el clásico

The El Cla­sico will not only see the col­li­sion of the ti­tans but also that be­tween philoso­phies and per­son­al­i­ties.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - by NANTHA KU­mAR foot­ball@thes­tar.com.my

IF hav­ing one mouthy Por­tuguese in Madrid was not bad enough, Barcelona had to con­tend with an­other in Cris­tiano Ron­aldo. Jose Mour­inho’s com­pa­triot and star goal poacher Ron­aldo ef­fort­lessly lit the fuse for the 161st El Cla­sico by mock­ing Los Blau­grana’s 8-0 bat­ter­ing of Almeira last Sun­day. Ron­aldo dared Barcelona to re­peat their eight-goal feat at Camp Nou, per­haps fool­ishly not re­al­is­ing that they did put six past Los Merengues as re­cently as 18 months ago.

Ron­aldo should also be made aware that Josep “Pep” Guardi­ola’s men have coasted the pre­vi­ous four derby clashes – four wins in as many games with 11 goals to boot. The me­mory of Madrid’s last win at the Camp Nou is fad­ing to three years and this en­counter could have not been bet­ter timed. Post­poned from the orig­i­nal Sun­day date to ac­com­mo­date the Cata­lan polls – only the third oc­ca­sion in his­tory an El Cla­sico match is staged on a Mon­day (Tues­day morn­ing Malaysian time) – Barcelona and Madrid strap up for it with all the might that they could muster.

Both, which booked their places in the last 16 of the Cham­pi­ons League this week, are in siz­zling form at home as well. Los Merengues an­swered Barcelona’s an­ni­hi­la­tion of Almeira with a 5-1 trash­ing of Ath­letic Bil­bao, thanks to a tre­ble from Ron­aldo. His Barca coun­ter­part, Lionel Messi, has also shrugged off a largely un­re­mark­able World Cup to re­sume his tal­is­manic role for club. As an aside, if any ev­i­dence was needed that Messi and Ron­aldo are thriv­ing un­der new man­agers at in­ter­na­tional level, it ma­te­ri­alised in the past midweek’s friendlies when Messi emerged as Ar­gentina’s match win­ner in the 1-0 vic­tory over Brazil while Ron­aldo helped Por­tu­gal ham­mer Spain 4-0.

Back in the La Liga, they are locked in a per­sonal bat­tle for the Pichichi (lead­ing league goal-scorer) hon­ours. Ron­aldo, with 14 in a dozen games, leads Messi by a soli­tary strike and the lat­ter has a per­sonal record against Los Merengues to up­hold as well. Messi has found the net in three of the last four show­downs be­tween the two clubs and his over­all haul of seven is just three short of Madrid’s leg­end Hugo Sanchez’s El Cla­sico col­lec­tion, which would pro­pel him into the top five of goal-get­ters in these grudge games.

This is not to sug­gest that the Ar­gen­tine is poised to nail down a hat-trick next but the in­di­ca­tions are that the Madrid rear­guard must sling up Messi if they were to tri­umph at Camp Nou. Ron­aldo too is keen on be­ing on the win­ning side for once, af­ter his de­but sea­son was dulled by Madrid end­ing up tro­phy-less again. Ron­aldo has al­ready eclipsed Madird’s ul­ti­mate icon Al­fredo de Stefano on one count: his 15 goals has en­sured that he has had the best scor­ing start to the sea­son at the club in 75 years.

While he has been bul­ly­ing the lesser lights of La Liga, it is against the hard hit­ters that Ron­aldo needs to prove his met­tle and they do not come any larger than Barcelona at Camp Nou. The Ron­aldo-Messi pri­vate duel over­shad­ows the per­for­mance of Barca’s A-list sum­mer sign­ing, David Villa. Barcelona’s No 7 has six to his name thus far and has only one in the last three league games, dur­ing which his new team racked up 14 goals.

Un­like Ron­aldo, Villa comes in-built with big-match tem­per­a­ment and has the knack of per­form­ing well in games against Madrid and Barcelona. Madrid can­not af­ford to have eyes only for Messi as Villa is equally de­struc­tive if al­lowed the space and to come into his own. Madrid’s back­line has their work sketched out for them from the on­set and if there is a glim­mer of faith that their de­fend­ers could sur­pass the fail­ings of the last two sea­sons, it lies with Madrid’s other Ibe­rian im­port.

Mour­inho has em­ployed the same siege men­tal­ity that he suc­cess­fully charted at Chelsea in forg­ing a great team spirit at San­ti­ago Bern­abeu. He has a team whose mem­bers fight for each other, which spreads the job of de­fend­ing across all three de­part­ments and ap­plies an in-your-face press­ing game. This is re­flected in the “goals for” col­umn, where Madrid had con­ceded only six goals as op­posed to the nine un­der Manuel Pel­le­grini at this stage last term. Pel­le­grini, de­spite ac­cu­mu­lat­ing a his­toric num­ber of points, still had to bow to Barca as he was un­able to con­vince their play­ers of their in­fal­li­bil­ity.

This is not a prob­lem for Mour­inho. His abra­sive style with the me­dia and ri­vals may un­nerve club of­fi­cials who in­sist on deco­rum and pride but they knew the ex­act con­tents of the Mour­inho pack­age when they asked for its sum­mer de­liv­ery. He in­jected self-be­lief and a win­ning men­tal­ity in what was a pur­pose­less Chelsea side, turn­ing the Blues into the all­con­quer­ing team that swept do­mes­tic gongs ev­ery year from 2005 and 2007.

At In­ter­nazionale Mi­lano, he at­tained the one tro­phy to elude him at Stam­ford Bridge: the Cham­pi­ons League. In a pe­riod at San­ti­ago Bern­abeu, Mour­inho has im­posed his cun­ning and com­bat­ive streaks into the team and they have re­acted with a su­perb start to the cam­paign. Los Merengues now have the man­ager to counter Guardi­ola, whose bril­liant team were threat­en­ing a lengthy hege­mony in Spain and Europe. And the con­trast be­tween the two could not be more ob­vi­ous.

De­spite his un­char­ac­ter­is­tic surli­ness – es­pe­cially in re­sponse to shock­ing re­sults in the Cham­pi­ons League ear­lier – Guardi­ola has re­mained mainly phleg­matic and com­posed. He has briefly ob­served Mour­inho at near quar­ters – the Por­tuguese was an in­ter­preter to Bobby Rob­son when Guardi­ola was one of the key play­ers who re­mained as the Dream Team were dis­man­tled – and also as an op­po­nent, when they went head-to-head seven months ago in the semi­fi­nals of the Cham­pi­ons League.

Mour­inho won that con­test and went on to claim his sec­ond Cham­pi­ons League. His was a stun­ning re­ju­ve­na­tion of In­ter though neu­trals found it hard to ad­mire much of their foot­ball. Guardi­ola, the youngest man­ager ever to win the same com­pe­ti­tion, pos­sesses the moral author­ity over Mour­inho and Madrid. Barcelona’s foot­ball pleases the purists and is based on tal­ent that was hewn from home ground while Madrid pre­fer to bring in mer­ce­nar­ies from abroad to sus­tain their sta­tus.

The El Cla­sico will not only see the col­li­sion of the ti­tans but also that be­tween philoso­phies and per­son­al­i­ties. One is a man­ager who tends to stress on phys­i­cal force and de­fen­sive dis­cre­tion when faced with tougher op­po­si­tion and has all the un­der­stated el­e­gance of a bull in a china shop. The other is an im­pas­sive fig­ure whose foot­ball – in its move­ment and magic - im­pas­sions many. That very much sums up Barcelona-Real Madrid; Mes­siRon­aldo and Guardi­ola-Mour­inho. The El Cla­sico could not come fast enough …

Lucky charms: Tra­di­tional ce­ramic fig­urines of Real Madrid’s Ron­aldo and Barcelona´s Messi called ca­gan­ers in Cat­alo­nia. The fig­ures sym­bol­ize fer­til­iza­tion, hope and pros­per­ity for the com­ing year. Next week both would want three points in the El Cla­sico.

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