That Real Madrid is 15 points behind Barcelona with 18 liga games left to play is no news. Jose Mourinho came out last week and publicly conceded that the la liga was beyond chase and is no longer their priority. That may easily be a way to take the pressure off his players at the moment as the players seem increasingly unable to match their record breaking performances of the last campaign in a bid to revive the winning mentality that seem cold at the moment, Los Blancos need to put together the kind of winning streak that can match barcelonas’ and hope that the Blaugranas’ drop further points until they are in position to mount a serious challenge, albeit, one that is increasingly difficult.
That said, Wednesday night is eagerly anticipated across the globe as the world is set to witness the greatest football match between the ‘’two greatest team’’ in club football, Real Madrid and Barcelona the El classico as it is widely called in their semi-final first leg. The fourth time both sides will face off this season and the fourth meeting in the Copa del Rey in just three years. With the la liga out of sight, the Copa del Rey seems Madrid’s best chance of a silverware this season, the stumbling block is an ambitious Barca side. Heading into the classico on Wednesday, Real Madrid is currently with a depleted squad as they would be missing a number of their first team regulars. Club captain and icon Iker Casillas is out for around 6-12 weeks, after suffering a kick to his left thumb, as a result of Arbeloa’s kick in their quarter final second leg tie with Valencia at the Mestalla last Wednesday.
The stopper was already regaining his form, keeping four clean sheets in his last five games, aftermath of his sudden drop from the first team in favor of Antonio Adan –a move Jose was largely criticized for by the Madrid press, but in truth he was right. If you have watched Casillas for years like me, it would take just a few numbers of games to know his consistency had dropped. But with Antonio Adan’s lack of experience in the big games, one would only expect Diego Lopez (Madrid’s new buy from Sevilla) to be in goal after all, he was brought back for this purpose.
Madrid will once again have to make do with a make-shift defence, something they’ve had to do for a majority of the current campaign. Fabio Coentrao was sent off against Valencia; Marcelo just returned from a lengthy lay off, Pepe is still a long term returnee. Good news is the return of Sergio Ramos after seeing out his suspension. And Jose Mourinho not being a fan of the Madrid Castilla neither is he a manager who believes in the youth system, Essien may well find himself in the right back position and Arbeloa deployed to the left full back position in place of Nacho.
I definitely expect to see the midfield trio of Alonso, Khedira and Luka Modric with Mesuit Ozil playing from the right wing in place of the suspended Angel Di maria and Cristiano Ronaldo playing from the left. Mourinho’s policy of rotating his centre forwards should allow Gonzalo Higuain take his place up front as the lone striker, but his wastefulness in front of goal is disheartening. The Supa Copa second leg in August easily comes to mind with the striker wasting as much as four clear-cut chances. Benzema seems the best bet to start upfront. His movement and versatility will be of great importance, allowing Ronaldo to switch to the centre forward position easily.
Barcelona, on the other hand has less to worry about. Pinto should be in goal with Puyol returning to the starting line-up, his wealth of experience and influence will surely be needed. Dani Alves is gradually finding his feet after another fine showing against Malaga another start for the defender is not too much to ask. Cesc Fabregas has fared better this season; he seems to now understand the philosophy of the team. The midfield trio of Busquets, Xavi and Cesc looks likely. Picking the front three might be challenging, David Villa, currently on 5 goals in the cup, was an unused substitute in the 4-2 win over Malaga, with Andres Iniesta a preferred option on the left flank despite his impressive showing against Cordoba in the previous round. Impressive as he might have been this season, he has found regular playing time hard to come by. He may yet remain on the bench for the trip to the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday and may not witness any minute of action.
It is not a question of how Madrid intends to stop barca but, why they must stop barca. Madrid went into the last El classico in October after getting two wins in three games and could have easily won that tie that ended in a 2-2 draw but for sloppy defending for barca’s first and poor positioning from Casillas for barca’s second. Having been handed Manchester United in their round of 16 UCL tie, Real Madrid need to defeat Barcelona to stand a chance of lifting a silverware with either of Sevilla and city rivals Atletico Madrid holding onto the other final slot.
Written by Tolu Olorunmoteni