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Real Madrid have been setting la liga on fire with CR7 in freescoring form. With Mourinho’s side 10 points clear of Barcelona and with a relatively easy quarter final tie with Apoel Nicosia, it seems they will at least reach the semi finals where they will either face Bayern Munich or Olympique Marseille (most likely, the Bavarians). With Barcelona on the other side of the draw, it seems like a classic final is destined to happen.
Real Madrid bears all the signs of a Mourinho side, hitting their peak in the second season. They are organised in defence and deadly in attack. What Mourinho has achieved in his two seasons in Spain is nothing short of incredible: most of the Barcelona players have been together for at least 4-5 years, Kaka is showing the signs of the player he was at Milan, Benzema and Higuain score goals regularly (they have 22 and 21 goals in all competitions), Ozil and Xabi Alonso dictate play from midfield, and the whites have been unstoppable, losing only twice in the league (and of them one was to Barcelona). After that defeat in December, Madrid have won 11 straight matches in la Liga.
However, they lost to the Catalans in the copa del rey quarter final losing 2-1 at home and drawing 2-2 at the camp nou. So, despite everything, Madrid still lost to Barcelona. It wasn’t that Barcelona outplayed Madrid and were the better team. In the second leg at the camp nou Madrid were 2-0 down at half time and went on to draw the match 2-2 and should have won a penalty. What that match showed us was that it was only a matter of time before Madrid triumphed. One reason why Barcelona won was they had so much creativity in midfield. With Messi and Cesc dropping deep in midfield, Madrid were often out passed in the centre. At first Mourinho tried to employ a defensive trivot with Xabi Alonso as the only creator alongside Pepe and Khedira to break up play. This worked on some occasions (the 2011 Copa del Rey final), but Barca developed a way to counter it. The forwards started dropping even deeper to get the ball.
Khedira and Pepe were effective in breaking up play, but when they had possession they lacked creativity. Now, the ideal solution may seem to put in Nuri Sahin in place of Pepe and the portuguese moves back into defense. Sahin used to do the exact same thing for Borussia Dortmund that Xabi Alonso does for us. But Sahin has not yet gotten used to the playing style and hasn’t had enough minutes on the pitch. Mourinho has used Granero on occasion, but that’s hardly the solution.
In the second leg of the copa del rey Mourinho opted for a more offensive line-up and Madrid dominated the match and were unlucky not to have gone through.
With this line-up Madrid have more of an attacking edge but are outnumbered in the middle. Mourinho could try to play a diamond in the middle, but then Madrid lose one of their main threats down the wings as Ronaldo will have to play a more central role. Once Di Maria is fit, Jose will have a tough choice to make between him, Kaka and Ozil. With Di Maria we get a player who can take on and beat players and deliver great crosses and also score a stunner or two.
Now picture this: Kaka, Ozil, DiMaria and Ronaldo all playing behind Benzema or Higuain. At first it may seem to be a fantasy team with no thought on defense as there is only one holding player in Xabi Alonso. Ozil and Kaka would drop in deep in turns, and if need be, both can play alongside Xabi Alonso.
What may surprise many is that Mourinho, a known defensive coach, has already used this system. Effectively a 4-1-4-1 formation, Mourinho used this against lesser teams in la liga where Khedira would join the attack. This also solves the problem of attacking full backs as both the full backs won't advance much. In this system Coentrao should be used at left back, and Marcelo can be utilized in place of Di Maria. Also, this system can be adapted for a defensive situation. Ozil and Kaka can be replaced with Khedira and Lass. This is somewhat similar to what Mourinho did against Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey Final. That along with Di Maria tracking back allows Madrid to be solid at the back. Against Barcelona the wide players are given very little time and both Alves and Abidal press high up as do the whole of Barcelona. But Madrid has already shown that it can keep possession against Barcelona and play its natural game. The 4-1-4-1 allows Madrid to attack in numbers and still be able to defend when the time comes.
I personally feel that Madrid is on par with Barcelona and should play the football they normally play against other sides. If they do so, then I am convinced that Madrid will beat them. The 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou showed that Real Madrid can take the game to Barcelona in their own backyard. The next step is to finally defeat the Catalans.