Barcelona, ​​Real Madrid could be decided by Araujo vs Vinicius

When Real Madrid and Barcelona meet, that’s it classic is such a mammoth display of sporting excellence and cultural excitement that its global appeal and national importance often obscure some of the smaller details that make a single game unmissable. Let’s fix this.

Yes, there is no question that the reigning Spanish, European and world champions will travel to a beleaguered Barcelona on Sunday, which – under all manner of legal investigations, plagued by debt, bound by LaLiga Financial Fair Play rules – is somehow nine points Free of Los Blancos and face an almost unassailable 12-point lead with 12 games remaining if they win their first Camp Nou classic in four and a half years (two defeats, two draws). That is a big problem.

– LIVE Stream: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, Sunday, March 19, 3:55 p.m. ET, ESPN+

This drama of Barcelona winning and savoring their first LaLiga title since 2019, or Madrid staging another raid on their biggest rivals to narrow the points gap to six and shatter Barcelona’s confidence is a delicious sporting tale in itself. But there’s also a little diamond of drama built into the big picture.

Since Xavi took charge of Barcelona, ​​his side have played against Madrid five times in those 16 months away from the Camp Nou. Her record is four wins, one lost.

This classic been to Las Vegas (a friendly match), Saudi Arabia (the Spanish Supercup final) and twice to the Santiago Bernabeu (in LaLiga and Copa del Rey). Every time Barcelona won, the common themes were a) Ronald Araujo knocking Vinicius out of the competition and b) Carlo Ancelotti’s team didn’t have enough alternatives after the Brazilian great was nullified to prevent them from playing with 0: 1, 0, 3 lost -1 and 1-0 again.

The classic in which the Uruguayan took on Madrid’s superb left winger, ended up 9-1 aggregate in favor of Barcelona – oh, and the only time in this series that Araujo wasn’t on the pitch to play Vinicius, Madrid won by 3: 1 in the first LaLiga classic of the season and the champions’ first two goals were largely due to the Brazilian’s superb, mayhem-making attacks, the man Ancelotti describes as “the most crucial player in the world”.

It’s a problem for Ancelotti and long overdue for him, his staff, Vinicius’ team-mates and the elusive 22-year-old to find solutions. Especially given Sunday’s win, loss or draw, Madrid will be back at the Camp Nou two and a half weeks later and may face the same conundrum between Araujo and Vinicius, falling 1-0 in the Copa del Rey semi-final first leg.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (US)

This isn’t a heads down and hope for the best moment, but maybe we can stop for a second and look back at something that could be the inspiration behind Xavi’s choices. If not, it’s still a good source of background material.

In the 1992 European Cup final, the first time Barcelona won what is now the Champions League, Johan Cruyff coached the ‘Dream Team’ and their opponent that day at Wembley was Sampdoria. The late Gianluca Vialli, a good friend of your columnist, and Roberto Mancini were the most feared threats in the Serie A team.

Cruyff replaced 21-year-old Albert Ferrer, Barcelona’s rising right-back who has been out injured for the past six months to secure a close man for Mancini. As nervous as it made Ferrer and as brutally tiring a job as it was, the tactic worked and it did Blaugrana Pep Guardiola side Michael Laudrip, Hristo Stoichkov, Txiki Begiristain and Ronald Koeman won the final after extra time.

Ferrer, known as “Chapi”, told me: “I played my first game back, after half a year of injury, 10 days before the final. It was crazy, it was mentally horrible. I wasn’t just picked to play the final to start, Johan gave me the responsibility of tagging Mancini man to man.

“When Johan planned the team tactics for the game, he didn’t involve me. He just planned a final that would be 10v10. I had done that job in LaLiga before, against Emilio Butragueno (Madrid) and Fran (Deportivo ) La Coruna) and I’d say, ‘Look, Fran, I’m not play and you are not play… I don’t want it, but the manager told me so!

“I didn’t enjoy the game at Wembley because of the responsibility. As you line up, there isn’t a moment to relax and enjoy the occasion. It’s all tension.

“Unlike today, we didn’t have video analysis back then. The staff warned me that Mancini was moving everywhere, that the main job was to be close to him so he couldn’t get on the ball and have the minute, in When Sampdoria got the ball I was able to jockey Mancini close and we all knew I would try not to influence Roberto.

“I was 21 and by the end of 120 minutes I was dead on my feet. Mancini was trying to push me out of my comfort zone, into positions I really didn’t want to be in. But I had to do what Johan said. I had my own opinion on everything and I didn’t enjoy the game, but we won.”

And there’s the rub: victory.

I can’t recall an occasion between 1992 and Xavi’s first decision to use an anti-Vinicius tactic in 2022, some 30 years later, when Barcelona hit a man-marked opponent. Quite a lot has happened to Lionel Messi, but it was somehow seen as low-culture that Barcelona, ​​the self-proclaimed “gods of cultural football”, should stoop to such working-class tactics.

Now there’s no more criticism and the whole idea looks like a masterstroke from the 43-year-old Catalan coach. Ancelotti’s task, aided by the great minds around him, is to crack this trap.

I know that Ferrer differentiates between the job he has done with the current coach of the Italy national team and what Araujo has had to do against Madrid’s exuberant winger so far. “Man marking is different,” he emphasizes. “I was ordered to follow Mancini everywhere and he was dragging me around on purpose. Up until now, Araujo Vinicius has just marked closely and used him at right-back against a left winger. It’s not the same.”

All of this could sum up what needs to be planned at the training ground and then executed at the Camp Nou as Madrid contemplate how to rid Vinicius of such a mark and win this Sunday’s crucial game.

What if Ancelotti fielded Vinicius as Madrid’s right winger? Would Xavi order Araujo to follow him? Would he order the right-footed Uruguayan defender to play at left-back?

What if Ancelotti gave Vinicius full license to play where he chose according to the flow of the game? Switching from left to right, diving deep into midfield, playing as a false 9 in the middle of attack, Karim Benzema to the left as so often when Cristiano Ronaldo was still in the lead Los Blancos‘ attack?

All of these ideas are about intangibility, about sowing chaos and confusion, and about repeatedly testing both Araujo’s focus and decision-making ability. Of course, any movement by Vinicius “inside” or across the pitch as a whole would leave a gap that players like Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Nacho Fernandez or Eduardo Camavinga could possibly deliberately attack and try to exploit.

A side bet for Ancelotti could be the “What if?” Scenario where Vinicius is simply told to ‘keep trying’ and there is no change in position or tactics… other than shrewd Italian planning, like his Madrid team this time Barcelona on a 10v10 basis can open.

Vinicius vs. Araujo – two stubborn, determined, victorious South Americans in their early 20s who face off in eternity classic Kluft – has the makings of an eternal rivalry. One that can inspire: “Did you see that?” moments for years to come. But for now, the smartest bet is that Carlo Ancelotti, who is in contention for the final two national trophies of this season, is brooding over new ideas, new tactics and wiser directions so the wonderful Vinicius can finally shake off his Uruguayan shadow and keep Madrid’s for the season alive. Barcelona, ​​Real Madrid could be decided by Araujo vs Vinicius

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