Real Madrid must resist the temptation to sit back against Barcelona

After losing the first leg of the Spanish Supercopa 3-2, their away goals may tempt Madrid to seek to edge a 1-0 victory over Barcelona but that may not be the best decision..

Last week, Real Madrid were beaten 3-2 at the hands of fierce rivals, Barcelona in the Camp Nou in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup. Going into the second leg, the Madridistas are the ones who will decide how the game will be played and they would be ill-advised to sit back and attempt a narrow 1-0 victory.

Real Madrid took the lead through a Cristiano Ronaldo header from a corner, early in the second half only to concede the equaliser within a minute of the restart. Andres Iniesta’s brilliance then came to the fore as he was heavily involved in Barcelona’s second and third goals. First, his delicate turn inside the box invited the foul from Sergio Ramos that won the penalty which Lionel Messi converted with minimal fuss. Then the nippy Spaniard went on a mazy run before slipping the ball through for Xavi to finish and extend the home team’s advantage.

With the Catalans cruising with a two goal lead, the prospect of another ninety minutes at the Santiago Bernabeu started to seem a little unappealing but Victor Valdes ensured that the tie remained in the balance by producing a moment of madness. In attempting to pass the ball which was played back to him by an outfield player, he hesitated for a moment and was confronted by the charging Angel Di Maria. In a desperate attempt, he tried to shimmy away from the winger but was caught in possession as the substitute put the ball into an empty net to allow Real Madrid to take a 3-2 score line back to the Bernabeu.

With the away goals rule taken into consideration, those two goals Madrid managed at the Camp Nou appears to bear a lot of weight. However, Los Blancos would be wise to try and ignore those away goals as it brings with it the dangerous tendency of settling for a 1-0 score line.

The fact is that Barcelona is in better shape than Real Madrid as was evident during the first two weeks of the La Liga. Keeping a clean sheet against the Blaugrana remains highly unlikely and leaves the hosts with no choice but to attack intelligently. A 1-0 score line will be nearly impossible for Madrid to achieve but perhaps a 2-1 or a 3-2 score line may be on the cards.

Both teams have suffered from set-pieces off late but although that sort of thing has come to be expected by a relatively small Barcelona side, it remains uncharacteristic in nature for Jose Mourinho’s well-organized team. According to the Portuguese manager, there is no underlying reason as to why they have struggled to deal with dead-ball situations but insists that the players just need to do their jobs.

If the players can indeed follow their manager’s instructions, they could use Barcelona’s susceptibility from set-pieces to their advantage as they did for the opening goal of the first leg.

When the intent is to refrain from sitting back against an opposition, the common understanding is that the defensive line must be push up the field but when facing Barcelona, that could be a crucial error. Although the Catalans enjoy compressing play in their opponent’s half in order to show them no way out while poking and prodding at their defence, playing a high-line affords the pace of Pedro, Messi or Alexis Sanchez plenty of room to make runs in behind the defence. Playing a high-line is exactly what led to Barcelona’s equalizer in the first leg although Pedro appeared to be marginally offside on that occasion.

So how do Madrid approach this game? While they can allow the visitors possession in their own half, when the Catalans begin to encroach on their territory, the forward players must be deployed to close them down. With Barcelona likely to play two attacking full-backs in Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, the counter-attack is always going to be on as the two central defenders will maintain a high-line as well. Instead of chasing the full-backs every time they maraud forward, perhaps attempting to cut off the distribution to them would be a better option since it would instantly offer the option of springing a counter-attack.

With the forwards pressing the Barcelona midfielders, Madrid’s two central midfielders and defenders will need to keep their shape against the movement of the Barcelona front line but on the whole, Madrid need to repeatedly set up to break quickly on the counter. Yes, they will be taking the odd risk but they may not have a choice as sitting back and hoping to grab a goal out of nowhere is not an option.

Real Madrid are perfectly built to exploit Barcelona on the counter-attack and must play to their main strength. Picking the right personnel will be key. Di Maria’s inclusion over Jose Callejon who was largely ineffective in the first leg should be the obvious change while retaining the pace of Karim Benzema in attack must take priority over the clinical form of Gonzalo Higuain.

Barcelona should be confident at the Bernabeu as they haven’t lost a game there in four seasons but Real Madrid are now presented with an opportunity to not only beat their rivals in front of their fans but to lift some silverware at the end of it too. Following the disappointing start to their season, Mourinho will no doubt demand a strong response from his players.

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