on aggregate, was probably the best Los Blancos have played against Barca. Mourinho's men were also just edged out by a late Lio Messi goal in a 3-2 Spanish Super Cup tie at the start of the campaign, while the two defeats at the Bernabeu this season have been relatively comfortable wins for Pep's boys. Madrid have been edging closer to a Camp Nou victory - is this the weekend it will come?

No Clasico would be complete without the theatre that comes with it - like it or dislike it. Will Pepe lose his head? Will Sergio Busquets or Di Maria show the footballing world their play-acting? Will Spain's Euro 2012 squad be split down the middle? Will Jose be eye-gouging? Hopefully the game can pass off without any of the negative points that we've seen over the last few years. I'm sure it won't be a white-as-white contest, but let's keep the spotlight on the sublime football we known both teams can produce, shall we?

Finally, it's all about the stats in La Liga this season. For Madrid and Barcelona, anyway.

Goal record: Both sides have been scoring at a phenomenal rate this season, but Madrid could smash the record for goals scored in a league season at the Camp Nou. They already hold it thanks to John Toshack's team of 1990 with 107, but Mourinho's Madrid levelled that record last weekend. A goal at the Camp Nou would set a new league record.

Messi v Ronaldo: It's a comparison that can easily become tiresome, but both players are tied on a record-breaking 41 La Liga goals this season. One of them will get the new record this season, but who will it be? Ronaldo has already grabbed the record for most away goals in a league season with 20 so far this term, can he extend that in Catalonia?

Both go into the game on the back of defeats: Who'd have thought? Both Barca and Madrid going into a Clasico on the back of losses - Barcelona at Chelsea and Madrid in Munich. Someone could end up with back-to-back defeats to their name this season - something which may not seem alarming but bucks the trend of their superb form.

I know there will be plenty of Barca fans coming on here over the weekend - welcome, and play nicely! It's great to have banter from both sets of fans but please make sure it doesn't turn into all-out abuse and foul language. And before the questions start no, I'm not a neutral. I'm a Madrid fan and Madrid ESPN correspondent, giving my thoughts from a Blancos perspective.

Here's hoping for a cracking game of football, and, of course, a Madrid win...

Hala Madrid!

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Comments

Posted by Ashton on 04/20/2012

I agree wholeheartedly. We need to go for the throat, and here's why:

A) We play better off our back foot, when we've been knocked back. Look at the defeat at the Bernabeu earlier this season, we scored in less than 40 seconds, and didn't know what to do with ourselves the rest of the game.

B.) Barca's backline is not without fault. Counterattacking can beat them.

C.) Absorbing Barca's pressure is a big part of the game, and they are almost without comparison when it comes to maintaining possession, but they are not faultless. A third holding midfielder, or perhaps even a 3-4-2-1 could interrupt Barca's passing.

Madrid has the guns to do it, they simply need to pull the trigger.


VAMOS GALACTICOS!!!

Posted by bozz on 04/20/2012

Kind of nervous about this game, not gonna lie. I agree with the notion that we need to push aggressively from the get go. Force that bum in Barca's goal into mistakes like the quick Benz goal from the first meeting in the Bernabeu.

I'm NOT a fan of parking the bus, I don't care if it worked with Chelsea; this RM squad is built to attack. Drop back somewhat but be prepared to step on the gas and counter heavily.

Hala Madrid!

Posted by Gyamfi stephen on 04/20/2012

I think madrid need to exercise patience on the pitch. One think that is hindering madrid to beat barca is pressure.anytime madrid meet barca in a crucial match like this, madrid want to take revenge so anytime they get ball,they panic. So i will entreat the boy's to relax when they get the ball. With this,madrid can beat barca at nou cam.

Posted by Rey on 04/20/2012

Honestly speaking, i think it is a must we take atleast a point from this fixture. Using a 3-4-2-1 formation will be good. Barca 0-2 madrid. Hala madrid.

Posted by Eric Carrera on 04/20/2012

Madrid will go for it. The prospect of winning the league but failing yet again to beat Barca will for sure leave a feeling of tainted championship. Also, a victory against Barca will be a huge moral booster for Wed game against Bayern, a loss will leave them still capable, but perhaps with a lack of confidence. Barca will stick to their futbol, and despite Madrid's efforts, will come away with the victory (VAMOS BARCA!). Barca always plays their best futbol against Madrid, anad expect this to be no different. Madrid will hope to have the last laugh ... on another clasico encounter on the 19th of May. Let's all hope they get a chance to battle it out on the world's stage!

Posted by Anonymous on 04/21/2012

I would love to see Kaka start over Di Maria (who looked aweful in my opinion earlier this week at Bayern). IMO, Kaka has more poise on the ball, which is what Madrid need against a team like Barca. Also, we've seen throughout the season that he links up fine with Ozil. He may not defend as well as Di Maria, but the quality he gives on the other side of the ball is well worth it should madrid decide to just go for the jugular from the get go

Posted by Brett on 04/21/2012

Just say "no" to the trivote Jose, I beg you. To think that this particular group of players is going to defend the way the 2010 Inter group, or this year's Chelsea side do is folly.

Barca will score, and I'd be shocked if it's less than 2, which means that Madrid must field a side capable of doing at least the same.

Let's remember something, Abidal has been a constant thorn in our side over the past couple of years, but he's out of action. Di Maria will have plenty of opportunities against either Adriano or Puyol depending on how Pep sets up the defense.

My preference? 4-2-3-1, but the twist is to send Ramos back out to RB where he belongs, and in his place? Varane. The youngster is good on the ball and actually more athletic than Ramos, and as Barca like to attack through the center, you need someone with good feet. Arbeloa has been horrific of late so move Ramos out wide and let's see what Rafa can do. Can it really be worse than Ramos, Pepe and Arbeloa were midweek?!

Posted by Mike on 04/21/2012

This game will be interesting for what Jose decides. He's tried basically every style, park the bus/counter, try to keep possession but always sends him back. This game has "draw" written all over it considering Champions league/fatigue, but I have said that for the last like 8 clasicos and am never right. Although I can't see either team losing twice in a row..

I think 1 thing that might play to Barca is, just like us, it's hard to decide how to play it out. Madrid will want to attack, but regardless of the battle plan, you know in the back of their heads they're like "man, if we can get a draw that would be perfect..." so there will be that cautious hesitancy that messes w/ your head, even in like division 3 rec league indoor soccer, lol

Posted by mey on 04/21/2012

kaka must play.he can change the tempo of game.but it depends og coach.jm was believe ozil more than kaka.but it actually mistake.we can see how he use kaka.so sad.

Posted by fernanado on 04/21/2012

nice article but i think kaka can be a big assets for them..he is really a fantastic player..and he has showed some great performance in previous games...he is a complete team player and his creativity is what is required for madrid to beat barca..if he can be in his top form he can be very much decisive..

Posted by bryte,Ghana on 04/21/2012

i am a barca fan and seriously would have preferred being elsewhere than to spend time watching this evening's classico since in, my opinion, La Liga title is already for the Whites.But hey!,this is El Classico-the biggest stage to see two of the world's most talented footballers doing what they know to do best.just as Guardiola said at the pre-match press conference,Madrid will deserve every congratulation should they win or draw at the Nou Camp.We,Barca,also deserve commendation for ,atleast, remaining competitive yet again.It will be a great match n i do hope it will be one that we'll talk about for months.

Posted by bozz on 04/21/2012

YYYEEEAAAHHH!!! iHala Madrid!

Posted by RealFan on 04/21/2012

omg happy birthday nick! may you keep on writing these amazing blogs! WE WON!!!!!!!!HALA MADRID FOR LIFE!!!!im gonna party tonite!

Posted by eyman on 04/21/2012

hahaha, mourinho doesn't need your opinion to win today!
anyway, hala madrid!!!

Posted by Jimmy on 04/21/2012

Real Madrid 2- Barcelona 1: YES! Well done, RM! Well done, Jose! Am so happy to stay up at 0200-0345 in Singapore to see this special victory! Still hoping to see RM n Jose 'live' in Singapore one day! Till then, congratulations!
Jimmy Tan Gek Yin
Singapore

Posted by Onyibo on 04/21/2012

We won!!!!! Hala madrid!!!! On the face of it, your words seem almost prophetic! Great performance, and even more importantly, no controversy about the win. We simply were better tactically, and got the result we came for. It's great to be a Madrid fan tonight.

Posted by Harvey Smith on 04/22/2012

i'm a die hard Real fan yes we did it way to go ma boyz.i knew we could do it.dis is our year hahal madird

Posted by Praveen on 04/22/2012

YES! YES! We did it!! :) :)
Mou breaks into the Camp

Posted by luckner QUICK laven on 04/22/2012

good jod NICK ,it's good to see a very proud real fan just like me i live in the caribbean and iam a fan of real for 48 years and my father was a real fan as well you know many people now adays do not know if madrid use to play champagne football and i can remind them there is a reason why we won more trophies than any other team in the world because we earned them ,anyway we will make barca feel the heat this year and have fun with game ball tonight good luck

Posted by Abubakar sadiq Abdullahi on 04/22/2012

I,am a real madrid die hart. And i knew my team is the strongest and hardest team in the whole planet.mourinho you are the best coach in the world. And ronaldo has prove himself that, he is the world best player.

Posted by Smith Oscar on 04/22/2012

We lost, its a shame

Posted by wilbert on 04/22/2012

Murinho did it this tym,he's the best.Madrid were simply better.they deserved it.

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