Saturday, August 13, 2011

Super Copa: Real Madrid-FC Barcelona: First Leg Preview

The Super Copa is very close at hand. League winners—Barcelona, will be facing current Copa Del Rey champions—Real Madrid, in a two-legged tie of the Spanish Super Cup. So far, both teams have completed rather contrasting pre-season tours/friendlies; with Real Madrid winning all seven of the matches as opposed to Barca's 3 wins out of six. The Catalans looked far from impressive during said pre-season friendlies, with most of their first team players, either out injured, or resting from the Copa America.

Real Madrid, on the other hand, had a perfect pre-season, and Mourinho's men looked all but ready to start off the new season. Playing time was properly distributed among the whole team that was called up for the pre-season tour, barring the injured Nuri Sahin, and a lot of goals were scored. Real Madrid scored 27 goals in 7 games, while conceding 5. Not bad.

However, the pre-season forms of both teams don't say too much of what to expect from both teams as the season commences, because as stated earlier, Barcelona were with most of their first team players, and Real Madrid didn't face the toughest of opponents during their voyage. So whatever game plan Mourinho has going into these games should be independent of what form the Catalans were in, during pre-season.

Without further ado, let's look at the starting lineup I think will be used come Sunday. Let me preface this by saying that I do not expect us to go all out in this game. I say this because, one of the many things we achieved last season was a good defensive structure against Barca. One that they found difficult to break down no matter how many passes they strung together. So I expect us to maintain that structure, but what has to change is the way we handle the ball when we are in possession.

The Champions league Semi-final 1st leg from last season was a typical example of what we should not do (when in possession) this time around. Last season we depended on kicking the ball up to the forwards without linking up play from the midfield. Needless to say it failed woefully.

What I expect this time around are build ups. Pep Guarliola's men press aggressively, so build ups must be quick, and direct. It's easier said than done, but we should at least try. But as always, don't expect us to win the possession battle. Enough said, now to the starting 11:

GK: Iker Casillas: I don't think I need to explain why I've chosen him. First choice goal keeper, captain, and best keeper in the world; these things speak for themselves.

RB: Alvaro Arbeloa: If recent reports, have been anything to go by, then Sergio Ramos will probably miss the first leg of this tie. In his absence, we have an able-bodied back up in Alvaro Arbeloa. The Spaniard is tactically astute, and has a very high concentration level on the pitch. Mourinho never shied away from singing his praises, and they were well deserved too. One of his drawbacks, however, is his reluctance to attack and we can be rest assured he won't be attacking a lot against Barcelona.

CBs: Pepe & Ricardo Carvalho: I think Pepe is going to be playing at centre back this time around, mostly because with Sergio out, we would have to throw Raul Albiol into the fray. Seeing as Albiol doesn't have the full confidence of the coach, Pepe will have to play in defense. His obvious partner would be Carvalho. The 33 year old centre back, is sure to start this game.

LB: Marcelo: The Brazilian full-back has matured (football-wise) a lot over the past one or two years. He went from the player most Madridistas didn't want to have on their team in the big games, to one of the most important players for team. He could easily be rated the best attacking left back in the world, now, and with good reason too. He scored our last goal against Barca, in the Camp Nou, and while it wasn't enough to see us through o the final of the Champions league, that goal must have given him some confidence, on an individual level, at least. He still has the tendency to lose concentration every now and them, but whatever he lacks defensively, he makes up for, going forward. A definite start for him. 

DMs: Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso: The best player on our team is Ronaldo, but our most important player, is Xabi Alonso, without a doubt. Barring some weird happenings, Alosno is sure to start this game. His calmness on the ball, coupled with his pin point passing, are enough to seal a spot for him in the starting 11, come Sunday. In fact, how well we play, will depend (to a certain extent) on how well the Spaniard plays.

Sami Khedira is going to be a lot more involved in our attacks this season. Judging from our pre-season friendlies, he's going to be playing higher up the pitch than Xabi Alonso, which means, he'd be more involved in goals; scoring, and assisting. I see him starting on Sunday, especially with Lass out of the team, and Nuri Sahin still injured. He will play a huge role in how well we pressure Barcelona high up the pitch. 

RW/DM: Fabio Coentrao: The big question is: Who will start, Di Maria, or Coentrao? In my opinion, Coentrao will be starting this game. Why? Because with the Portuguese, we kill two birds with one stone. Seeing as he can play in the middle and on the wings, he could slot into the middle and form a trivote with Sami and Alonso when we defend, switch to the wings, to provide some width when we defend. On paper, it's a brilliant idea, but whether it can be properly executed, is an answer that can only be made available to us, on the field. If this happens, then it's safe to say, Fabio Coentrao will be a very important part of this team, come Sunday; even more important that Alonso. His work ethic will be tested, and his tactical discipline too. Will he be caught out of position often? Can he keep up with the constant movements of the Pep Guardiola's men? It's a tough task, but the 30 million price tag would be a steal, if he can pull this off. 

CAM/CM: Mesut Ozil: I expect the German to start this match ahead of Kaka, for the obvious fact that he's currently the better of the two. He has had a strong pre-season, and thanks to the German National team coach, Joachim Loew, he was rested during the week, while most of his teammates were on international duty. He links up well with the attackers, and is very comfortable on the ball. I do not see why he shouldn't start this game.

LW: Cristiano Ronaldo: The highest goal scorer in one season in la liga's entire history, looks set to start this game. Ronaldo had a good pre-season, scoring 7 goals in 7 games. He has continued with his scoring form from last season, and would probably be the first name on the team sheet, going into this game. 

ST: Karim Benzema: To be honest, I do not think Benzema should start against Barcelona. Yes he has been in good form as of late, but his style of play might not suit the game we would have to play against Barcelona. With him, we need a lot of possession; something we won't have too much of against Barca.

But how do you reward somebody who has worked so hard to make the starting 11 this season, and has done so well during the pre-season friendlies, so much that he is the the highest goal scorer with 8 goals in 7 games? You reward him by trusting him in games that count. His first real test this season will come in the form of a home match against Barcelona. I Hope he passes in flying colours, because if he does well, the whole team does well.

It could be argued that playing him will be a mistake, but (in my honest opinion) it is a mistake that must be made. I think he should start on Sunday, at least.


Well that's it folks. This is the lineup that I think will work against Barcelona, but as cliched as this may sound, it is still the truth; "Nothing is for sure in football". I expect a cautious game from us regardless of who starts for Barca, because let's face, this is not a matter of "will power", it's about what has to be done. Like I said, we've established one thing against Barca, and that's our defense, so we cannot just throw all that away because we look like favorites after a more "impressive" run of pre-season friendlies. That's a misleading theory, to say the least. We must take one step at a time, if we're going to eventually supersede Barcelona.

Hala Madrid!

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