This will be, remarkably, the 7th El Clasico of 2011: there were the four matches packed into 18 days last spring (two meetings in the Champions League semifinal, the Copa del Rey final, and their 2nd La Liga match of the season), plus there were two legs to the preseason Spanish Super Copa. But the frequency of El Clasicos hasn’t at dampened the anticipation of seeing these two sides face off of the pitch. As we wrote 13 months ago, ahead of the first El Clasico of last season (the one at the Camp Nou that became, shockingly and memorably, “La Manita“), El Clasico means “Catalans vs Castilians, L’Equip Blaugrana vs Los Blancos, La Masia vs Los Galacticos, Los Cules vs Los Madridistas, regionalism vs centralism, Cryuff vs Franco, Guardiola vs Mourinho, Messi vs Ronaldo.”
We recommend two match previews to get you ready for the match:
For instance, here are a couple specific issues raised in Sid Lowe’s & ZM’s pieces:
Does Cesc Fabregas start among the front 3 in Barcelona’s usual 4-3-3 lineup? If so, in place of Villa or Pedro? Messi seems to be the only one on the front line certain to play the full 90. In addition to whoever among Cesc, Pedro & Villa doesn’t start, Alexis Sanchez and youngster Isaac Cuenca are options to come off the bench. Zonal Marking on the possibilities:
Only Messi is a certainty for the front three, and his position is uncertain – he could play as a false nine, or on the right, as against Milan. He will probably be used with one wide forward (Pedro Rodriguez, Alexis Sanchez, David Villa, Isaac Cuenca) and one deeper, more central converted midfielder (Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara). Three forwards might be too direct and not strong enough in midfield, whilst Messi and two midfielders wouldn’t offer enough penetration. Fabregas and Pedro is a decent bet – but Pedro might not be fit. Cuenca would be a bold move, but he’s the closest to what Pedro offers, in terms of excellent positioning and movement from wide.
On the other side, all indications are that Mourinho will opt for 4-3-3 instead of their usual 4-2-3-1, with the talented German Mesut Ozil unfortunately left out in favor of a more defensive midfielder (Lass Diarra maybe, joining Sami Khedira & Xabi Alonso in the infamous trivote). Up front, of course there will be CR7 (cutting in from the left wing), speedy Argentine Angel diMaria wide on the other wing, and either Gonzalo Higuain or Karim Benzema in the center forward position–the latter being Mourinho’s famous “hunting with a cat or a dog” question. We devoted a post to it, titled “Mourinho on the Truth About Cats and Dogs“, following the initial remark approximately a year ago, and Sid Lowe has a section on it in his preview of this match:
Cat or dog?
“If I can’t hunt with a dog, I will hunt with a cat”. Mourinho’s remark has become legendary — analyzed and counter analyzed endlessly. This season, it has come more clearly into focus. Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín have different qualities: Benzema is far more technical, a better player in the absence of space, when you need tight passing and close skill; Higuaín applies greater pressure and is swifter on the break. The decision as to how Madrid play — will it pressure higher as it has done most of this season or lie a littler deeper waiting for Barcelona, employing the speed of counterattacks that sets it apart from any side in the world? — will go a long way to deciding who Madrid play.