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La Liga title win would be sur-Real

Even should Los Blancos clinch, they'll still be 2nd best

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Win or lose today's Clasico at Camp Nou, Real Madrid will probably go on to win La Liga.

Such has been their dominance this season that Los Blancos can afford to drop both their league matches against Barcelona (they were defeated 3-1 at the Bernabeu in December) and still lift the trophy at the end of the season.

It wouldn't make for the sweetest championship, but it would be a championship nonetheless.

Coming into today's encounter Madrid lead their existential rivals by four points with just five rounds to play. A Barcelona victory would cut the lead to one, but then Madrid would still have to trip up at least once more for the Catalans to win a fourth consecutive title.

They may have dropped points in three of their last seven matches, but it seems incomprehensible that Madrid would squander their grip on first place so late in the season, having spent so much of it atop the table.

Of course, such is Barcelona's psychological supremacy when it comes to this rivalry that a good drubbing inflicted on Madrid at Camp Nou could well tip that table in their favour.

Madrid has yet to beat Barcelona in the league since Jose Mourinho arrived in all his managerial majesty in 2010, and while his sides have won nearly 80 per cent of their matches since he took charge they have been the second-best team in the land by a stretch, and that won't change even if they're partying in Cibeles Square on May 13.

That is unless they win, or even manage a draw, in today's Clasico.

To do that, they would do well to heed the wisdom of Galdalf from The Lord of the Rings, who had a nemesis or two to overcome during his own adventures: "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

What Mourinho's Madrid has never seemed to grasp in nearly two years of otherwise colossal supremacy is that no team, not even they, can possibly formulate a tactical approach to stifle Barcelona's fluid, short-passing attack.

There simply are no Xs and Os when it comes to preparing for a match against the Blaugrana; all the high-minded formational talk in the world won't make a bit of difference.

That's because Barcelona dictate the terms.

And unless the opponent accepts that, and plays within those parameters, they will be obliterated. But there's one thing even mighty Barcelona cannot manipulate: time.

Chelsesa, following the template laid out by Marcelo Bielsa's Athletic Bilbao in November, made remarkable use of time when they beat Barcelona on Wednesday in the Champions League. Rather than sitting back and waiting for the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta to march through their two lines of defence, the Blues did their best to create as many stops and starts as possible -- breaks in play that disrupted the fluency that is a Barcelona hallmark.

They also paid close attention to the individual battles that took place during the extended spells of Barcelona possession. By breaking the game down into hundreds of segments only a few seconds long they enabled themselves to concentrate closely on the many battlegrounds that took shape over the 90 minutes.

No side will conquer Barcelona without an extraordinary dedication to concentration. Again, it's all psychological.

Whether Madrid are humble enough to take this approach in today's showdown is yet to be seen, although precedent would suggest they're not. And if they're not, and return to the capital on a hiding, they might well crumble under the psychological damage done by another defeat to their bitter rivals.

Even if they end up winning the title, they'll still be second-best.

jerradpeters@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 21, 2012 C7

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