Tito and Mourinho: the clash of Guardiola’s former sidekick and arch nemesis. Spanish presses have labeled this, the first El Clasico of the 2012/2013 season, more than just a rivalry game – flash back to the last time these two men met, and it’s hard to forget the now infamous Mourinho “eye-poking”-incident. But tonight, there is far more on the line for Tito. With the first El Clasico so early in the season, many fans and critics alike may consider this first clash the one that sets the stage for the rest of this season. Will Tito follow in Guardiola’s footsteps, or are we in for a new version of this enticing football rivalry?
1. The Value of a Title
It was a quote that resonated all over Spain, and the world for that matter, “Supercopa is the least important of the titles.” Now, one could simply say that Mourinho may just be trying to alleviate the pressure considering Barcelona’s desire to become the first team to clinch the Supercopa four times consecutively, or the fact that Blaugrana is back to full strength, as opposed to last season. In contrast to Mou’s statements, for Tito Vilanova, “A title is a title”. In a press conference ahead of the game, Tito made it very clear that FC Barcelona aspire to claim every title this season, regardless of the importance it holds. This was resonated by star-striker, Lionel Messi, who has made it quite clear that this season will be all about FC Barcelona, as a whole, winning titles, as opposed to attempting to break his personal records.
2. “No Team Has an Advantage Going into the Game”
In this much anticipated game, one that is far more than just a football rivalry reaching all the way back to 1902, Barcelona have seemed to remain in complete control losing only one out of the last eight Clasicos. That being said, one cannot forget that Real Madrid lifted the La Liga title last season, as FC Barcelona seemed to unravel in front of our very eyes. Comfort for many Blaugrana fans may be the fact that Tito, having worked so closely with Guardiola, may not need to alter too much tactically, since the squad has remained pretty much the same. Two new signings, Alba and Song, and a “new” coach, but the slight changes made to the squad are no cause for concern. On the other hand, Real Madrid will go into this Clasico with the exact same squad as before. So, who has the advantage? Playing the first leg at home, FC Barcelona will surely look to secure a victory in front of a sold out Camp Nou, bringing Tito one step closer to his first title. And let us not forget, Jose has never faced a side coached by Tito, while Vilanova had been by Guardiola’s side many a times. Will we see any tactical changes that favor Barcelona in this showdown?
3. Tito Paving His Own Legacy
Looking to set himself apart from Pep, Tito looks to shake things up…even if just slightly. Most fans and critics would agree that Valdes is the stronger goalkeeper, when compared to Pinto. And in a match where there is much more than just a title at stake, one would assume that Tito, like Pep, would opt for Valdes. It seems that in an attempt to shape his own Barcelona legacy, Tito has yet to make a decision as to his GK selection for this first leg, leaving many questioning what else is set to change. Will Song replace midfielder Busquets in a new formation, and is all of this just a way for Tito to avoid the inevitable claim that he is “simply continuing Pep’s strategy”? During the FCB preseason, Tito already veered towards a 2-3-2-3 formation, and as for that “false 9” Barcelona’s opponents have come to fear, will we see that tactic vanish during this new era in Barcelona?
4. Song and Alba – What to Expect
Song, a surly and strong defender will help to solidify the Barcelona backline that seemed shaky at best towards the end of last season. Add to that the fact that he brings even more depth to the squad; Tito will have the option to choose from three midfielders, allowing even more tactical change to surprise the opposition.
Alba, a speedy youngster, has already displayed that the chemistry between FCB’s maestro, Xavi and himself is a recipe for success. Anyone who witnessed this dynamic duo during the Euro’s would have to agree. Given that he is only 23, there is plenty of time to make this pair an even bigger threat. Not to mention the instant partnership that radiated between Jordi and Iniesta, a pair that undoubtedly compliments one another is sure to add to the new found strength and agility of the squad.
5. What To Look For
With Pepe missing from the Real Madrid line-up, Messi will most likely face Albiol – certainly a lesser threat than Pepe, who is infamously known for his dirty physical attacks. Simultaneously, all eyes will be on Real Madrid’s strongest threat, Ronaldo who will be shadowed by Dani Alves, guaranteed to frustrate CR7 with his swift and defensive play.
In what is sure to be a thrilling match, let’s just hope that the game does not consist of constant diving, but instead tactical displays of masterful play by these two Spanish powerhouses.
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