- Football - Spain - La Liga
I always find time to write a preview on el clasico. After all, it's the classic.
When Juande Ramos was appointed manager at RM in Dec, his 1st match in charge was against Barcelona. Refresh, motivated & more organised, his charges performed admirably at Nou Camp but fell 0-2 late in the game. Truth be told, it was an undeserving result. Neverthless, the defeat left RM a staggering 12 pts behind their Catalan rivals.
That was then.. .
19 rounds later, Ramos guided RM to to 55 pts from a possible 57, including breaking the club's away record. The 12-pt gap is now 4. A RM win this weekend will not only see a thrilling finish to the season, it could earn Ramos a permanent gig for next season. Ramos de juan??
Why RM are value at 1st glance?
There's little doubt who needs to win this classic. RM must win to stand any chance of pushing Barcelona down to the wire. Barcelona on the other hand, don't need to. A draw is enough as they would then maintain the 4-pt advantage, superior H2H & have the easier remaining fixtures. The point I'm driving at is, RM will be looking for 3 pts, or even to better the 0-2 defeat while Barcelona are happy to take the draw.
This makes DNB a value prospect.
Historically, Barcelona are never a club who plays for a point. However, this classic is sandwiched between their CL semi-final games so it may be prudent to rethink their traditional approach. Moreover, they come into the game on the back of a very hectic April that included matches against Bayern Munich, Sevilla, Valencia & Chelsea.
H2H, form & momentum
When it comes to recent H2Hs, say last 10 meetings, it's no surprise it's a split 4/2/4. However, one point to note is there had been 5 home wins, 2 draws & 3 away wins. If we extend the coverage to 30 games, it's 14/10/6. Clearly, there's home advantage so imagine if you could have DNB on each game.
Incidentally, RM are 3/2/1 in the last 6 meetings & have won the last 2 Bernabeu encounters.
RM probably have a marginal edge in terms of form (last 6). They are a perfect 6 out of 6 while Barcelona are 5/1/0 domestically & 3/3/0 if you include CL. With form comes momentum, so advantage RM. This is especially so with Barcelona failing to win in their last 2 outings. After all, winning is a habit (and can sometimes overshadow physical deficiencies).
Distracted & bruised
Since Barcelona haven't done the job in their CL semi-finals 1st leg at the Nou Camp, the venue that has decided their last 2 knockout ties, there is plenty to think about in their return leg at Stamford Bridge next week. Another worry is they have only 1 centreback for that trip! Indeed, these are unwelcome distractions.
Despite Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola introducing discipline & physical conditioning since joining the club, he couldn't prevent the bruising lesson his boys picked up against Chelsea. And this was right after another physical encounter at Valencia!
Man for man
In the goalkeeping dept, RM have the clear advantage. Casillas is the #1 keeper in the world since Buffon & Cech decided to put on headgears.
However, Valdes' agent might have you think otherwise. He's talking dollar & sense.. . yeah right.
In defence, RM are fairly solid with the Ramos-Cannavaro-Pepe-Heinze quartet. Of course, we all know Casillas have saved their blushes many a time. Here, Pepe serves his never-ending suspension so Metzelder comes in. He's not too bad to be perfectly honest. Morever, they did start in the 1st classic so it will be nothing new to him. Put it this way, if we can't trust a German defender, who else can we trust?
The problem for Barcelona's defence is perhaps more significant. Marquez's season-ending injury in midweek means Puyol will start at centreback, alongside Pique (G Milito & Caceres is still out). He is usually a good defender but having just returned from injury, he is a weak link. In the Valencia game, his lack of fitness nearly caused a pk, miscommunication (with Valdes) conceded the equaliser & lack of pace/positioning resulted in 1-2. Lastly, the Pique-Puyol pairing looks abit bulky against the quicker Higuain, Raul & Huntelaar.
Ok, the key question to ask in all Barcelona games is who/how to stop Messi. I thought Chelsea's Bosingwa did well to keep Messi reasonably quiet. So, perhaps playing a right-back is the solution since a natural right-leggged defender is more comfortable & has wider reach marking lefties who enjoys cutting in. In fact, this tactical approach (to mark Messi) was first adopted by Ramos-Ramos when Juande put Sergio at left-back in their last meeting.
No certainty if Ramos will employ the same approach, esp if Heinze is available. The very least, no one knows Messi better than fellow Argentinian Heinze.
In midfield, Barcelona have 2 of the best in Xavi & Iniesta - world player of the year materials I kid you not. There's no question they have a big edge here but RM could nullify them by having 2 combative ball-winners in L Diarra & Gago. I thought Chelsea did ok with a similar setup, playing the physical Essien & Obi Mikel.
Either Yaya Toure, Busquets or Keita will add the physical presence for Barcelona's 4-3-3. RM's 4-4-2 will be flanked by Marcelo - the most improved player in the 2nd half of the season. All it took was a change of position from leftback to leftwing. It doesn't take a genius to know Brazilians don't defend! The right side is meant to 'go dutch'. Robben, RM's version of Messi, is still a doubt. If 'Glassy' (since he is so prone to injury) doesn't make it, Dutchmen Sneijder or van der Vaart will start. This side is Barcelona's weakest area so RM may consider playing Higuain here & get another Dutch, Huntelaar, to partner Raul in attack.
Upfront needs little introduction. Barcelona's attacking trident - Eto'o, Messi & Henry accounts for no less than 70% of the team's goals. Also worth mentioning is Eto'o, out of pure vengence & hatred, has a great record scoring against his ex-employers. As for RM, Raul will give RM experience & composure but we can expect more following his hatrick at Sevilla last week. Strike partner Higuain, in good scoring form at the moment, is a game-winner by himself.
I know RM's home performances haven't been as impressive as their away but at least, they are still undefeated under Ramos. For this clash however, I foresee RM will play this match like an away team i. e. give their opponents more possession which they enjoy. RM will sit their 4 defenders & 2 ball-winners back & create about 25-30m of space for their 4 attackers to maximise their pace on counters. This has been their successful away strategy so far.
On a final note, let's talk about conspiracy. I can't help but speculate a conspiracy for a RM victory. Here's why:
1. EPL have a big market share so a competitive & thrilling end to the Primera can only help the league (also worth noting that the league is going through its worth financial crisis);
2. A win for RM opens up the competition again, which means more suitcases of monetary incentives will be in circulation for clubs to beat Barcelona in their remaining fixtures. Remember, General Franco's club believes money & power get results;
3. Higuain, RM's most valueable player this season, has already been spared twice in his last 2 outings. His card vs Getafe was rescinded so he could play Sevilla & he was shockingly not cautioned for a horrendous tackle in that match.
It all comes down to value in the end. This should be a -0. 25 affair, by virtue of home advantage, relative urgency for result, H2H, form, timing of the game & to a smaller degree, conspiracy.
|01/05/2009 05:49, read 3903 times