Friday, 9 December 2011

El Clasico - Real Madrid CF vs. FC Barcelona preview

Real Madrid take on Barcelona this Saturday in the first El Clasico of the season and it is Jose Mourinho's side who can come out on top, according tipster Neil Roarty...
Cristiano Ronaldo

Real Madrid are currently three points clear at the top of La Liga and have a game in hand on Barca. This makes the gap effectively six points between Spain's top two sides going into the first El Clasico of the season in the Bernabéu on Saturday and that is a huge advantage for Los Merengues.

José Mourinho's side deserve their lead as they have been the best team in La Liga this season. Cristiano Ronaldo has been his usual imperious self and the Portuguese has already netted an incredible 17 goals in just 14 league matches, as he attempts to win the personal glory of the Pichichi award, but this year Real have been more than just 'Ronaldo and friends'. Gonzalo Higuaín, has scored 12 times and Karim Benzema has hit seven goals as Madrid break Spanish records seemingly each and every match.

Mesut Ozil, perhaps the most under-rated footballer in the world at the moment, and Angel Di Maria have also chipped in to help Los Merengues reach 49 goals in 14 games and it is seemingly impossible to stop the Madrid juggernaut as it crushes each and every opponent both domestically and in the Champions League.

Barcelona aren't bad themselves. Lionel Messi will win this year's Ballon D'Or for a third successive time and the question is not whether the Argentine is the best player in the world at the moment but if he is the greatest to ever play the game. His 17 goals in 15 matches is remarkable as Messi is universally regarded as a creator, rather than a scorer, and he has already helped the Catalans to win the Spanish Super Copa and European Super Cup this season.

Those trophies sit in the cabinet at the Nou Camp, alongside last season's Champions League and La Liga crowns. Barcelona are a freak side, made up of some of the best footballers of all time, who are all friends that have come up through the ranks of La Masia youth academy. 

However, this season they have started to look fallible. Four draws and one defeat in 15 games illustrate that teams are beginning to get wise to the tactics employed by Pep Guardiola's side and frequently they look like they have no Plan B when Plan A isn't working. Real Sociedad, Sevilla, AC Milan and Athletic Bilbao have held Barcelona to draws this year and Getafe beat the Catalans last month. Most impressive of all, however, was Valencia's 2-2 draw in the Mestalla. Los Che out-played their opponents and Unia Emery's tactics of fielding two left-backs, in order to counter Dani Alves's runs on the right flank, will have been observed keenly by Mouirnho.

The Portuguese attempted to out-pass Barcelona in the first El Clasico of last season and Real Madrid were beaten 5-0. Mourinho learnt from that experience and from then on employed Pepe as a midfield 'destroyer' in the future meetings between the world's two biggest clubs. This worked to a certain extent and Real have only been beaten twice in six subsequent meetings with their bitter rivals.

They have, however, failed to win in any match against Barcelona since 2008, a statistic that hurts everyone connected with Real Madrid. That could well change on Saturday and it 11/8 that Los Galacticos claim victory in the Bernabéu.

Mourinho will, most likely, copy Emery's tactic of playing two defensive minded left sided players with Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao expected to be tasked with shutting down everything down the Barcelona right. Real Madrid will attack the visitors down the opposite flank and Eric Abidal can expect a tough night trying to deal with Ronaldo and Di Maria. 

The pace of those two will cause problems for the Frenchman and the ageing Carlos Puyol will be forced to step in to assist. Puyol is one of the greatest defenders of all time but injuries have taken their toll and he is no longer as reliable as he once was. Real can force errors from the Spain international and Abidal and that could be key to them winning the game.

Barcelona are, of course, not to be under-estimated. No side with Messi, Cesc Fabregas, David Villa, Xavi and Andres Iniesta can be. However, the fact that these players can, and have been, stopped already this season means that Real Madrid will not fear them. 

Six out of the last nine goals that Barca have scored against Real have come from Messi and he is possibly the one man who can turn the game in favour of the visitors. It is 5/1 that he scores the opening goal on Saturday, 13/10 that he scores anytime in the game and 25/1 that he nets a hat-trick. He may have to do the latter in order to claim victory for his side in the Bernabéu, and while he is capable of doing that, one would imagine that the 'Special One' has something up his sleeve to counter the world's most special player.

Prediction: Real Madrid to win.

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