After a sour spectacle that was the first leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-final between Real Madrid and Barcelona, it’s time to turn our attention back to the domestic league. Lying in second place, eight points away from the top, the Whites take on relegation threatened Zaragoza tonight at the Santiago Bernabeu. Kick-off is at 18 00 hours CET.

preview - zaragoza

Team selection

With three Clasicos down, and one, the most important one of the year, left to go, Mourinho opted to rest several key players for the return leg at Camp Nou next Tuesday.  The nineteen players who earned the call up are:

Goalkeepers: Casillas, Adan, Dudek
Defenders: Carvalho, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo, Nacho Arbeloa, Garay
Midfielders: Granero, Kaka, Canales, Di Maria, Juan Fran
Forwards: Higuain, Adebayor, Benzema

Possible line-up

Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, Lass and Albiol are left out, undoubtedly to prepare for next week’s return leg while Gago and Khedira remain injured. Pedro Leon’s omission all but confirms that the youngster is destined to leave this summer, having been sparsely used, back to either Getafe or perhaps a different club. I personally see the inclusion of Nacho to be a huge positive, and if Mourinho gives him his second 90 minutes tonight, it’ll go a long way to indicate the role he will play in the team next season – with a possible departure of Garay or even Raul Albiol.

I think Mourinho will use a similar line-up that was used against Valencia, and which paid off with such brutal accuracy. In the back four, I’d love to see the quartet of Ramos – Carvalho – Nacho – Marcelo again. I prefer Nacho over Garay solely because the former was in excellent form against Valencia. With Zaragoza missing several of their players through injury, and suspension, I think he’d be adequate enough to man the back line with the more experienced Carvalho.

In the midfield, we will likely see the trivote of Pepe, Kaka and Granero. Since Pepe will be missing the return leg anyway, I reckon Mourinho would utilise him to provide girth in midfield. This is also a perfect match to use Canales again – he came to Madrid with so much hype and pomp but his infrequent appearance in the line-up has diminished that credibility. As for the striker, after his fantastic hattrick last week, I am pretty sure we’ll see Higuain at the front.

Zaragoza

From Zaragoza’s point of view, they will be without Matteo Contini, Victor Laguardia, Saïd Boutahar and Nicolás Bertolo, all of whom are injured. Anders Herrera, meanwhile, is suspended. They are only a point away from the relegation zone, but I think we can easily outmanoeuvre them to collect the three points. Moreover, Real Madrid currently holds a five year winning streak against them at the Bernabeu; in our last encounter, we hammered them 6-0. Moreover, with Barca needing only seven more points to wrap up the title, it’s important to delay the inevitable for as long as we can; especially since their next game is the Catalan derby against Espanyol. If we fail to get the three points tonight, and if they get their three points, it’ll be a huge psychological blow for us. With all eyes focused on the upcoming return leg, where the Whites have a huge, but not impossible, task of turning a 2-0 deficit around, this is a must-win game for us.

Post Clasico sourness

While Tanuj has already summed up what’s wrong with Barcelona in this post, I feel the need to address Busquets’ incredibly racist slur at Marcelo.

He was caught muttering ‘mono’, which means monkey in Spanish, at Marcelo after faking an injury to get the latter sent off. As far as I know, the word ‘mono’ is always used in a racist context within Spain and the fact that neither Barca nor UEFA have raised this issue is sickening. For a club that is an active participant in UEFA’s initiatives to stamp out racism, and for a club whose own players (Eto’o, Ronaldinho, Keita, Abidal et. al) have been subjected to racist slurs from opposition fans, I find this kind of moral double standard to be very disappointing. It just confirms what many have been saying – that Barca lack the class to be a world class institution it claims to be. You can have the best players in the world, you can win six trophies in a season, but if you implicitly condone racism by your own players, it automatically negates even the grandest of your achievements.

A lot of Barca fans, as far as I know, are equally outraged by this because racism transcends club rivalries. Racism is wrong, and if a Real Madrid player were to do it, I wouldn’t want him to put on the club shirt anymore. However, a small group of Barca fans have attempted to defend Busquets actions by suggesting that he could’ve been uttering the word ‘bobo’ instead – which means dumb. If he was indeed calling Marcelo dumb, why would he be covering the side of his mouth? He might be dim enough to think by doing that he can get away from being spotted by the referee and the pitch side cameras, but I don’t think he took into account the fact that in a stadium as big as the Bernabeu, there are cameras at every angle.

Either way, I hope Real Madrid, who have responded to Barca’s threats to take Mourinho to UEFA, take this up to UEFA. It would be interesting to see how UEFA respond – if Busquets is let go unpunished, and if this is brushed under the carpet, it’ll just prove one thing: UEFA has gross double standards. Something which a lot of people have pointed out over the years. Personally, I disagree with Mourinho’s rant and I think he stepped over the line, but when you see actions like this from the body that is supposed to govern European football, you suddenly see Jose Mourinho being vindicated.