What Sir Alex Ferguson would have learnt from watching the Clasico

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Sir Alex Ferguson was in the stands at Camp Nou watching the Copa Del Rey semi-final second leg. He watched Real Madrid put up a clinical and ruthless performance to finish off the Catalans. The Scot certainly would have gone home more worried than he was when he boarded the flight to Barcelona. Real Madrid’s performance as a team on a whole was outstanding, and Barcelona had very few sniffs at goal. Lionel Messi was anonymous, whereas Cristiano Ronaldo was at his breathtaking best. Here are a few things Sir Alex would have learnt from his time in Spain:

Don’t attack Madrid, sit back
Easily the most dangerous team on the break, Real again showed how devastating they can be on the counter, having scored 2 of their 3 goals on the break against Barcelona. At one moment, the ball was in Real’s penalty box, and 10 seconds later the ball was in the opposite penalty box, followed by swarm of Madrid players. They patiently wait, and when the opportunity arrives, they ruthlessly rip the opposition apart and finish them off. United’s strategy for the first leg was perfect, but the responsibility of playing at home means that they might try to be more attacking and force the issue. This will just play into Real’s hands. Also, it is really important that United don’t concede first, so it is better for United to play the way they did in the first leg.
Pace is useless against the Real defence
With Sergio Ramos, Varane, Coentrao and Arbeloa possessing pace, using speed to get past them is completely useless, just as Lionel Messi found out. Of course, Jordi Alba managed to run behind and score a consolation goal, but it was after the game was long gone at 3-0. United shouldn’t have much of a problem with this, as their forwards don’t depend much on pace with the exception of Javier Hernandez, who is not expected to start.
Man-mark Ronaldo, but keep an eye on Di Maria
Angel Di Maria was one of the better performers on Tuesday night, and created the second goal almost single-handedly. The Argentine can play on the left or on the right, has a terrific shot, and more importantly can switch positions with Ronaldo. Rooney’s lax marking on Di Maria allowed him to cross for Ronaldo’s goal in the first leg. Here, it is important to understand that although the Argentine winger started on the right, he moved on to the left continually, with Ronaldo taking up a central position. With Coentrao overlapping intelligently, all three can wreak havoc.
Real Madrid’s high line
A brave high line, combined with energetic pressing in the middle of the park, didn’t allow Barcelona the time or the space to create opportunities. Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira were key to Real’s pressing with their energy, with the Basque player’s positioning a huge reason for their success. This pressing cut off any balls played to Messi. Of course, as usual Messi tried to drop deep and tried to force play, but didn’t have anyone ahead of him. This was Barcelona’s main problem in the match, so let’s not get into that. United won’t face this problem, as at least 3 natural strikers are expected to start the game in Van Persie, Rooney and Danny Welbeck.
Although Ozil is not in top form, his movement off the ball is deadly
Mesut Ozil is not at the peak of his powers at the moment. When at his best, he glides past people, ghosts into the box unnoticed and simply is a menace to the opposition. However, recently, he doesn’t seem confident while taking on defenders, preferring to pass the ball. But as mentioned in the first leg preview, his movement off the ball (mainly towards the right) creates confusion in the opposition ranks. Ferguson must not be pre-occupied with Ronaldo alone, as the German has the ability to single-handedly win the game for Real Madrid.
Benzema will be expected to start
Both of Real Madrid’s strikers are woefully out of form at the moment, but the Frenchman’s all-round ability will mean that he is the favourite to start ahead of the Argentine, who again put in an insipid performance at the Camp Nou.
Confidence will be high among the Los Blancos, and they will arrive at the Theatre of Dreams as the favourites. But they know that in Manchester United, they face a strange opposition who don’t seem strong on paper, don’t seem to play well, but still manage to get the required results. It is surely going to be a spectacle on March 5, and of course there is the sub-plot of Ronaldo returning ‘home’ for the first time after he left.
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