El Clasico Preview

Barca and Real are in good shape going into El Clasico, says Guillem.

Barcelona have come from behind four times this season and against Sevilla they came back from 2-0 down for the first time since 1999 to win 3-2 with a last-minute goal from David Villa. That is proof of their character.

If anybody doubted whether they were hungry for more victories, if anybody thought that they were sitting on their laurels, well that proved they want more success and that missing out on the title to Real Madrid last season really hurt.

But it’s also proof they aren’t starting games well, they don’t control the game as well as they did and they make defensive mistakes to allow teams to score first. Those are things that coach, Tito Vilanova, has to correct.

Real Madrid’s style remains the same and we’re seeing a side on the up after a dissapointing start.

Luka Modric is adding a new dimension to the midfield and that means they have been able to rest Xabi Alonso with two big games, Ajax and Barcelona, taking place this week. If Modric can play the Alonso role – which he can – then you’ve got a Real Madrid side that can rotate personnel a bit more.

We saw both Modric and Mesut Ozil on the pitch at the weekend, which won’t happen very often. Ozil is one of the players Mourinho wants improvement from.

On the eve of the Clasico, we’re seeing the best Real Madrid of the season at just the right time. Jose Mourinho, after clashing on purpose with Sergio Ramos, by taking him out of the side and saying sometimes he’s not at his best, now has a Sergio Ramos who really wants to fight and perform at his peak, which was a good psychological trick on the part of the coach.

Read The Big Showdown by Guillem Balague

The Dossier: The Barcelona plan to stop Ronaldo from scoring in a sixth straight Clasico.

For a long time the accusation levelled at Cristiano Ronaldo was that he couldn’t turn it on in big games; goals are far from the only measure of performance, but having scored in each of his last five encounters against Barcelona, that jibe can surely be put away.

What is true is that Ronaldo, against the very best, can be a match-loser as much as a match-winner. He can score a brilliant goal, unlock a stubborn defence, devastate a team on the break, but he also rarely picks up his full-back and that can be critical.

In Real Madrid’s 2-1 win at Camp Nou last April, the match that effectively confirmed Madrid as champions, Barcelona played a 3-4-3 with Dani Alves high up on the right. That was problematic for two reasons. First of all, Dani Alves is a superb attacking full-back but not a great winger: he is at his best when he meets an opponent when he is already moving at pace; he lacks the close technical skill to receive the ball with his back to goal or to beat a top-class defender in a confined area. And secondly, by moving Dani Alves so high up the pitch, Pep Guardiola took him away from Ronaldo.

From one point of view Guardiola achieved his objective: his side dominated possession 72%-28% but the problem was they did very little with it, creating only three chances because they lacked penetration.

When they were at their best, one of the most extraordinary things about Guardiola’s Barcelona was that opposing coaches kept attacking the space behind Dani Alves, only to discover that it didn’t exist. That is only in part a matter of the Brazilian’s pace and stamina, of course; it’s also down to careful defensive organisation – which is why the full-back is so much more effective for his club side than for Brazil.

Tito Vilanova has been noticeably more conservative than Guardiola in terms of formation: Sunday will probably be Barca’s 4-3-3 against the 4-2-3-1 of Real Madrid, and that means another battle between Dani Alves and Ronaldo.

Read more “The Dossier: The Barcelona plan to stop Ronaldo from scoring in a sixth straight Clasico” by Jonathan Wilson

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