Disclaimer: Those unfamiliar with the background of the Latin term “advocatus diabolic” – it is usually a role given to someone to take a position and make an argument which doesn’t have to reflect that persons actual conviction. To give it some context, I’m a FC Barcelona fan. Although my allegiance is always placed under scrutiny since I refuse to sing the gospel of FC Barcelona’s infallibility. I reject the notion that fans must exempt their club from criticism under all circumstances. Any environment void of valid criticism is a breeding ground for ignorance. I formulate my discontent, or criticism, because I strongly believe there’s room for improvement.
Heading into the final El Clasico of this calendar year Real Madrid actually boast the superior stats over their Catalan counterparts in 2012 (the calendar year, not the entire 2011/2012 campaign). The Jose Mourinho-led team record for 2012 stands at 2-1-2 and 10:9 goals. Although the statistics suggest a fairly even match-up between these two sides, Real Madrid actually won the ties that were of importance (the La Liga encounter that all but sealed the title for Los Blancos and the return leg of the Supercopa de Espana). More importantly, Real Madrid have overcome their mental block and finally recorded a win at the Camp Nou, a feat that eluded them in previous season during the Pep Guardiola era. The Camp Nou is not the Catalan fortress of seasons past. One contributing factor is of course FC Barcelona’s fragile defense, the sight of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique at the heart of defense has become a rare sight.
However, it would be a huge discredit to attribute Real Madrid’s recent resurgence over their eternal rivals to FC Barcelona’s troubles at back. Whether the aesthetic of Real Madrid’s rather direct football philosophy is attractive is appealing or not is a matter of personal preference. Nevertheless, one must acknowledge their efficiency in front of the goal. The first choice quartet of Cristiano Ronaldo (60), Mesut Özil (7), Angel di Maria (7) and Karim Benzema (32) scored a staggering 106 goals (in all competitions). Aiding the Fantastic Four from the bench, are Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Maria Cellejon with 26 and 13 goals respectively.
The Special One has the quality and the depth at his disposal to execute Plan A, B and C should he wish to do so.
In direct comparison only Lionel Messi has scored more than 20 goals at Barcelona, a stupendous 73 goals. Although it must be noted that David Villa’s absence from December ’11 onwards and Pedro’s loss of form have contributed to La Pulga’s isolation. An apples-to-apples comparison is impossible since Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have two different systems in place. Real Madrid under Jose Mourinho employs a direct 4-2-3-1 with the emphasis on rapid counter-attacks, while FC Barcelona adheres to a near absolute devotion to a 4-3-3 formation and possession-based play. Still, the numbers suggest that the goals are more evenly spread amongst Real Madrid players.
Ever since Lionel Messi has shifted to the center the goal exploits of his fellow forwards have decreased. In 2008/2009 FC Barcelona boasted three players who scored more than 20 goals: Thierry Henry (26), Samuel Eto’o (36) and Lionel Messi (38). In the following campaigns no other Barcelona came even close to score 30 goals. On the other hand, Cristiano Ronaldo is scoring at almost the same rate as his Argentinean counterpart but not at the expense of his teammates. It’s a safe assumption that someone is there to shoulder the goal-scoring burden in case Ronaldo misfires. While both players are widely regarded as the world’s best, Real Madrid are slightly less dependent on Ronaldo than Barcelona on Lionel Messi. At Barcelona La Pulga is the fulcrum of the attack, the last player to receive the ball. At Madrid Ronaldo is the first and most prominent recipient of a through ball, though not always necessarily the last.
Real Madrid will travel to Barcelona with a near full-strength side while their hosts rue the absence of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique through injury. There’s an off-chance that Carles Puyol will be available for selection but he hasn’t performed in the last couple of weeks, has he? After a very brief stint on the sidelines due to whatever reason, Sergio Ramos is back in the heart of defense for Real Madrid. Together with Portugal international, Pepe, the former Sevilla youth product forms what is arguably La Liga’s best defensive partnership, boasting physicality and pace. In goal Real Madrid can count on the services of probably the world’s best keeper, Iker Casillas. Unlike his opposite number Casillas rarely puts a foot wrong. The beacon of consistency he is not known to make the same mistake twice, let alone invite opposing forwards to lob over him (ehem, Victor Valdes I am looking at you).
The first choice quartet of Cristiano Ronaldo (60), Mesut Özil (7), Angel di Maria (7) and Karim Benzema (32) scored a staggering 106 goals (in all competitions). Aiding the Fantastic Four from the bench, are Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Maria Cellejon with 26 and 13 goals respectively.
Furthermore, Real Madrid’s unprecedented spending spree in 2009 added some illustrious names to the squad, or rather bench, who would walk into any top side in Europe. The marquee name here being Kaka. Not to mention the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Raul Albiol, Fabio Coentrao and new signing Luka Modric. Quite the bench Los Blancos have assembled over the years. With the sole exception of Cristiano Ronaldo, Jose Mourinho can pick a like-for-like replacement for his preferred starting XI. The Special One has the quality and the depth at his disposal to execute Plan A, B and C should he wish to do so. Meanwhile, even though he acknowledges that opponents have finally figured out how to stifle FC Barcelona, managerial novice Tito Vilanova isn’t well-equipped to make slight changes, let alone wholesale changes, if they were not born out of sheer desperation or his own undoing (Alex Song as centre-back, anyone?).
FC Barcelona’s current ‘lead’ over Real Madrid is misleading and hides the fact that the current Blaugrana squad may be its most imbalanced side in years. Real Madrid need to win the El Clasico in order to salvage any hopes of retaining their La Liga crown, and they need to be at their merciless best. On current account one would be advised to not dismiss a lopsided victory courtesy of Los Blancos come Sunday, October 7th, 2012.
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