Barca outright favourites; advantage Chelsea, Dortmund
Posted Saturday, October 26 2013 at 01:00
Just this once the sentimental, fanatical and prejudiced fan of one club and league must get a touch cosmopolitan and sophisticated, and partake of one of those great buffets that European football serves up on special weekends like these.
That devotee to the English Premiership, Spanish football, the Italian or German versions, the purist with the fiercely sectarian sense of belonging, should loosen up and embrace the global village upsurge that has further lent to the distinctive universality of the beautiful game.
Three of Europe’s top five leagues have that must-watch game, with the fixture lists thankfully conspiring to play into the gluttonous enthusiast’s hands by serving up different kick-off times for each one.
The El Classico
No one needs any convincing to tune into the European derby, unarguably the biggest club game in the whole wide world.
With the Spanish La Liga looking to close the gap on the English Premiership in television viewership and revenue, kick-offs have been revised downwards to more universally palatable times and here in Uganda we this time have a Saturday 7pm El Classico as opposed to the usual midnight madness.
At Real Madrid where his big ego and the obsession with control sucked him into the murky world of the club’s politics, at Barcelona where they loathed him for more than just the gouging of a coach’s eye, and in most of Spain where his abrasive nature just rubbed them the wrong way, most were pleased to see Jose Mourinho leave.
For the first post-Mourinho El Clasico however, the man’s presence and its full implications will be missed, perhaps more than those involved will care to admit.
But for his arrival at the Bernabeu, Barcelona would have been well into their 6th year of total dominance of this fixture and it would have remained a Classico only in name, supremacy embodied in the person of Ronaldinho handed down to Lionel Messi and then conceivably to Neymar in the not too distant future.
Even for Mourinho the spell looked impossible to break initially, the football brand meticulously designed by Pep Guardiola leaving him dumbstruck in the Camp Nou dugout at his first time of asking.
Conjuring up a counter-design in his own mold he eventually turned the tables, starting with a laboured Copa Del Rey final victory, morphing into a more assured league-clinching display at the Camp Nou the following season and ending in a two-legged triumph in the Super Copa in his final term. How he went about that didn’t appeal to many including those at Madrid who however didn’t mind the trophies that those victories came with, but the reality of it all is most likely set to dawn on Spain this evening.
Neither side has come close to its potential best yet, but where Gerardo Martino only had to follow an established blueprint Carlo Ancelotti has had to map out his own, but is yet to.
The tactical approach will not be the same tonight; while Messi will be tracked, it will not be with the same premeditation and intensity; the physicality remorselessly applied by Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Samir Khedira and the full backs will not be on show; the speed of the counter-attack will not be at its scary upper limit; the referee will not be under pressure to think through repercussions and allow benefit of doubt …
Madrid have the individuals that can turn the game on its head with one moment of brilliance, from the gifted Isco through the inform Di Maria, the under pressure Benzema, Classico first timer Gareth Bale, the emerging Alvaro Morata or the aforementioned ‘musclemen’. But so do Barca with man for the big stage Neymar, the’born again’ Alexis Sanchez, sneaky Pedro, ingenious Andres Iniesta, the Classico-mad Xavi or the two marauding Brazilian full backs.
But the key protagonists remain Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, with the Argentine almost certain to have the edge brought by his incomparable ability and the team’s continuity which guarantees that while they will all still be playing for him, the Portuguese will rely largely on his own insatiable ambition and irrepressible will; with Mourinho gone, Madrid do not play the lightening-quick transition game intended to get the ball onto Ronaldo’s feet or head in a flash.
The departure from spontaneity and controversy gives Barcelona an advantage that Real Madrid will find so hard to offset.
Chelsea vs Man City
Almost 24 hours later, Mourinho goes into his own game a step ahead not only because of home comforts and Man City’s travel sickness.
Building from back to front, Mourinho has quickly established a unit that is more balanced and stable than Manuel Pellegrini’s. The engineer has to conjure up a better defensive and more rounded approach or be slain at Stamford Bridge.
Without Vincent Kompany the defence is wobbly; the central midfield combo doesn’t give it enough cover; playing two more creative midfielders and two strikers leaves them exposed. Pellegrini’s quandary is that Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo are in fine fettle individually and as a budding partnership, so the alternative is to play David Silva as sole playmaker, leave Jesus Navas and Sami Nasri out, and allow Javi Garcia to tuck in behind Yaya Toure and Fernandinho.
Mourinho’s only folly is the overuse of Frank Lampard, his previous striker qualms assuaged by recent goals for Fernando Torres and Samuel Eto’o.
Schalke vs Dortmund
Kicking off first at 4:30pm today is the Ruhr Derby in Germany. The Germans these days serve up relentless attacking football of a high technical quality, played beautifully, and few come any bigger than this.
Dortmund have the highest average attendances in Europe every season and their eternal rivals Schalke are sixth overall, the two sandwiching such elite clubs as Man United, Barcelona, Bayern and Real Madrid in that order.
Dortmund have Robert Lewandowski while Schalke are missing Klaas Jan Huntelaar, and the home team is overmatched all over the pitch, from Roman Weidenfella vs Timo Hildebrand in either goal, through one defence marshaled by Matt Hummels and the other by Benedikt Howedes, down to midfields spearheaded by talented rival playmakers Marco Reus and Julian Draxler, all the way to dugouts shepherded by world-beating Jurgen Klopp and virtual unknown Jens Keller.
But this is a derby …
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