El Clasico is back. Real Madrid and Barcelona will play at the Santiago Bernabeu for the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals.
Lionel Messi has scored in 16 straight games for Barcelona, including a four-goal effort against Osasuna.
Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 10 goals this month for Real Madrid, including a hat-trick against Getafe.
If Madrid wants to come out victorious, Ronaldo has to take over the game and his team needs to take away Messi’s game.
It will surely be no easy task for Madrid to stop Messi, but there are ways to be successful.
Real Madrid needs to put two defenders on Messi throughout the game. That will leave a man unmarked, but Madrid has to be able to withstand the buildup play. That means forcing interceptions or taking away the passing lanes to Messi.
Getting these interceptions will enable Madrid to hit Barcelona with its counterattack. The counterattacks should be swift and useful if Ronaldo and Karim Benzema show up to play.
If Madrid plays with two defensive midfielders, notably Sami Khedira and Michael Essien, they should be able to smother Messi and give him no space to make plays.
Khedira will be the key. If he can get himself into good positions, his quickness and ability to start that counter attack will help Madrid with possession and most importantly, keep the ball away from Messi.
Madrid also needs to get on the board early, and force Barcelona to come to them. Barcelona is known for making their opponents chase the game and it would be best for Madrid to avoid that situation.
Shutting down Messi is a task not many teams can do. Madrid will be missing some key players in this match-up and it will be up to Ronaldo to make some plays.
Keeping a man on Messi and not letting him find open space should pay dividends for a weakened Los Blancos defense. There are others on this Barcelona team who could undoubtedly make an impact in the game, but shutting down Messi will be the top priority for Madrid.
Messi is the key to both teams' success.