Real Madrid v Barcelona: Key Battles

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The second Clasico of the season is already upon us. The first leg, in which Barcelona secured a narrow 3-2 win over Real Madrid at the Nou Camp didn’t really tell us much we didn’t know – Barca like to keep the ball and Real like to break at speed.

Despite Barca’s dominance a whirlwind second half means Jose Mourinho and Madrid go into the second leg needing only a 1-0 win in order to secure the Supercopa.

So, with some of the world’s best players going head to head for the first trophy of the Spanish season; where will the game be won and lost?

Higuain v Valdes

Gonzalo Higuain is expected to be given the nod to start this evening in place of Karim Benzema who, while not exactly out of form, hasn’t quite replicated his pre-Euro 2012 performances in Poland and Ukraine or in La Liga.

He’ll be charged with one simple job, rounding off Madrid’s quick breaks. Jose Mourinho has stated that Madrid will go on the attack after admitting his side were overly defensive in the first half of the first leg – but few people will believe that, especially given the close nature of the scoreline.

Valdes’ error for Madrid’s second goal will haunt him for some time so it is up to Higuain to put him under pressure and force the cracks open.

Messi v Ronaldo

Inevitably in any Clasico, the game is reduced down to a tussle between two men, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ignoring the fact that Andres Iniesta was head and shoulders above the pair of them at the Nou Camp, invariably the outcome of these games is usually determined by either man, with Real deploying some rather devious tactics in the past to stop Messi.

While Ronaldo has scored in the last four clasicos Messi has struggled, and although he scored from the penalty spot last time he spurned a host of excellent chances. Given the form he has started the season in, Messi’s finishing appeared out of sorts.

Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso will be charged with foiling Messi, although what will be interesting is if and when Luka Modric makes his debut (presumably as a sub and in place of Khedira). If they are forced to chase the game and call upon the creative Croatian, they will be more dangerous going forward but Messi will have more space to work in and the game could open up.

Possession v Counter-attack

In the first leg, Madrid were content to absorb Barcelona pressure in the first half before attempting to strike on the counter, something that worked for their first goal (although that came from a corner).

Sergio Busquets was caught napping and allowed Ronaldo room to head his side into the lead, and with Carles Puyol seemingly struggling with a facial injury, Barca could once again prove vulnerable at the back.

That said, when the game opened up in the second half it was Barca who looked the more dangerous, and should have been well clear going into the second leg.

Madrid must keep the game tight, drag Barca down and then target their underwhelming back line in order to claim the win.

Iniesta v Ozil

Both players make their respective sides tick, and will be crucial to the outcome of the game.

Ozil’s rangy style and wonderful array of passing is so key to how Madrid set up; attacks so often build through his ability to pick the right pass at the right time.

Iniesta meanwhile is perhaps the most in-form player on the planet, and has made a genuine case for himself to be named as UEFA’s best player in Europe later this month. The Spaniard was at the top of his game in the first leg, setting up Barca’s third goal with a dribble and pass of such beauty that it made grown men cry.

Busquets will have his hands full as he tries to nullify Ozil, but at the moment there isn’t a man alive who can stop Iniesta, so it seems as though it may be a case of damage limitation in that respect for Madrid.

Vilanova v Mourinho

When Pep Guardiola finally stepped down after four glorious years, Jose Mourinho must have breathed a sigh of relief. Alas there is no respite for the ‘Special One’ – Tito Vilanova has picked up where Guardiola left off and if anything Barcelona look hungrier than they have been for a while.

In Messi in particular, they have a player truly benefitting from a summer break.

However plenty of the Barcelona boys were busy for much of the summer and haven’t enjoyed a prolonged period away from the game. The heart of their side in Xavi, Cesc Fabregas and Iniesta all played for Spain at Euro 2012, as did Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, and Gerard Pique.

Somewhat sluggish in their last game, a scrappy 2-1 win against Osasuna having gone 1-0 down, Vilanova will be hoping that his side are fully up to speed for what will be a high intensity game.

They showed just how dangerous they can be in the first game but appeared a little sloppy, and if Madrid want to take anything from the game, they must hope their opponents are not at the top of theirs.

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