Sunday, 23 March 2014

Real Madrid v Barcelona Preview and Odds

Real Madrid host Barcelona in tonight with a 20.00 kick off - live on skysports 1 HDSky Sports 1 HD

Real Madrid are top of the table, and odds-on to win La Liga so Barcelona desperately need a win in El Clasico.

While Barcelona have dominated in recent years, Real have improved significantly since Carlo Ancelotti turned to a 4-3-3 formation featuring Xabi Alonso deep in midfield, with Luka Modric and Angel Di Maria ahead. This allows Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to play high up on the flanks, cutting inside to shoot from dangerous positions, and appears to suit the majority of Real's attacking talents.

The major question mark about Real's side is the lack of physicality in midfield but Barca are a very technical side too so it should certainly be a high quality game of football.

With no injury problems, there will be no major surprises in the Real XI.

Barca manager Tata Martino generally sticks to a 4-3-3 formation, too. Unlike Ancelotti, however, he has genuine selection decisions. Specifically, should he play a 'straight' 4-3-3 with three midfielders and three outright forwards, or will he play both Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta, the latter drifting in from the left flank, to enable better ball retention in the midfield? This seems more likely, especially judging by his approach in the Champions League against Manchester City. 

Lionel Messi will play in his false nine role, with Pedro Rodriguez, Alexis Sanchez and Neymar fighting for the right-wing slot. Sanchez is probably favourite.

The key battles are on the wings, with Real's wide forwards running at Barca's full-backs, who are both very attack-minded. This has often been a feature of this fixture, but whereas Jose Mourinho usually used Di Maria deep on one flank, meaning Ronaldo was the major wing threat, now Barca have to cope with both Ronaldo and Bale. This will be a new experience for them - in the reverse fixture, Bale started upfront and had little influence.

Daniel Alves and Jordi Alba have been extremely attack-minded this season, and it sometimes feels Barcelona have left too much space for opponents to counter-attack into on the flanks, especially because their pressing isn't as intense. With Alonso keen to spray diagonals to the flanks, and Modric playing sideways passes in a neater fashion from higher up the pitch, Real will continually threaten from the wing.

Ancelotti will be concerned about the space afforded to Messi, and Alonso will have to be very intelligent to deny him opportunities to receive the ball under little pressure. Di Maria's tendency to shuttle forward towards the left of the pitch should create a pocket of space in that inside-right zone Messi loves to work in, and Real's left-back Marcelo will be pinned back by Barca's wide forward.

Alonso can't get too tight, for fear of creating space for Iniesta towards the opposite side of the pitch, and this means Messi should primarily be the responsibility of Sergio Ramos. The Spanish centre-back takes a very aggressive approach to stopping Messi, has been booked three times in his last five league games against Barca, and at pre
sent he is 7/5 to be shown a red card.

The match odds are Real 5/4, Barca 12/5 and the draw 14/5.

Odds and preview provided by betfair and are subject to change,

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