BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 15: Alexis Sanchez (R) of FC Barcelona celebrates scoring his sides third goal with his teammate Daniel Alves during the la Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Betis Balompie at the Camp Nou stadium on January 15, 2012 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

Barcelona Vs. Real Madrid 2012, Copa Del Rey: Barcelona Hang On, Advance To Semifinals

Real Madrid gave it a real go at the Camp Nou, but Barcelona advance to the semifinals of the Copa del Rey 4-3 on aggregate after a feisty 2-2 draw.

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Barcelona Vs. Real Madrid, 2012 El Clasico: Barcelona Claim 4-3 Aggregate Win

After Barcelona managed to come from behind at the Santiago Bernabeu to take the first leg of the Copa del Rey 2-1, it looked as though the return fixture at the Camp Nou would be little more than a formality. Madrid have never looked anything like outplaying Barcelona in their head-to-head matches since Pep Guardiola took the reigns at the Catalan club, and there was no reason to expect anything different here.

Needing at least two goals to avoid being knocked out at the quarterfinal stage, Jose Mourinho threw caution to the wind and fielded an impressive attacking lineup spearheaded by Gonzalo Higuain and backed up by the talents of Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Kaka. Barcelona countered with... being Barcelona, with Guardiola not looking to change a winning formula.

Much as in the previous two Clasicos, Madrid started out well on top and they should have gone ahead within ten seconds of kickoff. Gerard Pique managed to completely lose the run of Higuain after a Dani Alves backpass, and as a result the striker was able to go one on one against Jose Pinto. Unfortunately for Madrid, he rolled his shot well wide of the post.

Similar was to come - the visitors were well on top for more or less the entire half, with Kaka and Ozil pulling the strings. Barcelona's vaunted midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta* were more or less complete passengers as Madrid's counterattacking game sliced into the hosts. Higuain had another chance to score. Ronaldo shot straight at Pinto when he might have done far better. Ozil sent a blistering effort from fully 40 yards that somehow managed to hit the crossbar, the post and then the line - without crossing it.

*Iniesta was replaced by Pedro on the half hour mark after suffering a hamstring problem.

It was a mix of poor finishing and bad luck for Mourinho's men, and everyone watching had to know that their failure to convert their chances was going to cost them. So it proved just before halftime, where fantastic work by Dani Alves released Lionel Messi for a run right up the middle. As Madrid's defenders congregated around Barcelona's talisman, he deftly flicked the ball past Pepe and to Pedro in space. The resultant first-time finish left Iker Casillas with no chance, and the hosts led against the run of play.

It's been a distressing trend that Clasicos have been dissolving into madness as soon as Barcelona score a goal, and unfortunately it kept up here. Lassana Diarra was fortunate not to be sent off after a horrible hip check on Messi while he was already carrying a booking, Pepe started playacting and the foul mood even spread to Messi himself, who ended up picking up a yellow for kicking out at Pepe (although it's hard to blame him). The Diarra foul was by far the worst and it touched up something of a contretemps, but when the dust cleared we were treated to a moment of absolute beauty.

Dani Alves was hanging out in space on the right when the ball came to him from the free kick. Surveying his options from virtually the corner of the penalty box, the right back stopped, took aim, and blasted a peach of a shot straight into the top corner. Casillas had no chance of stopping it - he's lucky he didn't have his fingers taken off - and suddenly, with halftime looming, Madrid were down 2-0 in the match and 4-1 on aggregate. And that was despite playing pretty well!

More disappointment was on its way for the visitors. They looked beaten for perhaps the first ten minutes after the interval, but fought back well and when Sergio Ramos had the ball in the back of the net for a free kick it seemed as though they'd been handed a lifeline. However, Ramos had given Alves a little bit of the tug, and the fullback went to ground while Ramos was nodding past Pinto, and the goal was immediately - and possibly unjustly - waved off.

Having what must have looked like a legitimate goal disallowed must have been heartbreaking for Madrid's players, but they didn't let their heads get down, continuing to work hard to find a way through Barcelona's defence. It eventually came through the combination of Ozil and Ronaldo, with the German slipping a neat little pass straight into the Portuguese star's path. Ronaldo expertly took the ball past Pinto and slotted home, avoiding Carles Puyol's desperate attempt at a clearance.

Barcelona barely had time to react before the match was level. Xabi Alonso headed an attempted clearance back into the mixer and Madrid substitute Karim Benzema got to the ball before Puyol did, obliterating the defender before sliding an excellent, acrobatic shot into the back of the net to make it 2-2 on the night and 4-3 Barcelona on aggregate. Suddenly, there were ten minutes left for Madrid to find a goal that would take them to the semifinals in a tie that had looked dead and buried.

A tetchy match got even worse as Barcelona started stalling for time while Madrid's impatience got the better of them. The visitors were pushing up for a third goal, leaving space behind them, and that led to deserved bookings for Fabio Coentrao and Pepe as they committed professional fouls to prevent counterattacks. The red card issued to Ramos, on the other hand, was probably a mistake - a fairly innocuous looking aerial challenge with Busquets resulting in the Barcelona man clutching his face and Ramos walking with a second booking.

The sending off drew most of the sting out of the match, and Barcelona, holding a numerical advantage, were mostly able to kill things off. Three minutes of stoppage time came and went, and the game finally ended as a 2-2 draw. So, Barcelona advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals at the expense of Real Madrid, but the losers - unfortunate not to have made it through themselves - might finally have shown that they can actually play on the same pitch as their arch rivals. Jose Mourinho's probably a relatively happy man.


Barcelona Vs. Real Madrid, 2012 El Clasico: Benzema Makes It 2-2

Well, things are really interesting at the Camp Nou now. Karim Benzema, on as a substitute for the disappointing Gonzalo Higuain, has just justified the switch and brought the match back to level terms after a brilliant piece of attacking play. Barcelona have looked vulnerable at the back all evening and Real Madrid had been unable to take advantage, but a goal by Cristiano Ronaldo got things going and now we've got our second.

Xabi Alonso headed a clearance back towards Barcelona's goal and Benzema managed to beat Carles Puyol to the ball, left him in the dust with a clever turn, and then while falling over backwards, slipped the ball past Jose Pinto and into the back of the net. So it's 2-2 now, and 4-3 Barcelona on aggregate. If Madrid can find another goal, they're through. Wow.

For more on the two teams, check out Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes. We have live coverage of the match in our Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, 2012 El Clasico StoryStream.


Barcelona Vs. Real Madrid, 2012 El Clasico: Ronaldo Pulls One Back

And this might be a game again. Real Madrid, who've already had a goal disallowed in the second half, have pulled a goal back at the Camp Nou. It's no more than they deserve after dominating the first half only to be undone by two very late goals, and no man deserves that goal more than Cristiano Ronaldo.

Mesut Ozil, who's been excellent in the centre of the pitch, was the provider, slipping in a very clever through ball for the Portuguese star to race onto. Jose Pinto is stuck between a rock and a hard place, and when he tries to come out Ronaldo takes the ball around him and finishes from an acute angle, with Carles Puyol's despairing lunge unable to stop the ball going into the back of the net. So it's 2-1 Barcelona on the night and 4-2 on aggregate, but Madrid suddenly have some hope. What will become of it?

For more on the two teams, check out Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes. We have live coverage of the match in our Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, 2012 El Clasico StoryStream.


Barcelona Vs. Real Madrid, 2012 El Clasico: Sergio Ramos Goal Disallowed

Well that was very close for Real Madrid, who need a lifeline in this match. A free kick comes in from the left, Jose Pinto is well beaten, and Sergio Ramos nods into the back of the net. The celebrations last for about four seconds before the goal is called off for Ramos pulling down Dani Alves, who fell over... well, he fell over in a Dani Alvesy sort of way. Madrid, of course, are furious, while Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets is doing his best not to giggle like a schoolgirl.

Cesc Fabregas decides to compound Madrid's misery by putting a stud into Pepe's tendon, which wasn't very nice. We're a good fifteen minutes into the second half, and Madrid, who need three goals to advance now, have got zero. Karim Benzema is readying, but that's unlikely to do anyone any good.

Oh, and we have an Andres Iniesta injury update - the midfielder apparently has a minor hamstring tear.

For more on the two teams, check out Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes. We have live coverage of the match in our Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, 2012 El Clasico StoryStream.


Barcelona Vs. Real Madrid, 2012 El Clasico: Dani Alves Scores Wondergoal To Make It 2-0

Real Madrid have been better that Barcelona in this half, but they find themselves down by two goals anyway. Shortly after Pedro broke the match open with a well-taken goal and Madrid retaliated by acting like small children (Pepe) and then thugs (Lassana Diarra), Dani Alves opted to put the game away by unleashing an absolutely brilliant shot the rocketed past a despairing Iker Casillas and make it 2-0 Barca.

A free kick found its way to the right back in lots of space near the corner of the area. While most of humanity would be expecting Alves to deliver a cross, he instead drilled the ball right into the top corner, leaving Casillas with no chance whatsoever. It's a real wondergoal, and the visitors are stunned - through no fault of their own they find themselves down 4-1 on aggregate and facing an impossible task. It's halftime now, but this match is over.

For more on the two teams, check out Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes. We have live coverage of the match in our Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, 2012 El Clasico StoryStream.


Barcelona Vs. Real Madrid, 2012 El Clasico: Pedro Breaks Deadlock

Goal for Barcelona and it's Pedro the substitute who's broken the deadline. Lionel Messi got the assist (and yes, it was brilliant) but the goal was really set up by Dani Alves, who managed to rob the ball from Cristiano Ronaldo, evade Kaka, and send a beautiful long pass forward to Messi. Suddenly, it was four on three, with the little Argentinian racing through the middle of the pitch.

As the Real Madrid back line collapsed onto Barcelona's superstar, he managed to extricate the ball, playing a deft flick over Pepe to Pedro coming in on the left. A first-time hit saw Iker Casillas well beaten and the score is now 1-0 Barcelona. It's 3-1 on aggregate, and Madrid are in real trouble now. Of course, this is the end of the game as a reasonable spectacle - Lassana Diarra (already on a booking) exacts retribution by demolishing Messi and causes a huge fracas that somehow results in Casillas picking up a yellow. How Madrid are at ten men I don't know.

For more on the two teams, check out Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes. We have live coverage of the match in our Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, 2012 El Clasico StoryStream.


Barcelona Vs. Real Madrid, 2012 El Clasico: Andres Iniesta Injury Forces Sub

Things aren't going well for Barcelona at the Camp Nou. They haven't conceded a goal, but right now that looks like just a matter of time, and they have already managed to lose a key player. Andres Iniesta got caught up in an entirely fair and innocuous looking challenge by Real Madird right back Alvaro Arbeloa, but lands badly and looks to have jammed his knee. It doesn't look like anything serious, but he signals for a substitution and Pedro comes on to replace him. That's not good news at all.

The Pedro substitution means that Cesc Fabregas - who's been excellent as part of the front three so far this season - is pulled back into midfield. Considering how much help Barca appear to need in the centre of the pitch, that might not be the worst thing in the world. Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo gets a yellow card for a slide tackle on Dani Alves that won the ball but took out a lot of player as well. Predictable, Jose Mourinho is furious. Still 0-0 here.

For more on the two teams, check out Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes. We have live coverage of the match in our Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, 2012 El Clasico StoryStream.


Barcelona Vs. Real Madrid, 2012 El Clasico: Lineups

Real Madrid will have to go all-out against Barcelona if they want to overturn their first-leg defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals. In that vein, they're playing a creative attacking lineup that features both Kaka and Mesut Ozil (although Pepe's playing in the centre of defence just in case Lionel Messi needs a good kicking or anything).

Barcelona's response? Their standard 4-3-3. It's worked against the supposed genius of Jose Mourinho the last nine times they've tried it, so why change a winning formula. Hopefully Madrid's changes will make this Clasico more fun than most.

Barcelona starting XI (4-3-3): Jose Manuel Pinto; Eric Abidal, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Dani Alves; Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta; Cesc Fabregas, Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez.

Real Madrid starting XI (4-2-3-1): Iker Casillas; Fabio Coentrao, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Alvaro Arbeloa; Lassana Diarra, Xabi Alonso; Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Mesut Ozil; Gonzalo Higuain.


Barcelona Vs. Real Madrid, 2012 El Clasico: Copa Del Rey Quarterfinals Time, TV Schedule And Preview

Are you ready for another Clasico? Real Madrid, 2-1 losers at home in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal against Barcelona, are desperate to edge out their fierce rivals and achieve an improbable place in the semifinals. In order to advance, they're going to have to ditch the brutal defensive tactics they've employed in the past and go instead with free-flowing attacking football. It's a gamble, and one that's not that likely to pay off, but it's definitely going to be entertaining. Here's how to watch the match.

Barcelona Vs. Real Madrid, Copa Del Rey Quarterfinal, Second Leg

Game Date/Time: Wednesday, 4:00 p.m. ET, 10:00 p.m. local

Venue: L'Estadi Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain

TV: GolTV (USA and Canada), ESPN Deportes (USA - Spanish), Sky Sports 2 (UK). Can be found on Al-Jazeera across the Middle East and Setanta in most countries in Africa.

Online: ESPN3/

For more on the two teams, check out FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes and Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid.


Barcelona Vs. Real Madrid 2012, Copa Del Rey: Jose Mourinho Has A Clasico Problem

It's less than two years since The Special One burst the Barcelona bubble. In 2010, Jose Mourinho expertly guided Inter Milan past Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League en route to making the Serie A side European Champions. The Portuguese manager, who'd already won fame for his exploits at Porto and Chelsea, used the victory - and it was the dethroning of Pep Guardiola, Lionel Messi and company that won him his plaudits rather than the straightforward win over Bayern Munich in the final - as a stepping stone to one of the ultimate prizes in managership: Real Madrid.

And now Barcelona are getting their own back.

The second leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals shouldn't matter. It's a more or less irrelevant domestic affair, a trivial pursuit in relation to the big prizes of a Champions League trophy or a La Liga title. The fact that Madrid are on the verge of being knocked out by Barcelona - who are five points adrift in the league - shouldn't matter. And yet it does.

This is the only trophy in which Mourinho's men have managed to best their arch-rivals since the tiki-taka renaissance began proper in the 2008/09 season. Ignore the Copa del Rey, which Madrid are currently trying their best to do, and you ignore the one real triumph they've had over the bland face of evil European champions. Yes, Los Blancos are favourites to win the league this year, but the end of the season is a long way away and emotions are running high. Somehow, the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey have turned into a crisis of faith for Madrid.

Jose Mourinho thrives on a cult of personality. Wherever he's gone, he's built a siege mentality. Us against the world, says he. Up until now, his players had bought into that without question. But the inability to beat Barcelona - ostensibly what the man was brought in for in the first place - has shown the first cracks in his armour.

Sergio Ramos is overruling his tactical advice during training. Rumours of a Portugal vs. Spain war in the Madrid dressing room are intensifying (hint for the neutrals: join the side that Pepe won't try to torture to death) and even the Special One himself is apparently dropping hints that he's unhappy at Madrid and is thinking of moving on this summer.

Mourinho's trying to defuse the situation with logic:

At the moment, we're leaders with a five-point lead on the team everyone says are the best in the world. Before I arrived here, the club was used to being knocked out of the King's Cup by teams from a lower division, and we won the competition last season. And then we won six games out of six in the Champions League. So I think we haven't got as many problems as people want to say.

But logic goes flying out of the window with the Clasico, as his players' behaviour demonstrates. The battles between Real Madrid and Barcelona are vicious, all-consuming affairs, and unless Mourinho can figure out a way to break Guardiola's hold on winning the things, he's going to see his sky-high reputation continue to slip down towards earth.

For the Special One, it's simple. Win at the Camp Nou on Wednesday, and all is forgiven and forgotten in the face of the triumph. Failure - especially embarrassing failure - could spell the beginning of the end.


Barcelona Vs. Real Madrid 2012, Copa Del Rey: Madrid Need Tactical Change

With Barcelona holding a 2-1 advantage from the first leg of this Copa del Rey quarterfinal-cum-Clasico, Real Madrid are going to have to change things up a little bit. Jose Mourinho's team looked reasonably effective pursuing a counterattacking strategy at the Santiago Bernabeu before Carles Puyol managed to get Barcelona back into the game with a set-piece goal, but with Madrid probably needing to score at least twice, they're going to have to commit to opening things up and trying to put their hosts under real pressure.

Says Managing Madrid:

The team should try to reproduce the 4-2-3-1 formation that they used against FC Barcelona last August in the Supercup games. In those two matches Madrid drew one and lost another, but the team proved that they were able to score against Barcelona.

Last week's formation couldn't stop Barcelona's possession game... Mourinho's plan worked until Barcelona scored their first goal off a set piece. When that happened, Real Madrid was forced to introduce offensive substitutions and the team was already caught in Barcelona's trap (playing the style Barcelona wants them to play).

Unfortunately for Mourinho and company, that's just the sort of style that Barcelona are primed to exploit. Opening up the match lets Pep Guardiola's stunning array of attacking talent into all the space they'll need to rip Madrid apart and deal a crushing blow to the La Liga leaders. Barca Blaugranes offers the obvious response:

To bypass [the 4-2-3-1] Barcelona can do one of two things: either shift back to the 4-3-3 with Dani Alves and Gerard Pique the two "fulcrums" responsible for the safe distribution of the ball to the midfield men, or operate in the 3-4-3, with Sergio Busquets dropping temporarily deeper to aid Gerard Pique, and draw Mesut Ozil away from the middle of the park, ready for the two "wide" centre-backs to push in, and allow Xavi and Iniesta the space on the wing to receive the ball from a long pass. Having bypassed that initial line of pressure, there will be acres of space in the middle of the field, ripe for exploitation.

It's a dilemma. However, things might not be as dire as they seem for Madrid. Barcelona might have a brilliant set of forwards, but their main strength comes from their ability to keep the ball, and quite a lot of that is to do with fear. When teams have gone out and attacked them this season, the Barca machine has looked slightly wobbly, even faltered a couple of times. Then again... well, teams go defensive against the Catalans for a reason. No matter what, I wouldn't want to be in Mourinho's shoes for this one.

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