Talking tactics: The five key areas that will decide El Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona
Saturday night's Clasico brings together modern football’s two outstanding coaching figures - Real Madrid José Mourinho and Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola.
While almost equally successful, the two coaches are very different in personality and set their teams out in very different ways.
Guardiola’s Barca play in their club’s traditional tiki-taka style, retaining possession and probing for weaknesses, which superman Lionel Messi then ruthlessly exploits.
Mourinho on the other hand prefers to move the ball forward more quickly so pacy forwards - especially Cristiano Ronaldo - can scythe through unprepared opponents.
Both these tactical approaches have their pros and cons, but how do they match up?
1. Barca’s possession v Madrid’s counter-attack
It would be a major surprise if Barcelona do not have more possession of the ball tonight, and Mourinho will not be unhappy with that.
His focus will be on the ‘transitions’ - looking to pounce when Barcelona’s moves break down and release Madrid’s fast and powerful forwards while Barcelona’s defence is out of position.
Will Barca’s converted centre-half Javier Mascherano be able to cover the gaps quickly enough?
2. Trivote or Enganche
During their current winning run Madrid have usually had Ronaldo and Ángel Di María on the wings, with Mesut Özil or Kaká in a central ‘enganche’ playmaking role.
The word from the Madrid camp however is that Mourinho may bench Özil and play a more defensive midfield ‘trivote’ with Lass Diarra alongside Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira. This helps defensively, but will it take too much away from their attacking thrust?
3. Ronaldo v Alves
Barcelona’s 4-3-3 set-up can often be very narrow, especially if Messi or Cesc Fábregas is stationed on the right wing and asked to drift inside.
Guardiola’s solution to this is usually to ask Daniel Alves to bomb forward from right-back, and the Brazilian regularly assists for Barca goals. Will Ronaldo go back with him or lurk upfield waiting to be released quickly on the counter?
4. Eleven v eleven
One of the most important figures in tonight’s game is likely to be referee David Fernández Borbalán who will need to take control of both sides.
Indiscipline has let Madrid down in this fixture before, while Barca’s players have been rightly criticised for some over-the-top theatrics. Could a red card decide the game?
Guardiola has often pulled a surprise in this fixture before. In 2009 he moved Lionel Messi from his then usual right-sided attacking role to play more centrally as a ‘false-nine’. The following year he lined up with Gabriel Milito as one of three centre-halves.
Might Pep have something new planned for tonight? Don’t put it past him.