Since becoming Real Madrid manager, José Mourinho has faced off against Barcelona a staggering ten times, with his only victory coming in extra time of the Copa del Rey final. The saga, has proved both entertaining and tiresome, familiarity has bred contempt. Each game the coach has learned more about the opposition, adapting finer details that have been successful whilst scrapping plans that have not. The more recent games have seen improvement, an inevitability that the self-proclaimed 'Special One' will live out his dream of a 'Special Evening'. For Los Blancos, it can't come soon enough, as Barça sit just one win away from equalling Real's 86 wins in all-time competitive matches between the two clubs.
Here are a few considerations that José might want to implement in his quest for fulfilment:
* Start at breakneck pace
It become a trait of recent meetings, as the initial whistle blows, José's men hurtling round the pitch not allowing their opponents a second on the ball. It's had rewards, scoring three times in the opening 15 minutes against Barcelona, as well as a hat-full of chances. Above all else though, it stops the Catalans settling into a rhythm, knocking them out of their stride and comfort zone. Barcelona statistically start games well, but this hasn't been the case in recent El Clàsico's, Real's increase of tempo has enabled this. It's important to stop them playing at their peak moments, but equally to capitalise on times of ineffectiveness, a fast-paced start to the 2nd half could be as important.
* Knowing when to press
Many pundits and supporters alike, think there's a blueprint tactically to defeat Barcelona, a sort of system fits all situation. The Internazionale side of 09/10 has been recited for the last few years as the most effective, just as Chelsea's victory will probably grace many a pub conversation over the coming years, significantly forgetting the numerous chances Barça had to score. However, against the best side in the world - perhaps of all time - it's not quite that simple. Whilst learning and drawing from the experiences of other teams is important, adaptation to suit philosophies, individual models and evolution are all crucial components. As Rafa Benitez has said in the past it depends on the players that you have at your disposal, then it's about making best use of them to deny the likes of Xavi to play, whilst retaining the strengths that your own team possesses. Simple? Of course not.
It's impossible to press, chase and harass as a team for a full 90 minutes, obviously there will be moments of conservation and periods of fatigue. For Real, the key will be a hybrid of pressing and keeping a compact shape. Chelsea did a good job of packing the middle of the pitch on Wednesday evening, denying space in between the lines, players behind the ball, using Didier Drogbaas a focal point - as well as pantomime villain. There are values to be taken from his old sides performance; likewise there are lessons to be observed from Getafe and Osasuna's results as well.
* The Ramires Position
Such was the performance of the Brazilian, I thought it was only fair to coin the expression as a title. Occupying an almost inside-left position enabled him to not only track his fellow countryman's advances up the pitch, but also add an extra man into the central area. The combination of his mobility and work-rate were the reasons that Roberto Di Matteo moved him out to the left hand side.
In previous Clàsico's, Dani Alves has faced off against Cristiano Ronaldo with varying outcomes. At times the Portuguese winger has curbed Alves attacking instinct, not wanting to leave his rival unmarked to counter with pace or use the space that he has subsequently left behind him. On occasions, he's used the knowledge that he too can be free from marking by positioning himself further up the pitch.
Real Madrid don't have a Ramires, but could possibly use Fábio Coentrão or Hamit Altintop in this position. Coentrão has received criticism from the Spanish media, for his overall performance and failure to stop Philipp Lahm's cross for Bayern's winner in midweek. This could be his early opportunity for redemption, a natural attacking left-back who has played as both winger and defensive midfielder previously.
* Breaking up the play
Using a lopsided variation of a 4-3-3, there should be significant numbers within central areas. This concedes space out on the flanks, but has been an area in which Barça have struggled to take advantage of recently. The balance is essential, but the symmetry is not.
Stopping momentum and fluidity are important factors, there are varying ways to enforce this. Interceptions, tackling, tactical fouling and simulation (as demonstrated by Señor Drogba) will all be used at Camp Nouby both teams. For Real, the importance will be the transitional phase from these situations into counter-attacks. No side in La Liga is better prepared for this job though, with 14 fast break goals to their name this season, with the nearest competition Real Sociedad with six.
* Ronaldo as a lone-striker
There have been different statistics to illustrate his ineffectiveness against the 'bigger teams', dating back from his time at Manchester United through to present day. If he is to be judged on goals, this season he has three out of five appearances against Barça; compared with two in five (one of which was a penalty) last campaign. Ronaldo looks for a weakness within a defence then looks to exploit it again and again, until it pays dividends. In some games he will drift, seeking to take advantage, but this is a risk in more important matches as the space he leaves behind can be capitalised on.
It's believed he isn't particularly fond of playing upfront, his inability or unwillingness to track the full back though might make him better served to occupy a more traditional strikers role. He has the mobility and pace of Benzema, whilst displaying the directness and strength of Higuaín. Just as Drogbadid for Chelsea, he could close down Busquets from behind with Khedira blocking midfield passers from the front. The space left occupied by the attacking full-backs can be used to good effect.
An option for an out-ball on the wing, would certainly be Ángel di María . However, having only recently returned from injury, two games in a week might be too much for him. Karim Benzema could play wide right, cutting in behind the high-line almost Pedro like. Alternation with Ronaldo would provide flexibility and freshness.
And one to forget about using:
* Pepe the Centre Midfielder
We all run a book or know someone whodoes, on how fast Pepe can get himself booked in a Clásico, late tackles, dissent, shirt pulling, stamping on hands are just some of the attributes within his repertoire. Described as "abrasive, violent and provocative" by France Football magazine, the Portuguese hard man is a marmite figure. His positioning as a defensive midfielder or a more advanced destroyer, designed to stifle counter attacks has been successful at times. Man marking Messi (literally), setting a tone for destruction that will lead to the colours red and offering little creativity. With the inexperience of Raphaël Varane, Ricardo Carvalho's sudden deterioration, alongside errors made recently by Sergio Ramos, it's essential he stays within the back four.
Defining moments or referring decisions could throw all this out the window though, as well as Chelsea performed tactically in the 1st leg Champions League Semi Final, it was only luck and woeful conversion of chances that denied them being on the end of a footballing education.
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