Counter kings Real versus lords of possession Barca

MADRID, (Reuters) – The most dangerous team  without the ball, counter-attack kings Real Madrid, host lords  of possession Barcelona tomorrow  in a titanic  clash of footballing philosophies.

The world’s two richest clubs by income will lock horns for  an eighth time since Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho took the  helm at the Bernabeu a year and a half ago and they could be  forgiven for being sick of the sight of each other.

European champions Barca, who continue to be considered the  benchmark in world soccer, are chasing a club record-equalling  fourth consecutive La Liga title and under coach Pep Guardiola  have held an almost hypnotic hold over their arch rivals.

Guardiola has won seven out of 11 ‘Clasicos’ since 2008 and  after former Barca assistant coach Mourinho arrived at Real in  2010, when the intensity of the rivalry soared, he has notched  three wins, three draws and only one defeat.

Mourinho’s one success came in last April’s King’s Cup  final, but by the Spanish Super Cup double-header in August  Madrid could claim to have at least matched Barca on the pitch  as they fell 5-4 on aggregate.

Saturday’s match at Real’s Bernabeu stadium is unlikely to  stray from the standard script of Barca seeking to control  possession, with Real applying asphyxiating pressure and then  breaking quickly when they steal the ball.

“Barca are going to dominate the ‘Clasico’ but I believe  this is exactly what Madrid want,” Ajax coach and former Barca  player Frank de Boer told Spanish daily El Pais on Wednesday.

“Madrid are more dangerous when they don’t have the ball  because they have so many quality players who can make things  happen, letting you have possession and pouncing on your  mistakes.”

 UPPER HAND

One big difference this time round is that Real hold the  upper hand just over three months into the season.
They top the standings by three points with a game in hand  and are on a run of 15 straight wins in all competitions. The  pressure is on Barca to come looking for a victory.

Real have suffered six red cards to Barca’s one in the last  seven ‘Clasicos’, and that has in part been due to the anxiety  and frustration they have felt as they have tried to overhaul  their bitter rivals.

“Madrid are euphoric and physically strong at the moment,  all their players seem to be in top form,” former Real director  general Jorge Valdano told Spanish radio this week.

“Barca have looked weaker on the road this season and  because of this Madrid start as favourites. This has not  happened for a long time.

“(The points difference means) it is inevitable there will  be some anxiety and this is a terrible enemy for Barca. Madrid  suffered from it before.”

The main question for Mourinho will be whether he sticks  with the 4-2-3-1 formation which has served them so well of  late.

The alternative, which caused Barca problems last season  when Pepe stepped up into midfield, is a 4-3-3 line-up with two  holding players alongside creative fulcrum Xabi Alonso.

Sami Khedira and Lassana Diarra could provide lung-busting  running while a more creative midfielder such as Mesut Ozil  would be sacrificed.

Top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, La Liga’s leading assists  provider Angel Di Maria and strikers Karim Benzema or Gonzalo  Higuain would then provide the quick-breaking forward threat.

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