El Centrocampista

BATTLE STATIONS BERNABEU – A question of tactics

Real Madrid host Barcelona on Saturday night, in what has turned into the most hotly-anticipated clásico for a generation.

Meetings between the two bitter rivals are rarely dull occasions. Last year we had the 5-0 trouncing at the Nou Camp, Real taking home the Copa del Rey in extra time and Barça winning in the semi finals to make the Champions League showpiece, where they ran out winners.

The Supercope de España wasn’t without incident either, as tempers flared at the Nou Camp, ending in Jose Mourinho’s infamous ‘eye-gauging’ incident with Tito Vilanova.

Barcelona eventually ran out winners in the season curtain-raiser, but the progress Real made over the summer months was there for all to see.

Fast forward to the present day, and Madrid do sit on top of La Liga. This weekend’s win against Sporting Gijon meant Madrid will be at the summit for the visit of their fierce rivals.

One of the most intriguing battles during el clásico is that of the two managers, and not many are more publicised than between Pep Guardiola and Mourinho.

Local newspapers have predicted each side, but it’s fair to say that either manager could cook up any sort of tactical concoction.

Using the possible line ups, here is a diagram of how I’d expect it to pan out.

The Catalan press are currently expecting Guardiola to roll with his experimental 3-4-3 system, using a pivot in front of the defence and an attacking midfielder at the top of the diamond. In recent times we’ve seen prodigy Thiago Alcantara behind the front three, but it will almost certainly be Cesc Fabregas at the Bernabeu.

It’s an incredible gamble from Guardiola if true. It’s all well and good being able to win at home with a 3-4-3 as teams come to the Camp Nou trying to defend and limit their forays forward, but away from home it has already shown signs of being porous.

A faltering 2-2 draw at Valencia saw the defence carved open time after time, and this time they are visiting a team in red-hot form in Real Madrid.

For Madrid, we will most probably see Mourinho’s trademark 4-2-3-1 system as he has used for most of the season.

Angel di Maria is drawing plaudits for his fine wing play on the right, cutting inside to use his excellent left foot, whilst from the left you have the exceptional Cristiano Ronaldo.

Up front, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Karim Benzema or Gonzalo Higuain – probably the latter – there will be a huge goalscoring threat to deal with.

Despite fielding full back Fabio Coentrao in a holding midfield role, you would anticipate Sami Khedira joining Xabi Alonso in protecting the back 4, which has recently consisted of Marcelo, Pepe, Sergio Ramos and curiously, Lassana Diarra at full back.

You have to say that Diarra is probably the weak link in the side – he’s a defensive midfielder by trade and playing out of position in the biggest game of the season could see him hugely exposed by Barcelona’s array of attacking talent.

Despite an indifferent start to the season, David Villa could line up against Diarra on the right flank, whilst an interesting battle could take place on the opposite wing between Brazilian full back Marcelo and Barcelona’s flying Chilean winger Alexis Sanchez, who has really impressed in recent weeks.

Finally, I personally believe 3-4-3 is just too risky for this weekend. a 4-3-3 would make much more sense, but word is that he will gamble on his attacking formation. Madrid are in blistering form and will feel confident of overcoming Barcelona in front of their own fans to open a 6 point lead at the top of La Liga – with a game in hand.

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