Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, 2014 Copa del Rey Final: Matchup to Watch

Denis Doyle

Lots of interesting matchups to keep an eye on, but a key one is Carvajal v. Neymar.

Daniel Carvajal is a good RB. Heck, Daniel Carvajal is possibly one of the best RBs in the business. Neymar, despite his propensity for the dramatic tumble, is one of the brightest young talents in the world and has the potential to win a game all on his own. When these two players face each other it's easy to see this being a battle which could thrill Real Madrid and Barcelona audiences for years to come. So far this season, the duel between the two youngsters has certainly lived up to the hype and they'll get another chance to take a run at each other as the two clubs face off for bragging rights in the Copa del Rey final.

While much of the audience will be focused on the CR-less front three of Madrid versus a seriously depleted back line for Barcelona, it's been Carvajal and Neymar which have had huge impacts on the two Clasicos so far this season. As you can see here, in the first game it was Iniesta who drew Carvajal into the middle of the pitch which allowed Neymar to sneak into the box completely unmarked. Once Carva recovered it was too late as he was on his back foot and Neymar was positioned on goal and eventually scored to put Barca up 1-0. Carvajal's over-eagerness, something which has been an issue a few times this season, tends to leave the man he's marking open to making runs in dangerous areas and if Gareth Bale isn't tracking back or Xabi Alonso isn't covering for him this leads to an incredibly dangerous scenario for Madrid's goalkeeper. Of Barcelona's five shots on target three of them came from the right side. The good thing about the first meeting between the two is that Carvajal completely recovered and held his own for the rest of the game, showing good maturity and recovery ability, but by then it was too late.

In the second Clasico, it was less Neymar abusing Carvajal, though he did seem to abuse himself as he stubbed his toe into the ground and dove, I mean, was fouled by Sergio Ramos, but rather Carvajal once again losing the man he was supposed to mark (Iniesta) and thus putting Madrid at a severe disadvantage. As seen here, Iniesta couldn't be more open if he tried, Carvajal once again being drawn into the pitch and forgetting his defensive responsibilities. Now, you can once again argue that Bale should've tracked back and that the other defenders shouldn't have let Messi have so much space but at a certain point we cannot ignore a defender's basic duties and this was clearly a lapse in judgement from the young RB. In Barcelona's second penalty won, Carva again had to overcompensate when an attacker flew by and this resorted to a foul being drawn, mostly on Xabi but Carvajal was involved as well.

Now, it's not all on young Dani, who has generally been very good for Madrid in his first season, both offensively and defensively. The first game was a mess all around and the second had some questionable strategy by the men in white. Xabi will generally support Carvajal when he makes his runs forward or switches over to another man, but Xabi, and Luka Modric to an extent, was drawn up the pitch in the second game so many times in order to mark Cesc and co. that it left Carvajal in the lurch and in a very difficult position, not to mention Xabi's incredible dropoff in form as of late. This is why it is so vital for Gareth Bale or Isco, whoever ends up on the right, to drop back and provide support should Carva find himself drifting away from the man he's supposed to be marking. I'm no tactical genius but on both the Neymar goal and the Iniesta goal it's clear to see that there was no one backing Carva when he drifted, something which needs to be addressed for the final.

That being said, Carva will most likely have free reign to go forward in attack as the Neymar-Iniesta-Adriano/Alba combination down Barcelona's left side is anything but a defensive wall, especially if Madrid is willing to cede possession and hit Barca on the counter, a scenario which the speedy RB is very much comfortable with. Additionally, more pressure might be on Coentrao as Barca found great success in the second Clasico, albeit against Marcelo, attacking Real Madrid's left side with Neymar but it's still key for Carvajal to keep his wits about him for a full 90 minutes and not allow that singular moment to change the entire outcome of the game. Neymar's form lately, while admirable for his willingness to try and pull Barca out of their slump, has been very much hit or miss in his first season with the club and it's possible that he might not even start given Pedro and Alexis Sanchez's very good form this season. This matchup also might not even happen at all should Tata field him on the right side and Iniesta on the left, but either way it's time for Madrid's young defender to buck up and show the defensive prowess which made him one of the Bundesliga's best defenders last season in this, arguably the most important Clasico of the season.

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