Rev Up The Engine…Again: El Clásico Copero [update]

Copa Preview: Real Madrid – Barcelona, Wednesday 4pm ET, GolTV

Adrenaline is an interesting thing. I like it to a certain extent. It’s gotten me off a mountain top with bad weather closing in. It’s kept me from crashing my car in icy conditions. And it’s probably cut a few years off my life thanks to its connection with El Clásico. All things are give and take, y’all. El Clásico takes your sanity, social abilities, and hairline, but it gives you more waistline, mass hysteria, and cardiac arrest. All things are give and take.

What you witness when you witness a match between the two great sides of Spain is far more than the 90 minutes of game time. Besides the obvious preparation by the team itself, there’s the reams of idiotic drivel “sportswriters” and “journalists” dish out at a stupendous rate, the Madrid-based statisticians pointing out the obvious nature of Madrid’s superiority and the one-upmanship from Catalunya saying “nuh-uh, poopypants, our statisticians butter their bread on the correct side”, and now even the psychologists claiming The Real Thongnaldo is allergic to Barça while Messi is the scourge of Madrid.

Basically, if this goes on for another 10-15 minutes, we’re going to see this splashed across all the newspapers in the world:


And you thought it was the Soviets that would pull the trigger. Turns out it’s me, incapable of writing another preview about Llourinho or Dive Maria.

But here we are, talking about both: among the list of casualties in white for this match is Angel di Maria, a man whose propensity for getting sudden injuries right as he’s totally owned by Eric Abidal are known worldwide (we chanted “broken ankles” at our bar for a solid minute, maybe more). Marca declared dM out of the contest 100% for sure definitely not playing. Moments later Mourinho declared him not quite fit, but in the squad and hopefully playing a pivotal role in the match. Being the glorious human being that I am, I hope he’s fit and capable of playing breaking his ankles yet again in front of Rey Abi. Remember, The French Greyhound doesn’t even need to be on his feet to be so cool Samuel L. Jackson takes lessons from him. O-freakin’-lé. [UPDATE: It’s been brought to my attention that the above mentioned broken ankles were by Pique, not Abidal. Does that make Abidal less awesome? Nope. It makes me thank Shakira for teaching Gerard these sexy moves. Thanks to reader Srini for the info and link.]

Yet the larger point is that Mourinho is playing the game that we’ve all created for him to play. Can’t really blame him for “hiding his cards” as they’re saying: there’s so much pressure on this that if he falters, if Barça comes out the victors, it could wreck RM’s season. I say could, of course, because the Liga is by no means lost if they’re out of the Copa del Rey and the Champions League is just about to get going again. And yet it seems that the pressure is all on Madrid this time around. The burden of expectation and the fear of failure is rampant.

Cules can stand anywhere on earth and feel free to sing the hymn and then, kindly, with a pat on the shoulder of their beet-red madridista neighbor, point out that Barça can still win when they spot los merengues a goal. The peels of laughter that follow are the gorgeous bells of a cathedral for me and a dark dirge to those who have outspent, outspoken, and outfought the Catalans only to find themselves at the bottom looking up.

Naturally nothing is written in stone and the team has to play lights out to win. That’s the odd thing: against this Madrid team, they’re on point. They’re capable. They don’t go to sleep. It’s as if Mourinho keeping his mouth shut would maybe allow him to catch Barça napping, but the turgid waters are so mucky with reporters making up their own story lines that it’s basically impossible not to say something, even if you say nothing at all. Silence is no kind of “no comment”–and that’s not particularly fair, but Guardiola has mastered it: just answer the roundabout way, take the high road, feed them what they want and nothing more.

So, to the Madrid injury woes: Carvalho and Khedira are out (actually, 100% out) while Arbeloa is suspended. Pepe has been struggling with some fitness questions and di Maria appears “tocado” if still capable of playing. Mourinho had this to say about his options (English below):

Si juega Ramos de lateral, me van a criticar porque es mejor de central. Si juega Fabio de lateral derecho, me van a criticar porque es zurdo. Si juega Lass de lateral, me van a criticar porque está Khedira lesionado y dejo solo a Xabi. Si juega Pepe de central, me van a criticar porque tiene que jugar en el medio. Pero si le pongo en el medio, me dirán que es mejor de central. Si juego con trivote me van a criticar porque hay que ir a atacar. Si juego al ataque, me dirán que había que poblar el medio y me criticarán igual. Si juega Higuaín, me criticarán porque no juega Benzema. Y si juega Benzema, me van a criticar porque no juega Higuaín que marcó un gol en Mallorca. Mejor nos vamos al cine mañana y luego vemos el resultado y opinamos.

If Ramos plays on the wing, they’ll criticize me because he’s better in the middle. If Fabio [Coentrao] plays at RB, they’ll criticize me because he’s a leftie. If Lass plays on the wing, they’ll criticize me because Khedira is injured and I’m leaving Xabi alone in the middle. If Pepe plays at centerback, they’ll criticize me because he has to play in midfield. But if I put him in midfield, they’ll tel me he’s better at centerback. If I play a “trivote” they’ll criticize me because you have to go out and attack. If I gamble on offense, they’ll tell me I should have reinforced the midfield and they’ll criticize me equally. If Higuain plays, they’ll criticize me for not playing Benzema. And if Benzema plays, they’ll criticize me because Higuain didn’t play even though he scored against Mallorca. It’d be better if we just went to the movies tomorrow and later checked out the score and opined on it.

Sure, that’s all true, especially the part of about him not bothering to show up, but it’s said with an air of disgust that only further incites the already insane mob. And it heaps pressure on the players to make right by their manager’s decisions, even if they’re wrong or if Barça is simply better on the night. Until they beat Barça again (over these 2 legs or in a one-off match), Madrid will be in this vortex of crazy that they can’t seem to get out of or get enough of. Further, what about Callejon? Do you start him, Varane, or, as Marca somewhat absurdly suggested, 20-year old Castilla player Dani Carvajal. That would go over well, I’m sure.

Speaking of B-teamers, maybe, if things continue with the ante-raising, we’ll see another Sergi Roberto appearance. He’s in the squad, so it’s possible: Valdés, Pinto, Piqué, Fàbregas, Puyol, Xavi, Alexis, Messi, Thiago, Mascherano, Busquets, Adriano, Abidal, Iniesta, Dani Alves, Jonathan dos Santos, Sergi Roberto, Montoya, Cuenca.

And while there are serious injury problems on the front line (Villa, Ibi, Pedro), the starting lineup that won 1-3 the last time Barça went to the Bernabeu is completely available. None of the subs that were used (Keita, Villa, and Pedro), but at least the first 11 could play. Personally, that’s exactly what should happen, with the exception of the goalie:

Pinto, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, Busquets, Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc, Messi, Alexis.

That’s a solid lineup, no matter who is thrown at them, though the subs may leave a little to be desired in terms of versatility and experience. Thiago, Adriano, and Mascherano are the major names there, but beyond that are a series of little ones that, while talented and capable, are perhaps not up to the challenge of a full on clasico quite just yet. Cuenca, perhaps, but he was more worthless than I was on Sunday and I was pretty much just a hunk of alcohol-sodden flesh (except when I was in the bathroom for Alexis’ goal, in which case I was simply missing in action, but that was sort of Cuenca’s thing too).

So here we are. It’s time again. Do they play a trivote, do they hunker down for the 0-0 and go for the 1-1 away? Who cares, we play our game, we do our thing, and come what may, it’s el clásico time.

Official Prediction: 1-1. A tight affair to be decided at the lovely Camp Nou in a week. Goal by Messi because, well, he’s Messi.

Let’s make this a mature ending:

Guess who!
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Written by:

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in Germany with his wife and daughter.


  1. nia
    January 17, 2012

    It sure will be a tight affair. Some part of me thinks we are going to lose this one 2-1 just like we did v Arsenal. I hope to god i’m wrong. (Always think positive, i’m chanting.) I hope Barca plays one of their flawless games tomorrow and hope Pinto doesn’t get to any mischief. Would be funny to see him whistle with CR bearing down on goal only for him to stop coz he thinks it’s the ref, he he. Best of luck Barca, 1-0 to us would be nice.

    • BarcaGirl_Indo
      January 17, 2012

      2-1 is not the end of the world. precious away goal.

      but 1-0, 2-0, 3-1, we’re all going to die 😀

  2. Chiu
    January 17, 2012

    That cartoon picture always make me LOL 🙂

    • BarcaGirl_Indo
      January 18, 2012

      it’s Isaiah, what did you expect? 😛

      • January 18, 2012


        Next you’ll be expecting me to get the squad list, date and time, and location of the match correct. It’s too much, people.

  3. January 18, 2012

    In protest against the SOPA, I will be changing my nick during the liveblog.

    • yassir (Formerly Extreme barca fan)
      January 18, 2012

      In protest against the COPA, I will not be joining the liveblog.

      • Chiu
        January 18, 2012

        haha why protest the COPA? is it because presenting another classico before the final date 🙂

  4. IamXavi6
    January 18, 2012

    We will lose2-1 and have to put up with all the articles, fans an haters, until the second leg where we win 3-0 and everything in the world will be right once more, circa arsenal in the first leg

  5. Helge
    January 18, 2012

    I also think the Pepe and Di Maria knocks are fake. Although I would really love to not see Pepe available for this match 😀

    Funny comments by the Mou, this time he doesn’t help his team at all with his words. Wasn’t he supposed to be the best coach, in psychological terms???

    Sergi Roberto is my favourite option to strenghten our offense (if needed), ahead of Cuenca. Maybe the club came up with a pay rise too early? And promised him promotion too early? At least, Cuenca was not only invisible vs Betis, for me he’s been disappointing in his last 4 or maybe 5 matches. Seriously, if his form continues as it is right now, he doesn’t deserve promotion yet.

  6. Srini
    January 18, 2012

    My prediction – 3-1; goals by Alexis, Cesc and Messi and one by the Benzeman for EE. #Culegemony lives on.

    • K_legit in Oz
      January 18, 2012

      That has already happened once..wait did my time machine work?

      • Srini
        January 18, 2012

        That was Xavi helped by Marcelo last time :). So your time machine flopped 😉

  7. January 18, 2012

    It was Pique who owned DiMaria, not Abidal.

    Count me in the group of people who think the supposed injuries are just to confuse us.

  8. BarcaGirl_Indo
    January 18, 2012

    Rhonda Cohen , a leading sports psychologist and head of the London Sport Institute at Middlesex University, believes that Madrid’s players have reached a mental state where being able to defeat Barcelona is a concept that they struggle to truly believe in.
    She states: “It is really difficult with regular adversaries as you develop a brain pattern that is hard to break. It is even a learned helpless. You don’t ever think can win and that negative energy keeps you down.”

  9. lyd
    January 18, 2012

    _”Do they play a trivote, do they hunker down for the 0-0 and go for the 1-1 away? Who cares, we play our game, we do our thing,…..”_

    Spot on! Who effin cares!? But they are going to press us deep, in the first 10 minutes in the first half (and 5 mins in the 2nd), using brute force and little intelligence, just like before. So it doesn’t matter whether Pepe, Maria starts or not. Or whether Drenthe, Baptista comes out of the grave! As for the rest of the match they’ll all be treated as cones, disks. Or at times poles for Iniesta and Xavi.

    • Chiu
      January 18, 2012

      lyd, Drenthe and Baptista grave have been moved to another country LOL 🙂

  10. nzm
    January 18, 2012

    Have fun in the Live Blog, people.

    Mom4 and I will be holed up in a Barcelona bar, either drinking to success or drowning our sorrows, surrounded by cule love and passion!

    • BarcaGirl_Indo
      January 18, 2012

      have fun you guys! a pic of you two met will be nice 😀

  11. Chiu
    January 18, 2012

    My wish, we win convincingly with minimum 2 goals margin. So we dont have to push too hard in Camp Nou. Saving energy for liga matches.

    Di maria injury is true i think, but Pepe case could be part of mind games from Mou.

  12. flyzowee
    January 18, 2012

    How are we going to accomodate pintos poor foot skills and distribution with a back 3?
    This would prob be answered in the 1st min hopefully with a clean sheet still intact.

  13. blitzen
    January 18, 2012

    This game starts at 4 pm Eastern, which is the worst for me. I leave work at 4:30 and don’t get home till around 6, so I have to hope Barça gets an early goal to ease my nerves and then suffer the whole way home without knowing what is happening! Nervewracking!

    OTOH, by the time I get home it will all be over so I don’t have to agonize over every play as it happens.

    I am predicting a win, most likely by a single goal. The team wouldn’t dream of letting Pep down on his birthday!

    • January 18, 2012

      4pm is the WORST time isn’t it? I have it taped so I will be rushing home (get home around 6-7) to watch it. Luckily we will in Canada and this is not hockey so we won’t have swarms of people out honking their horns or waving the winning teams jerseys.

      • blitzen
        January 18, 2012

        LOL, it’s true, although it was almost impossible for me to get home without knowing the results of World Cup games in 2010.

        • January 18, 2012

          Hahah yes the world cup is a different kind of monster though. EVERYONE with a nationality (ie. everyone) becomes a footy fan. It was impossible taping the games without finding out the results so I gave up and just started taking extremely long lunches in the food courts down by work.

          The worst is when I’ll have the game taped, and have successfully avoided ALL footy websites, twitter, etc etc., and then some friend who watches like TWO games a year knows I’m a fan so will txt me with something stupid like “OMG WHAT A GOAL BY MESSI AMIRITE?” ARGHHHH.

          The worst was THAT game at Stamford Bridge. This IDIOT friend of mine, whom I swore to kill if he told me anything about the game, goes “Okay fine I won’t say anything but I will say someone from the stands will be crying”. Yes, moron, chances are said crying fan will be a Chelsea supporter since it’s AT the bridge. So I was already kind of expecting something crazy to happen when Ini scored. Still didn’t take anything away from it though. Magic that moment.

          • phil
            January 18, 2012

            I had a similar experience. I had taped last year’s copa final and hadn’t had a chance to watch it. A friend of mine comes up to me and says “hey did you see…” and I cut him off right away telling him I didn’t see the game and he says “oh but did you hear about what happened to the cup? ramos dropped it off the bus and…” It was extremely difficult not to resort to violence.

    • Chiu
      January 18, 2012

      Yeah, happy bday pep. He’s just 41 and practically have won everything in club competition.

      I wonder if we score goal, the player would dedicate it to pep by celebrating with him

    • blitzen
      January 18, 2012

      Look up, look waaaay up…at the top of the review and you will seek what you find.

  14. January 18, 2012

    Actually agree and like Mou’s words in the quote. No matter WHAT the man does, if he does not get a desired result, he is going to be criticized for his selections/tactics, even if they are spot on. Though with such a high profile job I suppose the criticism is to be expected.

    I wonder how TB will play. If he has another very poor showing the Madridistas will never stop jeering him.

    • Lev
      January 18, 2012

      I think his words are quite stunning. He is basically admitting defeat by saying that he will be critizided afterwards no matter what he does (cause if m*drid wins, who would criticize him?). His traditional swagger against Barça has taken quite some hits since moving to Spain, hasn’t it?

      The only time he has ever done that previously was before the 2nd leg of the CL last season, and that was either a calculated way of taking the pressure of his players or him having completely lost it (or a paradoxical combination of both).

      • Chiu
        January 18, 2012

        The first time I read that statement,am bit shocked, I think mou is “desperate” on what tactics he should use because none of those he mentioned can contain barca so far. Your hypothesis might be true lev, its admitting defeat implicitly

      • Jafri
        January 18, 2012

        Mourinho’s doing what he does best; covering his bases. It’ll make it even more impressive if they win or stop him getting as much flak if they lose. He does it just about every time.

  15. blitzen
    January 18, 2012

    I rewatched the Betis game last night, and to take everyone’s mind off today’s Clasico for at least a few minutes, I put together a couple of blitzen awards. You’re welcome.

    Flow it, Show it, Long as God Can Grow it Award: No, not Puyol. Victor Valdes, who was sporting the longest hair I have seen on him in years! It must have been at least 3 or 4 mm long! I know there are lots of ladies who would love him to grow it out again.

    His Bark Is Worse Than His Bite Award: Alexis and Mascherano, who both found themselves on the wrong end of a bollocking from Captain Puyol after making dangerous errors (in Sanchez’ case, the wayward header that almost gifted Betis an own goal). The ref and the pitch itself also received a few choice words. I haven’t seen Puyi that worked up in a long time. And speaking of which:

    A Mighty And Raging Fury Award: Don’t make Iniesta angry. You won’t like him when he’s angry. Seriously, he was so furious after getting that yellow card I thought he might actually go incandescent like a light bulb! Word is the club’s initial appeal of the card has been turned down, but they are planning to take it to the Appeals Committee.

    Most GIF-Worthy Moment OTM: The Betis goalkeeper’s ragetastic tantrum after Sanchez’ goal put Barça up 3-2. Someone make this happen.

    Buster Keaton Memorial Award For Best Slapstick Performance: Alexis Sanchez, for squandering a clear scoring opportunity in the Betis box by tripping over the ball and falling on his face. His characteristic gormless expression made this a real knee-slapper. (Still want to give him that “A”, Calvin?)

    Bearding the Lion in His Own Den Award: Pepe Mel and the entire Real Betis team, for coming out on the offensive and sticking to their plan for the entire game. They attacked, they counter-attacked, they tried not to let the Barça players have too much time on the ball, and they made it a very exciting game to watch. With a bit more luck they might have come out with a point or even a win. Kudos to them.


    • Blau-Grenade
      January 18, 2012

      Thank god for the Blitzen’s. I almost fully waterboarded with the classico stuff.

    • Chiu
      January 18, 2012

      – I know the feeling of sanchez after that puyol shout It’s similiar like a freshman in the first day of school get snap by the senior haha

      – always fun to read your awards bud 🙂

  16. January 18, 2012

    Pepe has been present for that 2-6 and the 5-0 🙂 What is Mourinho “hiding” exactly? Di Maria didn’t play the 1-3, oh wait he did, he was just on the invisible side.

    • January 18, 2012

      and my comment posted before I finished damnit..I’m sure Pep even prepared the team in case Karanka got in goal WITH Casillas. We got this. Also a draw would be a positive result for us, I agrees with Isaiah’s prediciton.

    • Chiu
      January 18, 2012

      I think Di maria was pretty good in the last classico. Some if his dribble was look dangerous but lack of support from ee midfield made it ineffective.

      Winger with good dribble and speed like di maria is very dangerous on the counter, which suit with ee typical direct football. One less problem for our backline if he absent

  17. Diego
    January 18, 2012

    We’ll go and win in Santiago and We’ll get the 3 points and cut the 5 point lead to 2 and wait for them to slip.

    • Chiu
      January 18, 2012

      Are u alexis sanchez? It’s copa btw 🙂

  18. Blau-Grenade
    January 18, 2012

    My thoughts on the whole classico and Mourinho thing…

    The biggest variable against Mourinho is that he will use no rule in the book unturned to win, even go to the extreme lengths of starting a brawl, or any unthinkable unsavory incident to deflect from the real spectacle that is football.

    One of the standard operating procedure for Mourinho’s holding midfield and the backline, be it Lass, Alonso, Pepe, or Khedira, is that they consistently foul, or even deliberately hurt the Barcelona players to hold up play, till they get carded. And in the second half, the people who get the yellow cards get subbed out, so that the substitute holding midfielders can continue with the pattern. I am highlighting the midfield here because that is where most of the fouls are comitted, but the entire team pretty much behaves that way.

    Pepe, Ramos, Marcello are especially rough tacklers and I constantly fear for Iniesta, Messi, Alves and Fabregas since these are our attacking players and will be subject to some rough tackling.

    In the end, I don’t care what the score line is, or who wins, I just want it to be a free flowing match, where nobody is injured, and it is controversy free.

    Enough said.

    • Jafri
      January 18, 2012

      That sneaky underhanded little worm.

    • Srini
      January 18, 2012

      Can’t agree more. Copa being the lowest of the priorities, I suspect EE will play a destructive game and I fear for the health of the Barca midgets, stretched thin as our squad is already.

      Having said that the flip side is that if Madrid tries the rash tackle route, and the Barca midget frontline/midfield is able to skilfully evade them with quick passes, it gives them a lot of time before EE can recover positions or shape. In that sense, Pepe’s thuggery can cut both ways without even including the card factor.

      My only concern in this game is how much fitness levels and strength is shown by the squad. If they play to their full potential and stamina, they should have this game in their pocket after 90 minutes. If they are lackadaisical because of too many games on the odometer, it would be difficult to scratch out a win.

      I would prefer if the team finishes the business end of its work at the Bernabeu and play safe at the Fortress Nou. And I am sure Pep must be ‘revving up the engine’ to achieve that tonight. Lets hope for the best.

  19. Diego
    January 18, 2012

    Regarding the 5 points lead in la Liga.

    If weaker teams were able to make up that gap and win Leagues, I think we should trust the supposedly best team in history to keep fighting.

    • January 18, 2012

      5 points is nothing really, given 3 of those Barcelona will control. And we are not even HALF-WAY done the season yet. It’s EE who should keep on fighting because we will be ruthless in the home stretch. Players with all the trophies in the world now have added motivation (that they didn’t have in the last 3 ligas) to win this year: an EE lead.

  20. Diego
    January 18, 2012

    Regarding tonight’s match, the result and Copa itself doesn’t matter to me, what matters to me is how it affects the “potential” CL matches, Whether Pep or Mou are willing to show their cards and reveal their secrets for this encounter or play with the “regular” formation saving the best for last.

    I miss you all, Even though I don’t contribute that much but I still read your comments.

  21. blitzen
    January 18, 2012

    So it seems to be confirmed that Jonathan Soriano will be transferred to Red Bull Salzburg for a reported €800,000, on a 3.5 year deal. He could leave for Austria as soon as tomorrow.

    Very sad to see him go. He has been a rock for the B team, an excellent player, and a model of professionalism. He has been nothing but grateful for the opportunities that the club has given him, and cooperative with the efforts made on his behalf to find him a permanent team. It’s too bad that because of his age and his injury he wasn’t able to get more chances to play with the first team. The B team will miss him a lot, especially considering how this season is shaping up, but he deserves to go to a club where he can play first team football, and I wish him all the luck in the world.

    They say there was interest from Benfica as well, and if that’s true I am a bit surprised he wouldn’t have wanted to join up with Nolito, but probably Salzburg was offering him better wages or a longer contract, so he chose what was best for him. Good luck, Scoriano!

  22. barca96
    January 18, 2012

    I hope CR7 won’t score later. If he does, for sure they’re (the media) gonna crown him the best player in the world.

    I still don’t understand how some journalist can say that he missed two sitters. As far as I know, he still had a lot of work to do.
    Shooting from the edge of the box isn’t a sitter.
    Heading while battling with a defender isn’t a sitter.

    He just fails to perform whenever he plays Barca!
    It goes back to when he was at Man United.

  23. barca96
    January 18, 2012

    I’ve always maintained that I don’t really care about this Cup and I still stand by it. Not hoping that we lose but it will be a blessing in disguise.

    Our team is already small and our front line is thin and now Affelay, Pedro and Villa are out. It’s really pushing the limits.
    How long can we rely Cesc to bang in the goals from midfield?
    Sanchez is not really a goal scorer and Cuenca is a winger from the B team.

    One day Mourinho is going to get the better of our beloved Pep and I prefer it to be in Copa. And then the world media and anti-fans can start claiming that Mourinho is better than Pep again until we meet again in the CL and beat them again in the Camp Nou.

    But knowing Pep and the players, they are still hungry for titles and they will fight til death for it.

    Was really happy to see ESPN News showing clips of Arbeloa elbowing and then standing on Villa’s leg.
    Usually on youtube or other news they only show the clip from the point where Arbeloa and Ramos pull Villa up like a doll resulting in the people who didn’t watch the full clip or the match thinking that Villa was play acting.

    • Blau-Grenade
      January 18, 2012

      How long can we rely on Cesc to bang in goals from midfield?
      As long as he is healthy and playing we can see a lot of goals from him. There is still one type of goal we have not seen from Cesc which he used to do a lot in Arsenal is the shot from outside the box. He is an amazing goal scorer. I would just sit back and enjoy his goals in the next few years. His goals will become more spectacular as he integrates more into the team.
      Sanchez is not really a goal scorer
      He has scored crucial goals. His classico goal was the one that turned the match in Barca’s favour. That was an unbelievable goal as far as ball control, shot from outside the box, precision of the shot, calmness on the ball, there were two defenders on him. The second crucial goal was the Betis goal he scored on teh weekend. It was a very similar goal. Also I remember his Henryesque goal which he cut back on his right foot and curled the ball to the top right corner of the goal. Also, Sanchez has something that has been lacking in the Barca team for a while, he is a player who can take on a defender and beat the defender. So from that perspective he is invaluable to the team because the opposition always need two defenders to mark him.
      Cuenca is a winger from the B team.
      In all the matches I have seen him play with the first team, he has always provided width and exceptional wing play. His dribbling skills, and willingness for taking on defenders, beating them, and providing exceptional crosses has me lacing superlatives on him all the time. He has a great eye for goal. He can obviously not be compared to Messi or Alexis, but yes, he does have finishing skills. He is an absolutely top class winger who I see part of the Barca team for a long time to come.

  24. January 18, 2012

    The managers today will need to think carefully about what they want to show in this match.

    Given that there are likely multiple Clasico’s left this season and the teams know each other so well, don’t know if either one will want to unveil any innovations.

    We have a good sense for what the Barca line up will be. Pep has what looks like his first choice team available and it’s not like he has a very deep bench to choose from.

    It will however be interesting to see if the team line up in the same formation they used in the first clasico. That formation worked wonderfully to open up the areas of weakness in the madrid defense.

    I really like Sanchez playing as a striker. He can sit on the shoulder of the defenders and they constantly have to be worried about his pace. He doesn’t have to start early or risk offsides, etc. He’s explosive enough to simply beat almost any CB on pace alone.

    Moving him to striker is what really changed the Betis match for example.

    It’ll be interesting to see if Pep uses him in that role again with Messi playing as a 10. That arrangement really maximized how much space Messi had to work with.

    The one area where Pep is going to need to do some thinking is with Iniesta’s role. Iniesta played wide and Cesc played as a box to box player for the first half. That tactically made sense but didn’t work out that well in practice.

    Barca really missed Iniesta in midfield. Fabregas simply isn’t nearly as good right now in terms of possession.

    In the second half Iniesta and Cesc developed a nice rhythm together. When Iniesta cut in Fabregas would go wide. We may see more of that today from the start.

    I think we’ll see Barca take the same approach they did last clasico. Start out with 4 in the back. Watch to see how RM plays for 10 minutes and then make adjustments in the formation.

    This makes it very difficult for RM. Mourinho has to prepare his squad for multiple different contingencies. Which only adds to how much they need to think rather than just play during the match.

    • psqd
      January 18, 2012

      Agree on almost all points. But still want to chime in to repeat/reinforce a few. I really dislike when iniesta is hidden on the wing. He provides zoo much more in the midfield. If a midfielder is gonna play the wind let it be thiago and bring cesc on as a sub possibly.

      The biggest things pep will be looking to do are maintain possession and find space for messi. The first 10-15 both teams will be feeling each other out. That almost has to mean 4 at the back to start. Meaning dani as a dani version of a fullback not a wingback. I think that also likely means rather orthodox positioning up front for messi to start and let him float around, see who follows him where, and adjust accordingly.

      I, like a lot of people, expect rm to press pinto. Another reason for 4 in the back early. Give him more passing options before the momentum of the possession game is built.

  25. January 18, 2012

    The Prodigal, checking in:

    –Non-Liga encounters with Evil are not Clasics, to me, I have just decided. And even despite the fact that I care not a whit about the Copa, I would still be calm about this match, for the simple reason that we have the horses to win, but because sport is a capricious thing, sometimes it doesn’t take much to upset an apple cart. All we can do is support our players, hope they do their best and deal with whatever result comes.

    –An excellent result for me would be a draw. A win would have me over the moon, but I don’t know if such things are in the cards, given the state of things.

    –I hope that Guardiola doesn’t eschew his Copa thinking because of the opponent. The Copa is usually a tourney where we don’t field a full-strength, hell-for-leather lineup before the final match. I’d rather see us stick to our principles than go for it, so to speak.

    –That Betis match was a cluster. People looking for blame as regards goals should take comfort in the fact that as we attack as a team, we defend as a team. I can’t think of a single goal we have conceded outside of a free kick that wasn’t a team concession. As the computer types say, “garbage in, garbage out.”

    –I know that some are ripping on Fabregas for various things. And even though I still don’t think he’s worth what we paid, I think that his performance right out of the gate has been exceptional. Remember that though he cut his teeth in La Masia, he learned his trade in the Premiership. This means that he is still learning. In many ways, his assimilation delay means that he is unusually direct, resulting in key goals for us. No problems there. Has he lost some balls and struggled with where to be? Yep. So has Messi. Which means what?

    –Finally, a quote: A loss to Evil is like death. As much as we can hope to avoid it, such things are inevitable. The real question becomes how will we deal with it when it comes?”

    Okay, back to putting things in boxes ….

  26. Jafri
    January 18, 2012

    El Mundo Deportivo cartoon (From totalbarca)

    Pep: “We will bring football.”

    Ref: “ We will bring emotion.”

    Mou: “We will bring the bus!”


  27. blitzen
    January 18, 2012

    Mourinho is such a moron. Via @Barcastuff:

    Mourinho: “Compared to the cup final last year, they will basically play with the same players, but we’ll change 4-5 players.”

    Last year we didn’t have Puyol, Abidal, Cesc, or Alexis. Or Cuenca, for that matter. This year we are without both Villa and Pedro.

    Our starting lineup last year (for the final):

    Pinto, Alves, Pique, Busquets, Adriano, Mascherano, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Villa

    Our most likely lineup today (IMO):

    Pinto, Alves, Puyol, Pique, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc, Messi, Alexis

    • January 18, 2012

      It’s actually sort of sad in a way.

      It’s completely non-fact based. It’s just spin.

      And statements like that make it seem like he’s already planning how to make excuses for not winning another match vs. Barca at the Bernabeu.

      It’s a selfish statement. His players aren’t dumb.

      Last season the club insisted on having a parade after winning the CDR.

      These kinds of statements just don’t help his team. I’m sure the players see through them.

  28. Helge
    January 18, 2012

    Callejon starts… I somehow fear this guy… a parakeet and a madridista in one person = deadliest venom for Barca :/

    • blitzen
      January 18, 2012

      He’s not starting in the lineup I have seen.

  29. footballfan
    January 18, 2012

    Real Madrid starting XI: Casillas, Altintop, Carvalho, Sergio Ramos, Coentrao; Pepe, Xabi Alonso, Lass; Benzema, Higuaín, CR.

    Barcelona line-up (official): Pinto – Alves Pique Puyol Abidal – Xavi Busquets Iniesta – Messi Cesc Alexis

    • tutomate
      January 18, 2012

      Is that a 4-3-3 for them? Is he not parking the bus?

  30. nzm
    January 19, 2012

    Big news of the day – and dedicated to all the Live Blog people:

    Espinosa joined the first team practice today! 😀

    (Seriously – no joke!)

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