2010/11 El Clasico Champions League Part 1

Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho insists there are no favourites heading into Wednesday's Champions League semi-final first leg against Barcelona. Barca coach Pep Guardiola had suggested at the weekend that his side were underdogs going into the match, with in-form Madrid having beaten the Catalan giants 1-0 in last week's Copa del Rey final.

"I told my players there was someone called Albert, Albert Einstein, who said that there is a force more powerful than steam, electricity and atomic energy - will. And this guy Albert was not stupid." - Jose Mourinho

"Off the pitch, in the press conference room, Mr Mourinho is the f**king leader, the f**king boss, the person who knows everything about the world and I do not want to compete with him. He can have his championship off the pitch, take it home and enjoy it. Let him read Albert Einstein, let him read what is written by the friends of Florentino Perez. We are happier with smaller victories on the pitch." - Pep Guardiola
Had enough of El Clasico or Mourinho's mind games yet? Yes? No? Anyway we have another two more matches left in El Clasico series. Real Madrid host FC Barcelona in the first leg of the 2011 UEFA Champions League semi-finals at the Santiago Bernabeu, while the second leg will be played in Camp Nou the following week. Both the Spanish giants will be bidding for a place in the final at Wembley.

We've already had two Clasicos in the past nine days. The first, in the league, saw ten-man Rael Madrid fight back to earn a 1-1 draw at home thanks to a late penalty, and four days later Mourinho's men triumphed in extra time thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo header, earning themselves the Copa Del Rey (which Sergio Ramos promptly dropped under a moving bus). Momentum, then, is firmly with the hosts. That 5-0 Barcelona victory in November has been all but forgotten.

It probably shouldn't be, though. At their best, Barcelona are capable of playing a style of football that even the massed ranks of Madrid are powerless to stop. The trick, then, is to make Guardiola's side forget what they're capable of, and Mourinho has done just that over the past two games, frustrating and harassing the Catalans throughout the first two matches, to the point where Madrid actually managed to dominate long spells of the second game.

Guardiola cannot allow Real Madrid to get into his team's collective heads. Barcelona's game is to keep the ball more or less forever, neutralising their opposition's attacks before they can begin, shifting the play around until gaps in the armour show. Then they hit them, hard and fast. It's a style no other team can pull off, but if they're disrupted in the midfield they are suddenly incredibly vulnerable to the quick counter-attack. Recently, Mourinho has been using Pepe to do just that, pushing him into the midfield to act as a destroyer. It's not a coincidence that Barcelona's midfield has been off its game when Pepe's been wandering around causing trouble.

So far, Real Madrid have the upper hand. But now there's more to play for. The Champions League final awaits. Will that be enough to spur Barcelona to new heights, or will the Mourinho factor once again see them stumbling out of Europe at the semi-final stage?

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