As we draw closer to this weekend's Clasico, it's time to discuss what Los Blancos need to do in order to get a positive result against the most formidable Barca team in history.
1) ATTACK, ATTACK, AND ATTACK SOME MORE - This serves numerous purposes. First of all, it requires guys like Xavi, Alves and even Iniesta (assuming he's healthy) to stay back and defend. If they're defending, it limits the impact they can have on the offensive end. Barca rarely resorts to long outlets or sending balls over the top for quick counters, instead opting for steady buildup through the middle. Force them to take the ball the length of the pitch. There's really minimal risk to pressing Barca in comparison to sitting back and trying to absorb. In addition, Barca will not be held scoreless, and probably not even under 2, so Pellegrini's men will need at least 2 on the board to take any points from this match. Besides, Valdes is still suspect, and if not for a Herculean effort by Puyol in the fall Clasico, Madrid likely wins it at the Nou Camp, so there will be plenty of chances if Madrid force the issue.
2) FOCUS ON XAVI - For all of the talk (deservedly so) about how Messi may be the greatest ever, Xavi is the Joe Montana to Messi's Jerry Rice. Cut off his supply line and force him to do more on his own. Messi may be the tip of the spear, but Xavi is the steady hand that guides it.
3) FORCE PLAY WIDE - Barca is dangerous the second they step off the bus, let's not kid ourselves. But their prefered style of play is pushing the ball around the middle, rarely more than 5-6 yards at a time, and almost never beyond 10. If Madrid has one distinct advantage, it's strength in the center of the box. Barca provides a much greater threat when you allow them the opportunity to use their intricate passing around the top of the 18 than when you isolate them wide. Watch Messi, he is at his most dangerous when he takes the ball at cuts toward the middle. He's controllable when you make him play the ball back in to the box to someone else.
4) TAKE CARE OF THE BALL - Barca will still control 55-60% of posession, even at the Bernabeu, consider it one of life's certainties. What Barca thrives on are the opportunities presented when their opponents lose posession in the middle or defensive 1/3 and trigger short breaks. This provides even more reason to keep them on their back leg. Xabi, Lass and Van der Vaart are going to be the keys to this game. If they pick out the right passes and hold the ball, Madrid stands a good chance at a positive result.
5) WEATHER THE STORM - At some point in the match, Barca will run off a 15-20 minute stretch where they dominate the game. Madrid must not only stand fast, but push back. Barca tends to do most of their damage in concentrated periods with long stretches of beautiful, but passive posession in the middle of the park. In every match I've seen Barca play, their opponent fall in to the trap of dropping deep to absorb when Barca pushes forward, and never gets back on the front foot. It makes life too easy for the midfield and defenders, and it becomes open season.
It's been said plenty, this weekend's match won't be decisive, but it will give one side a serious advantage. Especially to Madrid with Barca facing a tough and physical upcoming CL tie with Inter. A victory here allows Madrid the ability to draw one, and probably two matches the rest of the way and still win La Liga.