How can Spurs overcome Real Madrid at the Bernabeu?
ACCORDING TO England’s players, last weekend’s victory over Wales was inspired by Fabio Capello’s decision to sit them down and show them videos of Barcelona.
The Three Lions boss has been so impressed by the Spaniards’ pressing game that he ordered his side to copy the Catalans, and also mirrored their 4-3-3 formation at the Millenium Stadium.
Capello is probably not the only manager who has been studying Barcelona recently, and Harry Redknapp is sure to have watched the footage of their 5-0 victory over Jose Mourinho’s Galacticos in November, attempting to spot the flaws which were so ruthlessly exposed, and the tactics which demolished the nine-times European champions.
Among all of Barca’s recent achievements, it remains an incredibly impressive feat because, unfortunately for Spurs, Madrid do not get beaten very often under Mourinho – and certainly not by five goals.
Yes, Real lost 1-0 to Sporting Gijon at the weekend. But, as Redknapp has pointed out, they were missing left-back Marcelo, Xabi Alonso, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, while centre-back Pepe was initially on the bench.
It will be a very different team tonight, and if league form is anything to go by then it is Spurs who should be worrying, having taken just three points from a possible 12 against the bottom four teams in the Premier League.
Real’s record over the course of this season suggests that their home defeat against Gijon was just a blip – and a very rare one at that.
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The Galacticos have won 35 of their 46 matches under Mourinho, drawing seven and losing just four.
Madrid have scored 108 goals this season and conceded just 29, scoring five goals or more on six occasions, including an 8-0 win over Levante and a 7-0 victory over Malaga.
That is the challenge that awaits Tottenham at the Bernabeu tonight.
Madrid play with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Alonso and Germany international Sami Khedira operating in front of the back four.
Khedira tends to play the more defensive role, while Alonso seeks to thread the ball through the opposing line of midfielders and feed the three-man attacking midfield unit of Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Oziland Angel Di Maria.
Like Khedira, Ozil was in the Germany side that eliminated England from the World Cup last summer, and the 21-year-old’s performances in South Africa caught the eye of Madrid, who snapped him up for �12.4million – taking him from Werder Bremen, Spurs’ rivals in the group stages.
He may not be the biggest name in Madrid’s team, but the fact that he is keeping a certain Kaka out of the team speaks volumes about his talent, and the consistency of his performances.
Ozil has seven domestic goals to his name so far, one less than Argentina international Di Maria, who was a free transfer from Benfica in the summer.
Ronaldo needs little introduction, particularly when he has scored 34 goals in 38 games this season, while frontman Karim Benzema has netted 12 goals in his last 11 games for Madrid.
Benzema will miss out through injury tonight, which will open the door for ex-Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor, who is on loan from Manchester City and has a record of scoring against Spurs, having netted eight goals in nine games against the Lilywhites.
Once again, Spurs’ key man could be Sandro, who has proven to be particularly adept at intercepting passes, positioning himself in the right area and reacting quickly to pounce on the ball.
The Brazilian’s talent could be invaluable as Spurs bid to block the supply line from Alonso to Real’s danger men, and it was his intervention against AC Milan at the San Siro which led to Aaron Lennon’s break and Peter Crouch’s decisive goal.
A similar block at the Bernabeu could be just as valuable because, while Madrid have a relatively defensive formation, their full-backs are very attack-minded, giving them plenty of width.
Spain’s Sergio Ramos has won the European Championships and the World Cup in the last three years, and Marcelo has scored three goals in his last nine games.
Real’s full-backs will certainly need to be watched, but their attacking instincts could play into the hands of Gareth Bale and Lennon, who will be waiting eagerly for any moment when Real over-commit and lose the ball.
Should they get a run at Madrid’s centre-backs, Tottenham will encounter a familiar figure in centre-back Ricardo Carvalho, a favourite of Mourinho’s, having played for his Portuguese compatriot at three different clubs – FC Porto, Chelsea and now Real too.
The experienced 32-year-old is a master of the dark arts of defending, and it is no coincidence that Real’s notoriously dodgy defence has improved markedly since he and Mourinho arrived in Spain.
The opposition is fearsome but the rewards for success tonight are enormous – and Spurs do not need to win to triumph at the Bernabeu.
As Redknapp said yesterday, a 0-0 result would do just fine – and Tottenham have become the masters of the goalless draw, having taken part in stalemates in their last three games against AC Milan, West Ham and Wigan. Perhaps the Lilywhites’ recent form is cause for optimism after all.