Saturday, Feb 28th 2015

Guardiola’s major challenge is team squad for ‘clasico’

Saturday, December 10, 2011 - 00:00 -- BY DICKENS OLEWE
Lionel Messi
Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring against Bayern Munich during their Champions League quarter-final, first-leg soccer match at the Nou Camp stadium April 8, 2009. REUTERS/Marti Fradera (SPAIN SPORT SOCCER)

This weekend is all about the “El Classico”, it’s almost sacrilegious to talk about anything else. When it comes to the battle between Real Madrid and Barcelona everything else takes a back seat. This fixture however comes at the back of mounting criticism on the status of the Spanish domestic league.

Real Madrid and Barcelona have dominated La Liga by monopolising the leagues’ revenue which has given the two clubs a competitive advantage against the others. Seville president Jose Maria del Nido recently said only two teams could win the title and he was right. Real Madrid come into this crucial game aware a win against Barcelona will almost guarantee the title even though there’s a lot of football to be played before the end of the season.

The opinion among many pundits is that Real Madrid have improved under Jose Mourinho and this could be the day they beat Barcelona. Mourinho has managed, almost flawlessly, to rally the expectations of his star-studded side to think as a team. He has successfully handled Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuian admirably; it’s no mean task for a manager to deal with the ego and ambitions of two world class strikers. However, he will have to make a very big decision on who of the two strikers will start.

Mourinho will look back at the Copa del Rey victory against Barcelona last season to evaluate what worked for him. What was then a tactical masterstroke was to play Pepe in midfield, the Portuguese was outstanding. The absence of Ricardo Cavalho will however force Mourninho to play his fellow countryman at the back alongside Sergio Ramos while shifting the midfield responsibility to Sami Khedira and Lasana Diarra. Barcelona’s offensive play starts in midfield and Mourinho will want to limit Barcelona’s effectiveness.

I think Pep Guardiola will fancy his side to once again beat Real Madrid, the battle for him will be his team selection. Unlike Mourinho who seems to have imposed his will on the team, I get the feeling that Guardiola is struggling to satisfy the array of talent at the club. Cesc Fabregas has been in good form, he has scored more goals than David Villa, he also has the same number of assists as Xavi Herndandez. He is basically irreplaceable.

Alexis Sanchez has also edged out another regular, Pedro Rodriguez. Guardiola’s dilemma will be whether to stick with the tried and tested team or put faith on his “in-form” players. Even if he wins this match I think he’s likely to upset at least two players. Already reports from the Spanish press say that David Villa might put in a transfer request. These reports are likely to go up an ante if the Spanish striker is left on the bench for tonight’s match. I reckon that if David Villa is continuously sidelined then interests in the Spanish national team will urge him to leave Barcelona for the sake of the national team’s ambitions.

Finally, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have dominated the match preview. The two have been in superb form and if there’s a night when their contribution will be required then it will be today. With only a point separating the two sides, only Messi and Ronaldo can determine the difference between the two sides. Both players have 17 goals and each has five assists to their name. I reckon that whoever sacrifices his personal glory for the teams’ victory will win the day.

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