Soccer

Champions League Semifinal: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid

After last fall’s 5-0 debacle in the Nou Camp, Jose Mourinho (as only he can) has flipped the narrative. The pressure is on Barcelona. The Catalans secured the Spanish title. They’ve been Europe’s most dominant club side, but, if they miss the Champions League final and emerge from four Real Madrid matches with nothing, this season will be a failure. The first two clasicos were fun. It’s these next two that count.

Both teams have tactical puzzles to solve in midfield and defense. Andres Iniesta is injured, meaning Seydou Keita will start for Barca in midfield. This gives Barcelona some robustness, but saps their fluidity and decreases their options going forward. The Catalans must also play with no natural left back, as Maxwell, Adriano and Abidal are all missing. Puyol has the pace and athleticism to fill in at left back, but not having it in the middle could make it a vulnerable point for direct Madrid attacks.

Real will be without Sami Khedira in midfield, who has been a rock for them lately. Diarra is no slouch as a replacement, but Mourinho relies on such precise implementation of his tactics, a new face at such a key position in the pressing game could be a critical factor. They are also short a defender, with “Master of the Dark Arts” Ricardo Carvalho out with a suspension. With Pepe pushed forward, Madrid shoudl start Albiol and Ramos in central defense, not their ideal pairing.

Madrid have the more exhaustive task (mentally and physically), trying to chase the ball. But, they should come out attacking in the first leg at home and have some serious firepower – Kaka, Higuain, Adebayor, Benzema – waiting on the bench. The last two matches were incredibly close, with neither team claiming a decisive advantage. It would be disappointing if these matches were any different.

The winner will be those of us watching. The loser may be the Spanish national team.

[Photo via Getty]

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