Of Psychology and Windbags: El Clásico

Copa Preview: Barcelona – Real Madrid, Wednesday 4pmET, GolTV

Fame and fortune appear to have different effects on different people. Keith Richards describes Mick Jagger as turning from a likeable guy to a sort of uncontrollable showman once the fame went to his head. The same was true of guitarist Brian Jones, but that mostly acid doing the talking after a while. And yes, I’m reading Richards’ autobiography, Life. It’s pretty interesting even though I don’t know much about the Stones or the time in which they came into being. Still, it got me thinking: people who are under intense pressure to produce the best thing in the world at whatever they’re doing (painting, music, football), are as likely as anyone else to crumble or change. Bernd Schuster said that Pepe, a man he signed for a lot of money, is a different person when he puts on his jersey. He wasn’t defending Pepe’s actions–indeed it seems he was doing the opposite–but he was pointing out that the red mist, as a Marine friend of mine called it, descends and you’re changed until it lifts.

That hat is super imposed, isn't it?

You become aware of your own privilege and your own expectations rise to meet that thought. When you’re wronged, there’s a propensity to overreaction. That willingness to cross the line after you’ve been humiliated, shown up, or antagonized (whatever you wish to call what Barça does to RM), is wrong. Perhaps more importantly for what we’re talking about here, it’s also a fundamental a weakness. I firmly believe that Busquets’ willingness to go down too easily is a weakness. I think it harms the team by making refs think, rightly or wrongly, that Barça is faking most of the time. The same is true of off-the-ball incidents like Pepe’s footloose moment. If a team is constantly seen stomping on opponents after the play is over or when the ref isn’t looking, the next match they’re more likely to receive harsher treatment for more innocuous fouls.

When Messi is slammed to the ground in the box and there’s no call, that’s probably thanks to someone else’s faking earlier or even in a different match. When Pepe gets a red card for his studs up challenge on Alves (whether there’s contact or not is immaterial), that’s the previous 20 fouls and after-the-fact video evidence calling it for the ref. That’s natural. Most of the time it’s the player in question who gets the next card or no-call, but sometimes the whole team suffers.

The media coverage of Pepe’s descent into the fires of impetuousness can actually exacerbate the situation by putting even more pressure on a player who is already carrying a lot of weight around on their shoulders. That, in turn, can cause Busi to fall over even more and Pepe to stomp even harder. Being called a cheat can simply make you more of a cheater as you try to make up for the perception.

Does that, then, cause your coach to kind of freak out? Both Tim Vickery and Sid Lowe seem to argue yes, though Sid goes through the motions of talking specifically about what Mourinho did to curb the effects of the leak to Marca and then what happened after that. It’s fascinating in a train-wreck sort of way as Mourinho becomes more hunkered down in his storm shelter and the press go in for the kill, sensing weakness and dreaming of such grand carrion. Perhaps it will all backfire, as both Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas have been quick to point out that they’re going to lay their lives on the line in tomorrow’s game, for Madrid’s pride, for their own pride.

Yet if they do that, if they really do lay it all out there, will they lose even more than they can possibly gain? At the Camp Nou, the crowd will influence the ref. It’s the way these things work, whether you want them to or not. Their performance in the first leg pretty much ensures a raucous crowd full of whistles and fever-pitch partisanship. When Messi is scythed down, there will be howls of the utmost pain from the stands. When it happens again, it will be for blood. Cards will be shown more quickly and the match will settle into a rhythm in which the slightest touch is exaggerated and the ref is constantly forced to make instant decisions regarding the bookability of fouls. It won’t be easy.

The ref for the match is Teixera Vitienes and he’ll have his hands full. Word on the street is that Pepe, Lassana Diarra, and Esteban Granero are all fitness doubts for the match, but I expect them all to be available and to see the first two play. Di Maria and Sami Khedira look set to miss the match with injuries while Carvalho and Kaka seem to be fully recovered and ready to go.

You’ll forgive me, I hope, for not really caring who they put out. Whatever the plan and whatever the lineup, they’re going to try to win by kicking Barça out of the stadium. That should be clear by now. If they don’t try that, they will be trounced. They’ll press high and they’ll try to force mistakes. With their talent and their athleticism, they can keep that up for a while, but not without the occasional foul to keep the tricky little midgets from running around them. As the match wears on, that means the pressure, the need to win, will mount and they’ll find themselves leaving the boot in, studs raking “accidentally” more and more often. Cards will mount. A red card will be shown. And then the polemic will live on for another cycle. So it goes.

That’s pressure for you. And Barça removed a good deal of the negative pressure from themselves by scoring those 2 second-half goals to shift all of that to their opponents. Remember, a 0-1 win for Madrid means Barça goes through (aggregate score would be 2-2 and Barça would have 2 away goals to 1). Madrid must score at least 2 goals to advance, meaning they must come out to play. And could lead to some nasty collisions between the two teams when FCB starts to threaten.

Quickly, the possible outcomes:

  • Any win for Barça and Barça are through
  • Any draw and Barça are through
  • FCB 0-1 RM and Barça are through (2-2 aggregate)
  • FCB 1-2 RM and the match goes to extra time (3-3 aggregate)
  • Any win for RM other than those mentioned above and RM are through (ex 0-2, 3-4, 5-13–basically: x-x+2)

So there you have it. The simplest way to think of it is: win and we’re through, draw and we’re through, lose and we’re out. That’ll simplify things quite a bit for you.

Who, though, defends the colors against the hordes of capitaleños trying to storm our fair city? Probably:

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

Just going out on a limb here. Pedro could start, but he’s been playing like butt recently, so that seems unlikely. Cuenca provides width, but has been youthfully, exuberantly missing for a good while now. I actually forgot he was on the field against Betis for the entire first half.

Pinto just signed a contract extension with the team (yay!), meaning he’s certainly going to start the match tomorrow. He remains our Copa keeper and so we’ll start him. Because that’s how we roll, no matter how bad his keeper error in the first leg was. And it was bad. I feel like I would have saved that, that’s how bad a non-save it was. That is not because I am better than Pinto, far from it, but rather because I would have panicked and curled up into a little ball, thus deflecting the ball to safety since it would have been shot straight at me along the ground. And I would have worn the resulting bruise as a badge of courage for as long as it lasted.

Here’s that fame and fortune thing again, though: Barça is full of the most famous and most fortunate (see what I did there?) of players, yet they don’t seem to be succumbing to pressure in the same way. What Madrid has done is built a need to defeat Barça in order to succeed. What Barça has done is nearly the same, but the pressure is off because of the previous wins. Now that Mourinho appears to be Barça’s whipping boy, Barça’s players can go in prepared and focused on a particular game plan instead of nervous that they’ll screw it all up. Guardiola’s position as coach is secure whether he wins a single trophy this year or not. Mourinho’s is not.

The differences between the players seems fairly obvious too: Jorge Mendes is your agent or you are not important. Perhaps I’m wrong about that, but here are the players who Jorge Mendes represents on the RM squad: Pepe, Carvalho, Cristiano Ronaldo, di Maria, and Coentrao. Here is who Jorge Mendes also represents: Jose Mourinho. Is there much doubt why Mourinho gave little known and even less used Castilla defender Pedro Mendes playing time in a Champions League group stage match? No points if you guess who his agent is. One thing that I should note here is that Jorge Mendes appears to be a very, very good agent and has his hand in lots of cookie jars. His clients on RM’s roster are also amazing players (whatever my bias says at other points, they’re talented) so it’s not hard to see why they get playing time. But they were purchased over other, potentially as good players, because of Jorge Mendes. And the case of Pedro Mendes appears (appears–I don’t know for sure!) to be favoritism thanks to his relative lack of playing time even with Castilla (7 appearances in 21 matches if Wikipedia is up-to-date).

Jorge Mendes: fancier (and probably richer) than you

These differences, real or imagined, seem to be galvanizing a sort of terrible anti-Mourinho climate in Madrid. The opposite is true in Barcelona, where (as far as I know) no super agent controls half the locker room and the coaching staff and maybe that’s coming out now. There are haves and have nots in Barcelona, but they appear to be “can you dominar el balon or not?” questions rather than who represents you. In a world where everyone is absurdly talented, little things like who your agent is can be huge things.

As long as Messi, Xavi, and the rest of the team don’t fall into the drugs and rock’n’roll lifestyle of the Rolling Stones, things shouldn’t fall apart. Certainly there will be players who simply don’t mesh with the overall system (Hleb, Ibrahimovic, even Eto’o), but Guardiola appears to be bringing everyone together and making them a cohesive unit rather than building them into a juggernaut capable of ripping everything in front of them to shreds so help me God. That’s part of the away “doldrums” the team has been experiencing, yet they’ve also won twice at the Bernabeu (who else can say that over the last few years?) and have put together the second best away record in the league.

The pressure is off, though. Barça have won it all in the last couple of years and while everyone wants to continue winning it all, they don’t have to. We, the fans, just want them to. If they don’t, we’re not raging against all things Guardiola or whoever we’re blaming for the loss. We’re moving on to the next match, where our expectations shift to “let’s pick this up” instead of “let’s get a manita”. That’s healthy.

Madrid fans are ticked, no matter what’s going on, if they keep losing to Barça and getting bounced from tournaments. The most recent loss must have been extra hard because they have the tools to attack for 90 minutes, but instead chose to go a full match with a regiment of defensive midfielders and an actual trench in front of the goal fronted by barbed wire. And they still lost. So now there’s morepressure to perform at the Camp Nou. There’s more pressure to do something spectacular and finally beat Barcelona in a way that really hurts.

Official Prediction: 1-1. I think the game gets bogged down in midfield (read: fouls) and we squeak out. Our goal by Messi, because it’s in the Camp Nou.

Also, Happy Birthday to Xavi, who turns as old as Gandalf today, but has just as much magic as that old geezer too. Kari demands that I link to this (admittedly awesome) picture of him.

And, yeah:

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.


  1. It’s really great to be in this position as a Barca fan even though they are ahead in the league and still our main rivals in Europe.

    Watching the circus go down in Real Mad EE, all Cules are quietly enjoying the show. Having said that, I must show some respect to the real mad fans for the way they have criticized the team for setting up themselves in the petty way they did against us.

    The question is, would the fans still have been as vocal in their dissent against maureen’s methods if they were able to scrape even ugly wins against us? I don’t think so.

    Whatever, I’m glad that Maureen and Penaldo are getting found out for who they really are. I believe that one shows his character the most when he is in tough situations.

    This was always going to happen. If Maureen was so cocky in his winning days, it was only certain that he was going to retreat to an even more ugly side when he would lose. And that’s whats happening.
    I’d prefer him to leave asap, not because I see him as a threat but because then i can accept a loss more easily and spanish football and Real Mordor deserves better.

  2. I think we will see a relatively clean game, after all the talk in media outlets about pepe’s stomp and all the reactions from almost everyone watching, i dont think EE will be physical, Mou will tell his players to be extra carefull with thier tackling as he doesnt want another media storm.

  3. 1-1, yeah, I can live with that..

    I just have 2 wishes :
    Barça qualify to the next round and all of our players will be alive and healthy when the ref blow the final whistle.

    I imagine Camp Nou will be very hostile after what happened at Bernaboo..

    well.. Som-hi, Barça!!!

  4. I think you are all missing the point.

    It’s Xavi’s birthday.

    Happy 32nd!

    Without a doubt, my favourite Barcelona player of all time – and, probably THE best midfield player I’ve seen in my lifetime and in Barcelona colours….ever.

    Big call I know, but – in my 2+ decades of supporting Barcelona, that’s how high I place him.

    Anyway, as for the match, we will win 3-0…

    Word on the street also is Mou is getting ready to leave come June – seems like there is a lot of discontent in the locker room AND in the Capital – not to mention Mou probably being at his wit’s end for trying to beat Barcelona.

  5. Hi, the situation at RM with regard to Mendes and his players is identical to what was happening in Romania, where agents like Becali brothers – good friends of Mourinho, by the way, and with deep links to criminal world – were doing the same with our national team. National coaches were promoting only players represented by these agents.

    In regard to the game, hope it will not be a close encounter; thou’ I believe RM has been able to come here and get a decent draw this time I think we stand a better chance of winning clearly: first they are missing some inform players: di Maria and Khedira and we can add Pepe too here – whether he plays i think it will be a liability for their team; another difference is that our team has made real progress from last season – Cesc and Sanchez are now solid points in our team. I suspect that we will be able to control the middle in this game – Alonso has been looking so poor in the last games !! and this will be the key to what will hopefully be a blau-grana key victory!

  6. by the way at the Bilbao game a fan had a banner saying ‘Pepe, my son does not want your t-shirt’ …

  7. @barcastuff
    Official: The Spanish federation has made the final decision to not punish Real Madrid player Pepe for his stamp on Messi last week #fcblive

    what a ‘surprising’ news.
    it’s an obvious statement from Spanish Federation to Evil Empire:
    kill ’em! do whatever you want, you have our permission.

    1. to be honest I’m so scared right now, I’m worried about our player safety, I mean, those evils can do whatever violence and can get away with it.

      it’s really frustating.

  8. Must we also mention that Messi, although kicked and manhandled last week, he was still off form? Saw some spark back on him vs Malaga, and hope to see it today. As the wise Rooney called him, The Idiot will be out for blood today, I just hope he screws up in the box again, that’d mean 2 goals in about 200 corners.

  9. Thiago for Cesc today?

    We can afford to have less directness today. I want Thiago to play the Villa role, much like the santos game. And Don geniusta to spend more time centrally.

    p.s: Thoroughly enjoyed the review!

  10. Mirandes!

    Their annual budget is $1.5M(!). Their stadium holds 6000 strong.

    Only the second time a club so small has made it to the semis. Amazing news amidst all the Pepe/clasico mess. I hope they make it to the final. Great story for football.

    1. It’s pretty amazing. What’s even better is they knocked out the Pericos in the process.

      Their next round rivals are likely to be Biesla’s Bilbao. Not easy at all.

    2. Yes, will be a near impossible task against Bilbao, especially in the Cup, but still must be the experience of a lifetime for the players. Hell I would love to be allowed to run around on the San Mames pitch for one minute, these guys will get to play a full 90 minute game 🙂

    3. Hell yeah they are loving it. They are also first in the third division. They are the hot topic at a football forum I visit. Did you know that one of the players had work the next day? Some of them aren’t pro football players!

    4. Yes was reading something like that. Actually read their captain works at a bank, not sure about the source. Can you imagine?

      “Uh, boss, listen, can I please take a day off? I kind of have a CDR semi-final to play. I swear I’m not making this up!” *takes sick day

    5. LOL yes in this economy the poor guy will probably have to use a sick day. And I think he confirmed it in a post-game interview where he said he had to be at work at 9am tomorrow but tonight he’s going to party.

  11. let’s not count our chickens just yet. EE can win this game, and even if they don’t they can win the league and CL, especially if we meet in the final.

    As for Mou, there are a couple of possibilities:

    1. if EE win the CL everybody will love him. Regardless of how he behaves off or how his players behave on the pitch he will be considered an EE legend.
    2. if EE win the Liga (but not the CL) Mou will probably get fired or leave at the end of the season.
    2a. if he gets repeatedly beat by Barça for the remainder of our encounters he will probably get fired
    2b. if Barça does not humiliate him he will probably decide that winning the league for EE adds sufficient prestige to his career and leave on his own account
    3. if we KICK THE EVIL SONS OF B****** *SSES today with a 3 goal difference or more they might fire that arrogant, sleezy, nasty, disrespectful, cancerous, M**********R this week!!!! Not saying it will happen, but I am just saying it though 🙂

    1. EE can win this game, and even if they don’t they can win the league and CL, especially if we meet in the final.

      well, if EE can’t win CdR and win La Liga + CL instead (God, forbid that), at least we prevent them from winning the treble, eh.. 😕

  12. Here is hoping for an attacking, free flowing soccer game between two legendary football teams.

    I have so much respect for Pep, and yet, every time he continues to blow my mind with his statements, formations, actions and ways in which games pan out. The guy is beyond class.

    “Let us leave Pepe alone,” Guardiola told a news conference. “If his coach wants him to play, then let him play and I hope this will be the best possible possible for everyone.

    “I hope that what happened with [Luis] Figo will not be repeated because the club’s fans regret what happened.

    “If it happens again, it means we have not learned anything and that we are not the club we have to be. It would hurt more than to be eliminated.”

    1. Well Pepe won’t take corners, will he?

      I respect Pep and all, but sometimes he goes a bit too far with his “turn the other cheek-ness”.

      This is football, not 20th century colonial India.

    2. Pep is really brilliant. He is indirectly and politely reminding the Camp Nou crowd the *Figo treatment* ! 😀

    3. Pep is all class all the time.

      I really hope Pepe doesn’t play today because I really don’t want to see the Camp Nou fans descend into that level of hatred. I just want to watch a football game, not a lynching.

  13. A third goal in the first leg would have sealed this tie. But that third goal didn’t happen.

    As such – the result is still very much in doubt.

    The key thing is to make sure that Barca do not concede yet again early in the match.

    In many ways, it’s great that the team came back from two consecutive 1-0 scores. But in other ways, it’s a real negative. There’s no need to make things so difficult.

    If Bara score first today – that’s really going to make it difficult for Madrid to advance. But if Madrid score first – especially early – then it will be very possible for them to find success.

    This isn’t exactly like the CL semis last season. The first leg was 0-2. This time its only 1-2. That’s a major difference and makes RM’s job much more practical.

    I’d guess that RM will come out and try to pressure high for at least the first 15 min in the hope of forcing an error at the back to promote an early score.

    Avoiding that will be an important step forward for progression. That will be the first game within the game to win.

    Need Iniesta to have a big game. He can’t have the inconsistent match in front of goal that he had in the first leg. Get a chance – bury it and bury the tie.

    1. Every player in the Barca shirt needs to have a big match today.

      I believe they will have a block protecting the area between the defenders, and the three man defensive midfield just like last much. The only two players allowed to operate in that space last match were Fabregas and Alexis. The rest of the team will be setup to feed these two. Finishing by these two will be key today as they will have the majority of the chances like last match. There is obviously the carousel of midfield players moving into scoring areas like Xavi Iniesta Alves.

      In the end, the way Barca play, there will be many chances created through out the match, and finishing will be key.

      Hoping to see a Fabregas screamer from outside the box. I keep dreaming that he will score one of those fabulous goals he used to score when playing for Arsenal in the EPL from outside the box.

  14. I hope our players end the match without any injury.
    I just have a strange feeling that Mourinho is winding the players up to break someone’s leg tonight 🙁
    Been worried all day about it.

    1. I knew the story somehow different. That it was Cruyff’s influence on Laporta that finally convinced him to opt for Pep; i knew that Mourinho and AVB had already started looking for players, that they gave a list with future signings…

  15. I couldn’t disagree more with some parts. “I think it harms the team by making refs think, rightly or wrongly, that Barça is faking most of the time. The same is true of off-the-ball incidents like Pepe’s footloose moment. If a team is constantly seen stomping on opponents after the play is over or when the ref isn’t looking, the next match they’re more likely to receive harsher treatment for more innocuous fouls.

    When Messi is slammed to the ground in the box and there’s no call, that’s probably thanks to someone else’s faking earlier or even in a different match.”

    There’s no way that one Busquets embellishment causes a clear PK not to be called on Messi in separate games, weeks apart, with different officials. That’s foolish. Look at all the di Maria dives for PK from last year yet RM have 9? this year.

    Officials are human, I’d like to think there’s no foul play involved with their choosing, their thought process, but who knows. I disagree with any conspiracy theory but I guess there’s always a possibility.

    Pepe, Marcelo, Carvalho, Mou, Ramos. They’ve all committed insane acts of violence versus Barcelona in the last 12 months, and their punishments? Mou has what? a 1 game in a match he may not make? The rest? Nothing. Maybe Marcelo the same for a red card ban.

    Mou’s pressure on the referees works. I hate that. Pep may be letting this happen by being humble, but I fucking love that. You can’t deny the fact that Pep is the humblest trainer out there. Only once do I remember him complaining about referees and that was against Almeria. The fact that I remember the one time must say something.

    I wish Busquets stayed on his feet more, Alves too. Even Iniesta. I wish we didn’t hound the ref for cards, complain about fouls, etc. But this is the game. We don’t have 11 Peps out there playing saintly football. Some of the vitriol and nastiness of the game will go through regardless. The fact that Barca are considered cheats, or even more so worse cheats than Madrid for their “diving/play acting” rather than Madrid’s physical acts of violence seriously bothers me. The press are starting to realize Madrid are playing like all out thugs against Barcelona, but people only seem to remember Busquets versus Inter. These assholes watch 3-4 Barca games a year, and only remember that.

    Oh well, Visca Barca.

    1. The Busquets Fairness Committee would like to remind all of you that there has been very little diving or embellishment from him at all this season. This despite him being one of the most fouled players in the entire league. Our membership hopes that people will start giving him more credit, but we’re not holding our breath.

      The Alves Fairness Committee is just laughing and walking, laughing and walking. 😛

    2. Disagree, but maybe he really is that frail and brittle. He’s pretty skinny so its possible none of this is actual embellishment?

      p.s. I’m not dead or anything.

  16. Am I the only one that’s worried about what will happen in the liga clasico if we win again today? If we only win 3 out of 4 clasicos between Liga and CDR (which is likelier than winning all 4) personally, I’d prefer the third win to be in the Liga, since it seems to be our only chance of holding on to the league title.

    A draw (or even a 1-0 loss) today will be enough to go through, and will reinvigorate the boys to go all-out for the next one.

    This rivalry is turning into a pressure-cooker and it couldn’t hurt to release a little steam before the long rest of the season ahead.

    Not trying to be negative, just presenting another way of looking at things…

    1. This is my favorite bit.
      So, tell us one more time…. How did that situation between you and Van Gaal get so out of hand?

      “For me, when he stepped into the Barcelona job and immediately told the world he would revolutionise the youth system, as it wasn’t functioning. That was quite a kick in the teeth, not just to me, but to dozens of people in Barcelona. I was instrumental in that system, with Tonnie Bruins Slot and Van Gaal sent away busloads of players he didn’t like. The next thing you know, he brings busloads of Dutch players and coaches to Camp Nou. That was a massive mistake. Barcelona has culture. Has history, and Van Gaal bulldozered through this like an elephant. If you don’t recognise what that identity needs, you are not fit to be Barcelona’s coach. Pep Guardiola recently said that the current success of Barcelona was seeded in my time. That opinion is worth much more to me than what Mr Van Gaal has to say about it.”

    1. They funneled half their attacks through Ronaldo on the left while we had an even spread… I personally thought we were more left-dominant as well, but good to know our attacks came from all over the place. Makes marking harder.

      And Puyol should be on the right, not Pique.

  17. No Clasico Liveblog?

    Lineups out: Pinto, Alves, Puyol, Piqué, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc, Alexis, Messi.

    EE: Pepe, Pepe, Pepe, Pepe, Pepe, Pepe, Pepe, Pepe, Pepe, Pepe, Pepe

  18. So, all clásico previews from now on are going to end with that gif? I can deal with that. 🙂

    Tactically, I wonder if anyone else feels the same way I do about Fabregas and Iniesta – I really prefer Ini in the midfield closer to Xavi, not being the one maintaining width on the left. It seems like he and Ceec switch off sometimes, but I’d like to see Cesc as the wider player on a more permanent basis. Thoughts?

    Anyways, let’s win this one for Xavi!

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