Two Clásicos Down, Two To Go

The battle is lost, the war is not. Repeat that to yourself 500 times. Feel better about the Copa loss? I sure don’t, but I do find some consolation in the knowledge that while we have tied and lost so far, the two more important Clasico’s have yet to come.

The most interesting thing about the first two games is that Mourinho has effectively laid his cards on the table. We know going into the Champions League games he is going to utilize an extra player in midfield (likely Pepe), Madrid is going to defend tightly, they will try to disrupt play in the middle of the pitch as much as possible, and they will look to play quick counter-attacking football by taking advantage of space behind our fullbacks. Sure, Mourinho has options which alter his game plan slightly – whether he wants Benzema or Adebayor as his striker (if he uses either) for example – but Madrid will continue to play a style like they did in the last two games. We also know that Madrid is going to make tactical fouls, dive occasionally, play dirty off the ball, and generally try to disrupt play. It’s not a pretty style to watch, but I’ll leave it to Di Stefano (and undoubtedly Valdano if Barcelona progresses) to criticize the mentality Mourinho has imposed at Madrid. There’s also no reason to complain about it. It’s like playing foosball with the kid who constantly spins the players, you can’t stop him from doing it, you can only beat him by being a smarter and more technically proficient player.

Mourinho's Tactics?

On the flip side of the coin Pep has been playing his cards extremely close to his chest. In the first game it was quite obvious that possession took precedence over creating scoring opportunities and that a tie would be a good result. In the Copa final Pep chose not to start Captain Caveman, an indication that the match was the least important of the four. While some pundits are claiming Mourinho has solved the Barcelona puzzle, in reality Mourinho has ceded an important tactical advantage – he has given Pep a chance to respond tactically.

He used Dani Alves as a winger in a Clasico last year, Milito as a left back in the Champions League semi-final, Yaya as a center back in the ’09 Champions League Final – Pep is no stranger to making tactical alterations for important games. Despite the injury crisis we are experiencing he still has some serious choices to make. Keita could start in the midfield in one of the games with Iniesta moving up front (this would also give us a game changing forward on the bench). He could revert to a 3-4-3 to try to minimize the space Madrid likes to exploit on the counter. With Adriano injured, should he start Maxwell at left back or risk Puyol  there? Should he risk Puyol even if Maxwell does start? Maybe we should look to bypass the midfield and get the ball wide to create space more often. Pep also has the diverse talents of Afellay, Thiago, and Mascherano to give him flexibility in his tactics.

Whatever he chooses to do, knowledge is power, and knowing how Madrid is going to approach the game gives Pep an advantage for the Champions League.

Whatever Pep chooses to do, the players have to come in motivated and execute. In both games the players had mental lapses and to progress in the Champions League the team needs to have absolute concentration. This is why if Puyol is fit he absolutely must play. We have never missed Puyol more than during the first half of the Copa del Rey. With the team looking adrift we needed someone to stand out and provide the team with a rallying cry – “Look! There stands Puyol like a stone wall!” It’s no surprise that Puyol has been absent from all of the last five games we have lost. To progress we need more than Pep scheming, and having Puyol on the field will provide a huge boost for the team.

While Puyol has to start if he is healthy, David Villa’s automatic starting spot needs to be reconsidered. He has just equaled his longest streak without a goal (11 games) and there is no sign that the end is in sight. He has certainly been working hard and pressing well, but we have other players who can do these things and also provide more in their respective roles at the moment. Pep made a mistake in playing and off-form and not completely fit Ibra in the Champions League semifinals last season. Unfortunately the time has come to ask whether Villa might be a better option off the bench in one or both of the upcoming matches.

To be the best a team has to be able to overcome diversity. Due to Barcelona’s dominance in the league over the last couple of seasons a lot of us have forgotten what it is like to have our team lose. However, these are the most exciting times – a team is ultimately defined by it’s ability to battle through adversity. We may have lost the initial battle, but if we win the war it won’t matter.

Madrid knows the Copa isn't what matters...

As a final note – this is how Madrid treats their trophies. We can’t let them disgrace the Champions League like this.

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  1. Alex
    April 21, 2011

    So, my wife and I might get a wild hair and go to Barcelona to see the semi-final leg at the Camp Nou. Anyone recommend a reliable website to purchase tickets for the game?

    • April 21, 2011

      The official site is the only one who’ll have tickets for Socios, they have the links for the other official ticket sites. Its the only ones I trust to use.

  2. Para
    April 21, 2011

    At the beginning of this series of matches, I worried that half-way in, reaching (what I view to be) the most important games, that I would be…not losing interest, but not looking forward to the next two.

    I’m not though- I’m totally excited, and your post pretty much sums up why. What changes will Guardiola make? Will he make none? How is he going to react to the temporary loss of Adriano? And aside from all that, how are the players going to be? Do they have the energy left in them to make a push through the semis, and then in the final?

    There’s an endless list of permutations and possibilities, some of which are certainly less than desirable…and that’s what makes it all so simultaneously terrifying and exhilerating.

    • vicsoc
      April 21, 2011

      I’m not going to lie, I haven’t been this excited for a game since the second leg semifinal against Inter last year.

      It may just be the cule in me, but I love having a chance to see the team triumph against the odds.

  3. OSBAG
    April 21, 2011

    I bought the 5-0 DVD today and be stopped being sad since. Guess I won’t remem.yesterday’s loss if I kp on watching.

    the wonderful memories this team gifts me….. 

    • Barcaleya
      April 21, 2011

      Hi Osbag – may I know where you buy Barca games DVD? Thanks!

      • OSBAG
        April 21, 2011

        Here, pirated copies of foreign movies, series and sport events are readily available in the market. that’s the way we can get it affordably

        • Barcaleya
          April 21, 2011

          Thanks! Guess I won’t be able to get it here then 😀

          • CuleToon
            April 22, 2011

            Just torreent it and you’ll find several HD copies (720p and 1080p).

  4. Great way to look at things. I was saying the same thing to my brother (a madridista) about Mou showing all of his cards last night. He has to play negative, because he’s been beaten when he’s tried the other way.
    Now my hope rests on Pep coming up with a gameplan that will negate some of those tactics. I personally think that Messi needs to stay out wide, not drift into the middle so much. That means all 3 forwards stretching the play. When Messi and Alves started linking up in the 2nd half (on the right), things got better.
    I think Puyol will play, no way is he missing THIS series.

  5. April 21, 2011

    Second half looked like Madrid was just dragging serious ass. They were exhausted the only one with good legs was Ronaldo, and we saw how they took advantage of this. Anyways, I think if we utilize their tiredness with some effectiveness, we can win the next two, the ones that matter (to most).
    Absolutely agree on Villa, I think Afellay should start on Saturday and see if more minutes he’s been given lately have taken some effect. The late subs have to stop, Afellay showed up with fresh legs to the rest of the team crawling on the ground, had he been in around the 60th minute or so, I think it would’ve made a huge difference, while Xavi was still contributing.
    War is definitely not over.

  6. Miguel
    April 21, 2011

    It’s like playing foosball with the kid who constantly spins the players
    Exactly! My little sister is a spinner. God I hate her. 😛

    That whole “if you play a team enough times you’ll win atleast once” thing works both ways. Mourinho’s due for another ass kicking IMHO. 😀

  7. OSBAG
    April 21, 2011

    Barcastuff is claiming a deal with villareal for rossi

    —-After a meeting on Tuesday between his agent and Barcelona executives, a deal on the transfer of Villarreal forward Rossi would be close.

    Notice there is no source.

    And this
    —–Rossi (24) would join on a 5-year deal worth 3M a year. Barcelona would pay Villarreal 30M. A youth player could be included. [gazzetta]

  8. OSBAG
    April 21, 2011

    I just realized this ; out of a first team squad of twenty, four are injured with three of them being defenders. That leaves four of our seven defenders active with milito unreliable.
    So sixteen plaayers left makes five available for bench while we have to use maxwell and macherano to cover up for first team absentees. This leaves milito, keita, jefferen and affellay on the bench. whom of all these can really change d outcome of a match. Probably affellay whom might be benching villa soon.
    No wonder Pep couldn’t make a worthwhile change yesterday.
    This brings back to mind Tom’s post some weeks back on where we need strengthening and whom we might buy.

    For d next classicos, there are a lot of changes pep could consider (most of which has been discussed in d earlier post). Which ever he chooses I only hope They play like they want to win.

    BTW, alves as RW appeals to me most if puyol(if he gets well) and Maxwell(if we ronaldo won’t outrun him) to cover for his defensive absence.

  9. blitzen
    April 21, 2011

    Alves: “Guardiola says he’ll stay as long as the players are following him. I hope at least until 2015, when my contract ends.” [via atlas]

    So, essentially, forever. 😀

  10. blitzen
    April 21, 2011

    I have not downloaded the match, but I appeal to the greater community: Can anyone anywhere provide me with a clip of that gorgeous move Iniesta made on the sideline in the second half? You know the one I mean, where he backheeled it to himself under pressure from 3 attackers. I needs it.

    Enjoy one of my favourite comps in the meantime:

    • Jnice
      April 22, 2011

      Do you mean second half of extra time? Because I just went through the whole second half of regular time and I did not see it.

      I’ll download the second half of extra time and check.

      • blitzen
        April 22, 2011

        Yes, I think it was in extra time, sorry about that.

  11. blaunero
    April 21, 2011

    You know, I’m mighty tired of hearing public pronunciations of genius made on Mourinho’s head. It’s time to shut him and his up for good. I hope Guardiola is as pragmatic as Benitez was in days of old. Then we’ll see what has always been there. They call Mourinho a genius because he tells his players to counterattack. Let’s see what the genius and voice of his generation does when faced with the same poison he spews. Flood the midfield with midfielders–Mascherano, Keita, Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta. Let Guardiola instruct our players to keep the ball into our half and only there. Let’s see what Mourinho does then; let’s see what he does when he has to face a team as counterattacking as his. Benitez showed that Mourinho is quite clueless when he meets his defensive match.
    I’m under no illusions here. This will never happen. But it is, I’m convinced, the only way to beat him at this point. It’s unlikely he’ll field the 4-2-3-1 again–the 4-3-3 has worked perfectly, so why should he change? We are the ones who need to change our attitude for when we face him.

    • beeeef
      April 21, 2011

      An interesting thought, but I think we need to be very assertive with our play from the first minute. Lots of passing, movement, and stretching the play all over the pitch. This team needs to answer their critics and take advantage of Carvalho’s suspension to score an away goal or two. And if we could score the opening goal in the first half, that would be immense.

      I think Pep needs to play a complete B-lineup against Osasuna this weekend, and hope a week’s rest will be enough to get things clicking again.

      I definitely have a good feeling about this though. On its day, this team is simply unplayable. Should be an amazing European night next wednesday.

    • outerspacedout
      April 22, 2011

      Or we could just show up fitter with some rest, fresher, more motivated, and straight-up angry, and play like we did in the second half of the Copa final but with more intensity, Messi with his game face on, Pedro clicking up an exclamatory gear, and Villa with a bit of rest and actually both finish our chances and play properly the whole ninety minutes. Also, be motivated and angry. His defensive tactics are just enough to match us over ninety minutes on a day where we were kinda meh and a day where we completely switched off for 45 minutes.

    • outerspacedout
      April 22, 2011

      Also, I’ll be disgusted if we start playing negative, withdrawn, Mourinho/Benitez-style football. That’s not what Barcelona is about.

    • outerspacedout
      April 22, 2011

      I mean, in a way, wouldn’t losing our identity for Mourinho be a far greater victory for him and a far greater loss for us, than a mere match?

      • blaunero
        April 22, 2011

        I’m Ahab and Mourinho is Moby-Dick, from hell’s heart I’d stab at him. I’d have whatever remains of my soul sold to the devil if it meant beating him and shutting him up once and for all.
        Why is it, I ask, that most of us here complain of the inexistence of a plan B, yet when some others propose emulating the negative tactics used against us against those very teams we say we’d be reverting to negative football? I don’t think Mourinho cares how he beats us, nor do his hordes–why should we care how we beat him? I say I’m tired of hearing Mourinho and his worshipers blather about counterattacking football.

        • Jim
          April 22, 2011

          Fair points but for me we are too good to lower ourselves to that level – and secondly why bring pressure on ourselves if that’s the weakest part of the team – and when we’re playing well it is.

          If we copy him, he wins and football loses.

  12. BarcaGirl_Indo
    April 21, 2011

    Pep made a mistake in playing and off-form and not completely fit Ibra in the Champions League semifinals last season.

    and I’m afraid he’s gonna make the same mistake with Villa…
    late sub thing needs to stop…

    c’mon Pep, we can lost the battle, but we MUST NOT lose the war…

    the lost in Copa del Rey should wake up the sleeping lions…
    and if we have the Lion King’s heart on the field, we’ll be just fine… 😀

  13. Humphrey Bogart
    April 22, 2011

    Madrid did win against us because they wanted it more. They were more hungry, they did make the extra metre, did run that second more fast. Now they have their cup and the feeling that they are superior. I hope they keep this feeling and in the next game it will be our guys who go the extra inch, who fight the extra bit.

  14. Whatever
    April 22, 2011

    I just can’t comprehend how we look completely reborn when the second half started? They were better in the first half, and then we simply changed something and dominated them and had quite a few chances. What did we change? Euler? Can we play the whole time like that and kill them off in Madrid?

    • Jnice
      April 22, 2011

      I’m not completely certain, but I think it was a combination of fatigue on their part from the sheer amount of energy they put into the first and maybe instructions from Mourinho to drop off us a little bit. Add that to what I’m sure was a real ‘wake the F up’ type halftime talk from Pep and some of the leaders in the team and I think you’ll start to arrive at some answers.

    • Para
      April 22, 2011

      You can see Pep on the sidelines telling the players to shift the ball back to draw RM forward somewhat as well- would’t that have created more space?

  15. Jim
    April 22, 2011

    They weren’t really taking us up on that though, Para. To me, we just upped our game to more like our normal level, which meant moving the ball just a smidgen quicker and not making mistakes when in possession. I also thought Iniesta came into it more further forward.

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