El Centrocampista



Barcelona again edged out their fierce rivals in another closely contested el clásico game at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The teams lined up with Madrid taking a bit of a gamble in the shape of Hamit Altintop slotting in at right and 3 holding midfielders in a clear ploy to stifle the Barcelona midfield.

Another interesting point in terms of selection for Madrid was that Ricardo Carvalho played his first game for Madrid since September, and he looked a bit rusty throughout. Altintop moving to right back meant Pepe would play in midfield, just like he did in the Champions League game at the Bernabeu last season.

Barca on the other hand fielded the same side from the league game in December bar Victor Valdes, who dropped out at the expense of Pinto, with Alexis Sanchez, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta up front. Similar to the game in December, we saw Iniesta playing wider and further advanced than Cesc Fabregas and trying to give as much support as possible to Alexis Sanchez.

The first 15 minutes saw Pepe sticking to Messi like glue, a clear tactic deployed by Mourinho as Madrid started with energy and vigour.

The goal came when Dani Alves had pushed on to support the attack and Karim Benzema threaded the ball through to Cristiano Ronaldo to exploit the gap and fire through Pinto and in. You had to feel that if Valdes was in goal, there may have been a save instead of a goal.

The goal did highlight the forays forward by Alves though.

Early on he was constantly pushing forward and the front 3 of Benzema, Higuain and Ronaldo were exploiting the space in the Barcelona back line.

Messi was quiet in the early stages, constantly shackled by Pepe. However, when Pepe received a booking in the first half, it seemed to free Messi up as Pepe knew he was walking a tightrope and couldn’t afford an ill-timed challenge on the Argentine wizard.

Madrid stuck to their stifling tactics though, stuffing the middle of the park as Barca struggled for width and Barça went into half time trailing 1-0 and with much work to do.

But whatever Guardiola said or changed at half time, it sure worked; talismanic captain Carles Puyol scored with a diving header just after the break to level the scores up, and from there Barcelona looked like the only time capable of winning the game.

Madrid’s early energy had worn off and Barcelona’s incessant passing game was taking it’s toll on the Madrid players and frustration began to set in with some petulant actions from Pepe and plenty of mistimed, ugly tackles from some players too.

Eventually Mourinho brought on two attacking players in Mesut Ozil and Jose Maria Callejon to try and push Barcelona back a bit, but the niggly nature of the second half meant chances were few and far between.

And it took a piece of magic to win the game and it was that man yet again that came up trumps for Barça.

With few options apparent as Messi took the ball on the edge of the box, he spotted a superb run from Eric Abidal and played a delightful ball over the defence for the onrushing full back, and Abidal kept his composure to poke the ball past Iker Casillas and into the back of the net.

And that’s how it stayed in Madrid. Many of the characteristics in the game can be compared to the league game – Madrid started brightly and looking to take charge of the game but tired after half time and Barcelona took full advantage to claim the win.

At least the game is not lost for Mourinho as the second leg is next week – but after his stifling tactics failed again, what can Mourinho do to beat Barcelona and advance into the semi-finals of the Copa Del Rey?

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