Real Madrid must stop Lionel Messi to defeat Barcelona

It’s not exactly a groundbreaking declaration to say: “If you can stop Lionel Messi, you can stop Barcelona.”

The four-time Ballon d’Or winner is arguably one of the best players of all-time whose trophy haul includes numerous individual and team awards throughout his domestic and international career.

Many a manager has lined his squad up with the sole purpose of stifling the Argentine forward only to see the little magician mystify everyone on the pitch with his jaw dropping talent.

This week, in an article written for the British newspaper The Independent, former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes detailed the tactics Sir Alex Ferguson used in order to curtail Messi’s effectiveness and production during encounters between the two clubs from 2008-2011.

The first thing United did was deny Messi space to operate. Another rule was not to dive in on the Argentine when he had the ball at his feet. Instead, the goal was to try to get two or three players around him and control him.

SEE ALSO — How to watch el Clasico online between Barcelona and Real Madrid

While United were successful in executing their game plan over two legs of the Champions League semi-final of 2008. Scholes confessed the team’s efforts left the squad both physically and mentally exhausted after the conclusion of the knockout stage.

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The club legend would also go on to say United failed to match their accomplishments against Messi in later matches against Barcelona during the Champions League finals of 2009 and 2011.

The bottom line is when you play against Barcelona, specifically against Messi, you know you will be defending for a majority of the game. Your team’s concentration level has to be at its highest because the moment you switch off, Messi will punish you. It’s mentally and physically exhausting.

This weekend’s El Clasico will have huge ramifications towards who will be crowned La Liga champions at the end of the season.

Barcelona enter the match with a one point advantage over Real Madrid and have been flying since losing their first match following the winter break to Real Sociedad. Since that time, La Blaugrana have won seventeen of eighteen matches in all competitions while outscoring their opponents, 59-13.

Over that same stretch, Real Madrid have stumbled and looked the furthest thing from the dominant team which won 22 straight matches in all competitions and four titles in 2014. Los Blancos have seen lackluster performances, player unrest and key injuries take a toll on what was shaping up to be a historical season in the Spanish capital.

The home supporters have turned on the players and their manager in recent weeks, causing enough of a distraction that club president Florentino Perez felt the need to call an impromptu press conference to ask the fans to support the team during its difficult moment – and also to blame the media for trying to “destabilize” the club.

For weeks, players in the Real Madrid dressing room have been telling insiders: “It’s ok. We’ll make things right at El Clasico.” And now that time is upon them.

This week in training, manager Carlo Ancelotti appears to have taken a page out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s scouting report on Barcelona. The Madrid boss has been practicing with his team set up to stifle the production of the rejuvenated Lionel Messi.

The plan is two put two players in front of Messi at all times. Marcelo and Sergio Ramos will occupy the left-side of the attacking zone with the two defenders trying to prevent Barcelona’s No 10 from linking up with Neymar and Luis Suarez. Marcelo has also been ordered to abandon his bombing attacks into the opponent’s half of the pitch and focus more on his defensive duties for 90 minutes.

Isco and Toni Kroos will also be involved in corralling Messi, as the midfielders will be deployed to form a spider web of bodies around the Argentine forward when he has the ball at his feet. Both Madrid players have adjusted well to the defensive responsibilities Ancelotti has given them over the course of the season, and the manager has full faith in their ability to deal with the task at hand on Sunday.

So the stage is set. While many see this latest installment of El Clasico as a battle between two incredibly talented attacking trios – Real Madrid’s BBC and Barcelona’s MSN – the match will undoubtedly be decided by how well Carlo Ancelotti’s side limit the involvement of one player.

It will be a huge undertaking for Real Madrid. But if they want to have any chance at taking all three points from Barcelona at the Camp Nou and regain the top spot in La Liga, they need do whatever it takes in order to shutdown Lionel Messi.


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One Response

  1. Sylvester March 21, 2015

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