MADRID - Jose Mourinho is ready to haunt
Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals again on
Wednesday, this time with Real Madrid.
Knocking Barca out of Europe's elite club competition after
winning the King's Cup final against them last week could signal
the start of a power-shift in Spanish football away from
Catalunya and back to Madrid.
The Portuguese coach has always managed to rile Barca, where
he spent some of his formative years as an assistant to Bobby
Robson in the 1990s, and guided Inter Milan to victory against
them in the semis last year on the way to Champions League
Mourinho also crossed swords with Barca three times during
his spell at Chelsea, twice bettering them over a 'two-match
His ability to ruffle the Catalan team's feathers knows no
end and he has outwitted them so far in the unprecedented
'four-match series' between the world's two richest clubs.
A 1-1 league draw, when Real came back to level with 10 men
on April 16, was followed by last Wednesday's 1-0 extra-time
victory in the King's Cup Final, Mourinho's first trophy as
coach of the Madrid side.
The league title is all but wrapped up for Barcelona but the
tantalising prospect of a 10th European Cup triumph lies ahead
for Real, and a third for Mourinho all with different teams.
Barca defender Gerard Pique refused to be drawn on the hot
topics of debate after the first two 'Clasicos' such as the
quality of the refereeing, the length of the grass at the
Bernabeu and Real's aggressive, 'negative' approach.
"The grass is long but I'm not going to cry about it," the
Spanish World Cup winner told daily El Pais of the pitch at
Wednesday's Bernabeu venue.
"It's normal for them to take particular care over their
defence and that they try to stop our passing game. Mourinho
will use everything available to him.
"At the end of the day they are a powerful team with very
good forwards," added Pique.
Breaking coach Pep Guardiola's record of five consecutive
'Clasico' wins, including a 5-0 demolition of Mourinho's team at
the Nou Camp in November, and then winning the King's Cup has
dented Barca's aura of invincibility.
Real have proved they can match their rivals with
ultra-aggressive tactics that have not been to everyone's
liking, with the Madrid club having had a player sent off in the
last three meetings between the sides.
The two clubs are the competition's top scorers with 24
goals each but the previous two 'Clasicos' have been tense
tussles with few sights of goal.
Madrid have packed the centre of the pitch with three
holding players led by centre-back turned midfield-enforcer
Pepe, ruthlessly denying Barca's playmakers time and space while
looking to break quickly.
Sami Khedira's injury means Lassana Diarra will probably
replace him in midfield while Mourinho may opt to play without a
recognised number nine again as he did in the King's Cup final.
At the back Ricardo Carvalho is suspended but Real's
defensive problems are not as acute as Barca's.
The absence of Eric Abidal, Adriano Correia and Maxwell mean
the returning Carles Puyol could be asked to fill in at left
back while midfielder Javier Mascherano could play in defence
Any change in Barca's standard 4-3-3 formation would
probably be read as an acknowledgement that Real have worked out
the way to play against Guardiola's three magicians - Xavi,
Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.
Real Madrid: 1-Iker Casillas, 17-Alvaro Arbeloa, 4-Sergio
Ramos, 18-Raul Albiol, 12-Marcelo; 10-Lassana Diarra, 3-Pepe,
14-Xabi Alonso; 22-Angel Di Maria, 9-Cristiano Ronaldo, 23-Mesut
Barcelona: 1-Victor Valdes; 2-Dani Alves, 14-Javier
Mascherano, 3-Gerard Pique, 5-Carles Puyol; 8-Andres Iniesta,
16-Sergio Busquets, 6-Xavi; 17-Pedro, 10-Lionel Messi, 7-David
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