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

When Real Madrid and Barcelona meet clasico It is such a gigantic spectacle of sportsmanship and cultural tension that its global charm and national significance often obscure some of the small details that make an individual match unforgettable. Let’s put it on the right here.

Yes, there is no doubt that Sunday is the event when the reigning champions of Spain, Europe and the world travel to the besieged Barcelona, ​​which – during all sorts of legal investigations, entangled in debts, shackled by the rules of La Liga “Financial Fair Play” – how in a way nine years. points outside White and will take the lead by an almost unassailable lead of 12 points with 12 games to go if they win their first Camp Nou. Clasico for four and a half years (two defeats, two draws). It is important.

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This drama is about how Barcelona won and was able to sniff their first La Liga title since 2019, or Madrid making another foray into their biggest rivals to close the points gap to six and deal a devastating blow to confidence Barcelona, ​​already a tasty sporting story. But there is also a little diamond of drama built into the big picture.

Since Xavi took over at Barcelona, ​​his team has played Madrid five times in those 16 months away from the Camp Nou. Their record is four wins, one loss.

Those classic were in Las Vegas (friendly), Saudi Arabia (Spanish Super Cup final) and twice at the Santiago Bernabeu (in La Liga and the Spanish Cup). Every time Barcelona won, the common themes were a) Ronald Araujo knocked Vinicius out of the game and b) Carlo Ancelotti’s side didn’t have enough alternatives after the superb Brazilian was annulled to keep from losing 4–0, 1– 0, 3. -1 and again 1-0.

classic in which the Uruguayan went head-to-head with a superb Madrid left winger who went on to win Barcelona 9-1 on aggregate – oh, and that’s the only time in this series that Araujo wasn’t on the pitch to deny Vinicius, Madrid won 3-1 in the first La Liga Clasico this season and both of the first two goals of the champions owe much to the superb, havoc-inducing attacks of the Brazilian, a man Ancelotti calls “the most determined player in the world.”

This is no easy task for Ancelotti and it is high time for him, his staff, Vinicius’ teammates and the elusive 22-year-old to find a solution. Particularly given Sunday’s win or draw, Madrid will return to the Camp Nou two and a half weeks later, potentially facing the same Araujo conundrum against Vinicius and losing 1-0 in the Copa del Rey semi-finals, the first leg. .

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It’s not a moment to “put your head down and hope for the best” but maybe we can pause for a second and look back at something that might inspire Javi to make decisions. If not, it’s still a good source of reference material.

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

Cruyff assigned 21-year-old Albert Ferrer, Barcelona’s starting right-back who had actually been injured for the previous six months, to keep a close eye on Mancini. As nervous as it made Ferrer, and as brutal and tiring as the job, the tactic worked. blaugrana Pep Guardiola, Michael Laudrip, Hristo Stoichkov, Chiki Begiristain and Ronald Koeman won the final after extra time.

Ferrer, known as “Chapi”, told me: “I only played my first game after being injured for half a year, 10 days before the final. It was crazy, it was terribly psychological. Johan instructed me to mark Mancini as male to male.

“When Johan planned team tactics for the game, he didn’t include me. He just planned the final to be 10 on 10. I did this job before in La Liga, against Emilio Butragueño (Madrid) and Fran (Deportivo). La Coruna). In fact, Fran often complained, “Chapi, leave me alone!” and I’d say, “Look, Fran, I’m not play and you don’t play… I don’t want to do it, but the manager told me!

“I didn’t like the game at Wembley because of the responsibility. While you are competing, there is no moment when you can relax and enjoy the event. It’s a total tension.

“Unlike now, in those days we didn’t have video analysis. The staff warned me that Mancini was moving all over the place, that the main duty was to try to be close to him so that he could not hit the ball and so the moment Sampdoria got the ball, I could juggle Mancini hard. We all knew that I would try to make sure that Roberto did not have any impact.

“I was 21 and by the end of the 120th minute I was on my feet. Mancini was trying to take me out of my comfort zone, into a position I really didn’t want to be in. But I had to do what Johan said. I had my own opinion on all this, and I didn’t like the game, but we won.”

And here’s the problem: victory.

I can’t remember a single instance between 1992 and 30 years later when Xavi first decided to use a tactic against Vinicius in 2022 when Barcelona were throwing shots at the opposition. With Lionel Messi, this happened quite often, but somehow it became considered low-culture that Barcelona, ​​the self-proclaimed “gods of cultural football”, stooped to such blue-collar tactics.

Now no criticism, and the whole idea looks like a masterstroke by the 43-year-old Catalan coach. Ancelotti’s task, aided by the large brains around him, is to break out of this trap.

I know that Ferrer makes a distinction between the work he has done with the current Italy manager and what Araujo has so far had to achieve against the energetic Madrid winger. “Man aims differently,” he emphasizes. “I was ordered to follow Mancini everywhere, and he deliberately dragged me along. So far, Araujo has just kept an eye on Vinicius and picked him up as a right-back against a left winger. It’s not the same.”

All of this could lead to something that needs to be planned on the training ground and then implemented at the Camp Nou, when Real Madrid thinks about how to free Vinicius from such markings and win this Sunday’s decisive match.

What if Ancelotti used Vinicius as Madrid’s right winger? Will Javi Araujo order to follow him? Will he order the Uruguayan right-back to play left-back?

What if Ancelotti gave Vinicius full license to play where he chooses according to the course of the match? Switching from left to right, a significant drop into midfield, playing a false nine from the right in the middle of the attack, with Karim Benzema moving to the left, as he often did when Cristiano Ronaldo was still in the lead. White‘ attack?

All of these ideas are about elusiveness, sowing the seeds of chaos and disorder, and constantly testing both Araujo’s concentration and his decision-making skills. Any move by Vinicius “inside” or across the pitch naturally leaves a void that players like Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Nacho Fernandez or Eduardo Camavinga could potentially deliberately attack and try to exploit.

A side bet for Ancelotti could be to plan “what if?” a scenario in which Vinicius is simply told to “keep trying” and there is no change in position or tactics…except for the cunning Italian plans for how his Madrid team can open Barcelona 10v10 this time.

Vinicius vs. Araujo – two stubborn, determined, victory-obsessed South Americans in their early 20s who face each other through eternal Clasico divide – has the makings of rivalry for centuries. One that can inspire “You’ve seen it!” moments for years and years to come. But right now, you can bet that Carlo Ancelotti, who has the last two home trophies at stake this season, is brewing new ideas, new tactics and smarter instructions so that the wonderful Vinicius can finally shed his Uruguayan shadow and keep the Madrid one. the season is alive.


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