Will Tidey - Real Madrid could whitewash the El Clasico World Series
Published: 14 Apr 2011 - 09:53:42
The world's best manager against the world's best team - underpinned by almost a century of political and footballing hostilities, and dressed with a smattering of the most glamorous, expensive and expressive players that ever played the game.
No wonder the so-called 'El Clasico World Series', between Real Madrid and Barcelona, has got football fans frothing with excitement.
Battle commences on Saturday, with a La Liga meeting at the Bernabeu. Four days' later the teams meet in the final of the Copa del Rey. A week after that they're back at the Bernabeu for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final.
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By the time the second leg comes around on May 3rd at Camp Nou, the two teams will have met four times in the space of 18 days and pulled in a television audience of 2 billion people (500 million watched their Champions League semi-final in 2002, won by Madrid).
It's a quite delicious coming together of fixtures and fate - one that will define the seasons of both clubs and lay bare their desperation for success. Success that will be all the sweeter for coming at the expense of their most bitter rivals.
The majority will expect the briliance of Barca to prevail. Pep Guardiola's team purred to an irresistible 5-0 win at Camp Nou, inflicting the worst defeat of Jose Mourinho's career and producing some of the most scintillating stuff you're ever likely to see.
It was tici taci torture for Madrid that night, orchestrated by the creativity of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi, and executed ruthlessly by the finishing of David Villa. Mourinho said he felt "impotent" afterwards, and you knew exactly what he meant.
But we know enough about the Special One to know it won't happen again. And on the evidence of his team's performances against Tottenham, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Madrid win the league meeting and the Copa del Rey final, and then take the Champions League semi-final on aggregate.
Five months on from their Camp Nou nightmare, Mourinho's Madrid are a lot closer to how he envisaged them. In midfield, Sami Khedira is thriving, while Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria are relishing their roles alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, in support of a main striker.
Mourinho's signings were still adjusting back in November, but now they're well oiled in his ways - and doing exactly what he bought them for. His team have conceded four goals in their last 10 league matches, and only once in their four knock-out games in the Champions League. And they're counter-attacking superbly.
They might have lost lost Mourinho's first home league game for 150 matches against Sporting Gijon, but don't be fooled by the blip. And bear in mind Gijon would have beaten Barca too, if not for a late Villa equaliser in February.
The problem for Barca will be living up to the expectancy that comes with being a truly great team - some would say the greatest of them all. And if Madrid can stop them scoring, that expectancy could quickly turn to frustration. And frustration makes us think of Barca's defeat to...Mourinho's Inter last season.
It starts on Saturday, with Mourinho looking to avenge a 5-0 loss at the Bernabeu. Expect his team to pack midfield and not give Xavi or Iniesta an inch. Think Chelsea at their prime, and Inter last season. And expect Real Madrid to make this one of the most committed meetings El Clasico has ever seen.
The league title is already gone, but Saturday's game is about opening statements. And Mourinho will want to make a bold one. If they do, an unthinkable whitewash could be on the cards.
- FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:Will Tidey
- Will Tidey writes on sport for CNN, Eurosport-Yahoo! and Bleacher Report, amongst others. His first book, 'Life with Sir Alex', an account of Sir Alex Ferguson's 25-year reign at Manchester United, is set for release in October this year. Pre-order it now at http://tinyurl.com/6xzl62b. And follow Will on Twitter here - www.twitter.com/willtidey
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