Ronald Araujo vs Vinicius is the key to Barcelona vs Real Madrid. Who will prevail?

When Real Madrid and Barcelona meet classico Sport is such a vast exhibition of excellence and cultural tension that its global allure and national importance often obscure the small details that make an individual match unplayable. Let’s put it here for rights.

Yes, there’s no doubt that Sunday is an occasion when the Spanish, European and world champions travel to a beleaguered Barcelona – under all manner of legal scrutiny, ravaged by debt, flouted by LaLiga Financial Fair Play rules – Somehow there are nine. clear point los blancos And if they win their first Camp Nou then stand to take an unassailable 12-point lead with 12 matches to play classico In four and a half years (two losses, two draws). It is a great thing.

– Live Stream: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, Sunday 3/19 at 3:55 PM ET, ESPN+

That drama, Barcelona winning and being able to sniff out their first LaLiga title since 2019, or Madrid pulling off another smash-and-grab raid on their biggest rivals to reduce the points gap to six and Barcelona’s confidence reduced to Already a delicious game story. But there is also a small diamond of drama built within the bigger picture.

Since Xavi took charge at Barcelona, ​​his team has played Madrid away from the Camp Nou five times in those 16 months. His record is of winning four, losing one.

They clasicos There were in Las Vegas (a friendly), Saudi Arabia (Spanish Supercup final) and twice at the Santiago Bernabéu (in La Liga and the Copa del Rey). Every time Barcelona won, the common themes were a) Ronald Araújo ruled Vinicius out of the competition and b) Carlo Ancelotti’s team didn’t have enough options, voiding the once brilliant Brazilian, to leave them 4- 0, 1-0, 3 loss. -1 and 1-0 again.

clasicos In which the Uruguayan has gone head-to-head with Madrid’s prolific left winger, a 9-1 aggregate run in Barcelona’s favor – oh, and the only time Araujo hasn’t been on the pitch in this sequence to deny Vinicius Madrid won 3-1 in the first LaLiga classico Both the champions’ first two goals this season and have been largely due to spectacular, chaos-inducing attacks by the Brazilian, the man Ancelotti calls ‘the most decisive player in the world’.

It is in a bit of a pickle for Ancelotti and it has long been expected that he, his staff, Vinicius’ partner and the elusive 22-year-old come up with a solution. Especially considering that win or draw on Sunday, Madrid will be back at the Camp Nou two and a half weeks later, potentially facing the same Araujo vs Vinicius conundrum and 1-0 behind from the Copa del Rey semi-finals In progress, first phase.

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

This isn’t a “head down and hope for the best” moment, but perhaps we can stop for a second and look at something that may have been the motivation for Xavi’s decisions. If not, it’s still a good source of background material.

In the 1992 European Cup Final, the first time that Barcelona won what is now known as the Champions League, Johan Cruyff was coach of the “Dream Team” and their opponents at Wembley that day were Sampdoria. The late Gianluca Vialli, a great friend of your columnist, and Roberto Mancini were the most feared threats in the Serie A team.

Cruyff deputized 21-year-old Albert Ferrer, Barcelona’s emerging right-back, who had actually been injured for the previous six months, to perform a tighter man-marking job on Mancini. Nervous as Ferrer was, and as brutally exhausting as it was, the strategy worked and he Blaugrana A side from Pep Guardiola, Michael Laudrip, Hristo Stoichkov, Tský Begiristen and Ronald Koeman won the final after extra time.

Ferrer, known as “Chappie”, told me: “I only played my first game back, half a year after being injured, 10 days before the final. It was crazy, it was terrifying mentally. Not only did I Chosen to start the final, Johan gave me the responsibility of marking Mancini, man-to-man.

“When Johan planned the team’s strategy for the game, he didn’t include me. He just planned a final that would be 10 vs 10. I did that in La Liga with Emilio Butragueño (Madrid) and Fran (Deportivo) La Coruña). In fact Fran used to complain ‘Chuppie, leave me alone!’ and I’d say ‘look Frank, I’m not play and you’re not play… I don’t want to do it, but the manager told me to!

“At Wembley, I didn’t enjoy the game because of the responsibility. When you’re competing, there’s never a moment in which you can relax and enjoy the occasion. It’s all stress.

“Unlike now, in those days we didn’t have video analysis. The staff warned me that Mancini was moving everywhere, that the main duties were trying to get close to him so he wouldn’t get on the ball and timing. So like As soon as Sampdoria got the ball, I could harass Mancini. We all knew I would try and make sure Roberto had zero effect.

“I was 21 and by the end of 120 minutes I was on my feet. Mancini tried to get me out of my comfort zone, into a position I really didn’t want to be in. But I We needed to do what Johan said. I had my own opinion on it all and I didn’t enjoy the game, but we won.”

And there’s the rub: win.

I can’t remember any occasion between 1992 and Xavi’s first decision to use the anti-Vinicius strategy in 2022, almost 30 years later, when Barcelona marked an opponent. This happened enough with Lionel Messi, but it seemed somehow low-culture that Barcelona, ​​the self-styled “gods of cultural football”, should stoop to such blue-collar tactics.

Now, there is zero criticism and the whole idea looks like a masterstroke from the 43-year-old Catalan coach. It’s Ancelotti’s job, with the help of the big minds around him, to figure out how to break out of that trap.

I know that Ferrer draws a distinction between the work he has done as coach of the current Italian national team and what Araujo needs so far to achieve against Madrid’s spirited winger. “Man marking is different,” he insisted. “I was ordered to follow Mancini everywhere and he deliberately dragged me around. Until now, Araujo was simply marking Vinicius tightly and matching him up as a right-back against the left winger. it’s not the same.”

All of which may reflect on what needs to be planned on the training ground, and then executed at the Camp Nou, when Madrid think about how to free Vinicius from such marking and this Sunday’s Win the important match.

What if Ancelotti deployed Vinicius as Madrid’s right wing? Will Xavi order Araújo to follow him? Would he order the Uruguayan right-footed defender to play left-back?

What if Ancelotti gave Vinicius full license to play where he chose according to the flow of the match? switching from left to right, dropping deep in midfield, playing as a false 9 in the middle of attack, with Karim Benzema moving down the left, as he used to do when Cristiano Ronaldo was still running forward los blancos‘ attack?

These ideas are all about elusiveness, sowing the seeds of chaos and confusion, and testing both Araujo’s concentration and his decision-making skills time and time again. Any movement from Vinicius completely “inside” or across the pitch naturally leaves a void that, potentially, players such as Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Nacho Fernandez or Eduardo Camavinga can deliberately attack and try to exploit. can try.

A side bet for Ancelotti “What if?” The scenario where Vinicius is told to simply “keep trying” and there is no change in position or strategy… except the canny Italian planning how his Madrid team can open up to Barcelona this time on a 10 vs 10 basis Is.

Vinicius vs. Araújo – Two stubborn, determined, victory-obsessed South Americans in their early 20s, facing each other classico Divide — Builds rivalry through the ages. One that might inspire “Did you see that!” moments for years and years to come. But right now, the smart bet is that Carlo Ancelotti, with two previous domestic trophies this season, is working on new ideas, new tactics and better direction so that the amazing Vinicius can finally shake off his Uruguayan shadow and keep Madrid . live weather.

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