Eight points on Real Madrid 2-2 Barcelona

August 16, 2011

The starting line-ups

The 2011/12 Spanish season started with an open, exciting Supercopa first leg between Barcelona and Real.

Like the Community Shield, a full-scale analysis of a semi-competitive fixture would be a little much, so here are eight talking points from the game:

1. It was interesting that Jose Mourinho went with exactly the same XI that was humbled in the 5-0 at the Nou Camp last year. The subsequent four Clasicos were all about Mourinho trying to correct the mistakes from that game. Real’s main playmaker in 2010/11, Mesut Ozil, barely featured in the Clasico mini-series, and when did, he was shoved out to the flank. For Mourinho, there was an element of demonstrating to his players that they’ve improved in the past year – from a 5-0 thrashing to a draw, without compromising Real’s natural plans (as they did in the subsequent four games).

2. Real’s main tactic in the Clasicos last year was to quickly play the ball in behind Barcelona’s advanced full-backs, taking advantage of that space and dragging the centre-backs wide. They tried that again here, and it worked perfectly for the first goal – Karim Benzema moved to the right in behind Adriano, Eric Abidal had to move to the left, and Ozil was free to finish in the centre. This appears the best way to attack Barca, and it’s notable that it was Benzema – rather than a winger – who got in behind, for the wingers can’t bring themselves to be brave enough to let Barca’s full-backs go free.

3. On the other flank, Cristiano Ronaldo was used up against Dani Alves. This happened twice in the five games last season – once in the 5-0, once in the 1-1 second leg in the Champions League. Alves makes significantly fewer forward runs when up against Ronaldo, and it will be interesting to see if Mourinho is prepared to play Ronaldo there in the league meetings between the two sides.

4. Pep Guardiola has complained about his players’ lack of fitness – Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano, Dani Alves, Alexis Sanchez and Adriano were at the Copa America, whilst the club’s US tour caused further difficulties. “The problem is that the heat prevented us from training, and has hampered the team’s level of intensity,” Guardiola said. “We used to have pre-season in Europe, but now we tour. We have to adapt…we really need more time to get to our peak fitness.” This was obvious in how little they pressed throughout the game, far less than in the previous two campaigns.

5. That lack of pressing – combined with a more positive approach from Real – meant that Barca enjoyed much less possession than usual. Statistics vary according to precisely how ‘possession’ is calculated (see Opta’s explanation) but 48% seems to be the most frequently-cited number, more than 10% more than in any Clasico last season.

6. The use of substitute Fabio Coentrao in midfield was another interesting development. He played in that position during Real’s pre-season games, and because Marcelo did rather well in Coentrao’s favoured position of left-back last season, he might find himself used there more regularly this season. He brings a lot of energy to the role, and can also move to the left and offer Marcelo cover, something the Brazilian doesn’t get from Ronaldo.

7. Barcelona spent the second half of last season struggling for centre-backs, but haven’t purchased anyone who can play that role. Instead, Javier Mascherano again started at the back, hinting that the arrival of Cesc Fabregas into an already-congested midfield zone might mean either Mascherano or Sergio Busquets plays more permanently at the back, meaning another ball player can be accommodated in the side.

8. Perhaps you’d expect it from a small, pacey versatile attacker, but Alexis Sanchez already seems to fit into Barca’s system seamlessly. He’ll essentially be doing the reverse of what he did last season at Udinese – starting wide, then cutting in, rather than starting centrally and drifting to the flanks. His movement here was excellent, especially the way he moved diagonally across the front of the Real defence. The one caveat to this is that he likes to receive the ball to feet in deep positions, before running at pace. Barca’s current system requires the wide players to play higher up, and Guardiola will have to be careful he has enough vertical movement from his forwards.

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