Featured / UEFA Champions League / World

La tercera edición

There are so many reasons to watch Barcelona and Real Madrid face off. It’s a showdown with historical implications, an ego-flaunting contest of epic proportions, and we haven’t even talked about the tactical side of things yet.

If you want to learn about the history check out this site dedicated to the rivalry.

The ego? Just look at the spending. While it’s easy to point the finger at Madrid as the big ticket buyers, this is a Barcelona team that – with the World Player of the Year on their books – paid 60 million pounds (plus Samuel Eto’o) for Zlatan Ibrahimovic then loaned him out and dropped a cool 44 million pounds on David Villa. And 36 million on Dani Alves. And 25 million on Javier Mascherano.

But you know all this.

Test runs are over

Now that we are two matches into this unprecedented run of four meetings in under three weeks, the big test has arrived: 180 minutes to determine who goes to the Champions League final. Leave the history aside. At this point, the matches are a tactician’s dream. How often do you get two chances to test out your tactics against an opponent? To try something and see how well it works?

The best manager in the world has taken his Madrid team from 5-0 losers to 1-0 Cup winners in two games. Should Barcelona be worried?

Oh yes. They should.


Ever since Barcelona anointed themselves Best Team in the World, they have played one style of soccer: A tika-takka possession system taught at every level of their prosperous academy. But Barcelona is not hiding the ball. Maxwell Kuhl recently described it as a case of “possession game permanently leaning forward.” And when they lose it, Barca doesn’t let you possess: Their defense is leaning forward too.

So confident are the Blaugrana in their style of play that Xavi Hernandez recently said, “Inter won the Champions League but no one talks about them.”

Of course, Xavi left out one important bit of information. Nobody talks about Inter, but everybody talks about Mourinho.

Special one (Why not? Very nice)

It is the rare manager who has the ability to make overpaid, pampered players understand the gestalt of the game. A team united is greater than the sum of its parts. Over the two legs against Barca in 2010, Inter Milan was a better team. In the first match they counterattacked with purpose and precision, never pushing unless they spied a weakness.

The second leg is remembered for Inter’s incredible “ninety of nothing.” The Italian champions never even tried to leave their half of the field. But a close watching of the match reveals something more important: Inter rarely even left their own eighteen yard box. Barcelona has, at any one time, about six players who can nail a free kick from 35 yards and in. What Mourinho showed that night was that they wouldn’t do it in open play.

The plan is the plan! There is no other plan

Barca has no Plan B. They won’t speed up or change the point of their attack. It is what it is. Lucky for Barca, it’s damn hard to stop. No amount of tactical preparation can stop Barcelona without an exceedingly high quality of player on the pitch. Mourinho has those players at Real Madrid, and for the past two games he has dared Barcelona to step outside of their comfort zone. They have refused.

There will be minor changes for both teams going into the first leg of their Champions League match. Carvalho is unavailable for Madrid. Puyol should be back for Barca.

Unless the Catalan team can learn to adjust on the fly (put in the occasional cross, perhaps?), the result will be similar to the past two. Between the November blowout and the April 16th tie, Real Madrid found an identity as a team that has so much offensive talent it can win while rarely leaving its defensive shape.

It’s a trick Inter learned last year. Will Barcelona learn a new trick? Or will they once again entrust the European Championship to the tika-takka gods?

Eli and I will have a full analysis and player ratings after the first leg of this fantastic soccer event. Tell us what you think about Madrid and Barcelona. Is it over-hyped? Did the first two matchups get your adrenaline pumping or do you wish they’d just start playing other teams already?

Questions for Real Madrid fans

  1. Really? You’re not bothered by the whole fascism thing? I mean, it’s cool. Just making sure.
  2. First leg at home. A lot of teams like it the other way around. Can you build a lead in the first leg? That would require playing a full 90 like the first 45 of the Copa del Rey.
  3. How will you cope without Carvalho? He was pretty bad in the 5-0 loss. He was pretty great in the last two matches.
  4. Has Mourinho solved Barca? Or have we just seen a pair of fantastic defensive efforts?
  5. Higuain was great against Valencia. Should he start?

Questions for Barcelona fans

  1. Do you change anything in your approach? Barca is supremely confident in their system, but they haven’t scored in open play against Madrid in 210 minutes.
  2. Should Barca sit back and wait for the second leg to attack? Cruyff will cringe if they do.
  3. Will the Blaugrana ever cross the ball? Maybe just once? See what it feels like?
  4. Who should play left back? Adriano was beaten on the winning header in the Copa del Rey. Should Maxwell get on the pitch?
  5. Should Mascherano step in for Busquets? Sergio is a great player but he has been less than effective in the past two games against Madrid.



  1. In my opinion the first leg hinges on Barcelona’s ability to attack Pepe. With no Ricardo Carvalho at his side, the belligerent, violent Pepe must be ruthlessly exposed by Messi and Co. in order to gain any joy today. Raul Albiol will likely slot in as the other centerback and while he will be tested heavily as well, without Carvalho as his security blanket, Pepe’s ability to control his aggression and not give away free kicks and be cautioned or ejected will be a major deciding factor.

    Also, pretty sure Maxwell is injured and unavailable for Barca.

  2. Josh Trott says:

    So I’m Blaugrana all the way. And this is a big match, the biggest in football. These teams have to be the best two. Beside diehards- everyone has to agree that the winner of this takes it to Man U, who are the best in the Premiership.

    I became a fan because of the way they play, tikka taka style. However, I think you’ve raised a good point about the plan B lack. In the Copa Del Rey final, there where many opportunities for 25 yard shots, but none were taken. I would like them to show some flexibility in the ways that they attempt to score, long shoots, and crosses. That being said, they were inches away from getting their preferred type of goal numerous times in the last game.

    I still think they are a better team, and that they will produce over the two legs against RM, but Mourinho is an intimidating figure.

    The Cope Del Rey loss introduces an important thread of soccer thought for me though. Soccer isn’t just technique, passes, runs. It’s sweat, bodies, cleats judiciously applied to opponents shins. The goal is winning (Up the Union) and while aesthetics are nice, wins are best. Barca insist that winning and looking nice are the same, but they will need to win now to be convincing. Arsenal faces similar problems on a greater scale. They need more violence in their football, and more pragmatism.

  3. Mourinho is a genius, Pep not so much…That being said, Pep has the better squad and should win easily every time out but that hasnt been the case because of Mourinho’s tactics and methods with his players. Could you imagine how dominant Mourinho would be at Barca?

    I expect the match to be heated, maybe more physical than last two recent meeting. The physical play will force the ref’s hand. The ref will directly impact the result of the game in favor of Barca (no suprise there). This will be a great match with Barca winning 2-1 or 3-1.

  4. Unfortunately, I think Madrid take the series. Barca has too many players injured, too many questionable, and not enough talent to combat the army of players that Madrid has at its disposal. Watching them destroy a talented Valencia team with the bench makes you realize that Mourinho now has all the players on the same page and they know exactly how to counter. I mean, I don’t think I have ever seen a counter attack quite as good as Madrid’s ever. And I’ve been watching the game for a very long time.

    Visca Barca. There is always room for genius Pep to pull a rabbit out of his hat. But Mourinho makes better game day adjustments so we will see.

  5. Oh, and call me silly. But I’m glad Maxwell is injured. It means not having to see him make horrific defensive errors. Although now, I may get to see Gabi Milito make them instead. Pick your poison. If Milito is in the middle, attack straight up the middle on the ground. He always drops back, plays a horrible trap, and then is too slow and bad to defend.

  6. Sergio Ramos is a tool.

    I hope Barca drop him like the Copa Del Rey.


  7. Yup I called that one

    • Josh Trott says:

      You did. I was right too- Barca started taking the long shots, and trying some crosses- and they also added the tactic of diving, which worked well for them.

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