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The Malaysian Insider :: Sports

Jose Mourinho set to haunt Barca in semi-finals again

Posted: 25 Apr 2011 08:18 PM PDT

Jose Mourinho (left) and Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola at their Champions League semi-final second leg match at the Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona in this April 28, 2010, file photo. — Reuters

MADRID, April 26 — Jose Mourinho is ready to haunt Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals again tomorrow, this time with Real Madrid.

Knocking Barca out of Europe's elite club competition after winning the King's Cup final against them last week could signal the start of a power shift in Spanish football away from Catalunya and back to Madrid.

The Portuguese coach has always managed to rile Barca, where he spent some of his formative years as an assistant to Bobby Robson in the 1990s, and guided Inter Milan to victory against them in the semis last year on the way to Champions League glory.

Mourinho also crossed swords with Barca three times during his spell at Chelsea, twice bettering them over a "two-match series".

His ability to ruffle the Catalan team's feathers knows no end and he has outwitted them so far in the unprecedented "four-match series" between the world's two richest clubs.

A 1-1 league draw, when Real came back to level with 10 men on April 16, was followed by last Wednesday's 1-0 extra-time victory in the King's Cup final, Mourinho's first trophy as coach of the Madrid side.

The league title is all but wrapped up for Barcelona but the tantalising prospect of a 10th European Cup triumph lies ahead for Real, and a third for Mourinho all with different teams.

Barca defender Gerard Pique refused to be drawn on the hot topics of debate after the first two "Clasicos" such as the quality of the refereeing, the length of the grass at the Bernabeu and Real's aggressive, "negative" approach.

"The grass is long but I'm not going to cry about it," the Spanish World Cup winner told daily El Pais of the pitch at the Bernabeu venue tomorrow.

"It's normal for them to take particular care over their defence and that they try to stop our passing game. Mourinho will use everything available to him.

Powerful team

"At the end of the day they are a powerful team with very good forwards," added Pique.

Breaking coach Pep Guardiola's record of five consecutive "Clasico" wins, including a 5-0 demolition of Mourinho's team at the Nou Camp in November, and then winning the King's Cup has dented Barca's aura of invincibility.

Real have proved they can match their rivals with ultra-aggressive tactics that have not been to everyone's liking, with the Madrid club having had a player sent off in the last three meetings between the sides.

The two clubs are the competition's top scorers with 24 goals each but the previous two "Clasicos" have been tense tussles with few sights of goal.

Madrid have packed the centre of the pitch with three holding players led by centre-back turned midfield-enforcer Pepe, ruthlessly denying Barca's playmakers time and space while looking to break quickly.

Sami Khedira's injury means Lassana Diarra will probably replace him in midfield while Mourinho may opt to play without a recognised No. 9 again as he did in the King's Cup final.

At the back, Ricardo Carvalho is suspended but Real's defensive problems are not as acute as Barca's.

The absence of Eric Abidal, Adriano Correia and Maxwell mean the returning Carles Puyol could be asked to fill in at left back while midfielder Javier Mascherano could play in defence again.

Any change in Barca's standard 4-3-3 formation would probably be read as an acknowledgement that Real have worked out the way to play against Guardiola's three magicians — Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.

Probable teams:

Real Madrid: 1-Iker Casillas, 17-Alvaro Arbeloa, 4-Sergio Ramos, 18-Raul Albiol, 12-Marcelo; 10-Lassana Diarra, 3-Pepe, 14-Xabi Alonso; 22-Angel Di Maria, 9-Cristiano Ronaldo, 23-Mesut Ozil

Barcelona: 1-Victor Valdes; 2-Dani Alves, 14-Javier Mascherano, 3-Gerard Pique, 5-Carles Puyol; 8-Andres Iniesta, 16-Sergio Busquets, 6-Xavi; 17-Pedro, 10-Lionel Messi, 7-David Villa. — Reuters

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Mellow Ferguson praises Schalke’s determination

Posted: 25 Apr 2011 07:41 PM PDT

Alex Ferguson (right) and goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar at a news conference in Gelsenkirchen, April 25, 2011. — Reuters

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany, April 26 — Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson praised Schalke 04's determination yesterday, and admitted to apprehension as his team prepare to face the Germans in the Champions League semi-final first leg today.

Schalke beat Valencia in the round of 16 and then crushed holders Inter Milan to book their first ever semi-final spot.

Ferguson was in the stands of the Auf Schalke arena for the return leg against Inter and said he was impressed by how the Gelsenkirchen-based side handled the game.

"The first thing is that they never looked like losing the game (against Inter)," he told a news conference. "They were in complete control. It was a good impression.

"I think you always get apprehensive at this stage of the competition. We had the same situation in the past against Juventus or Barcelona, where we played very well away from home but in the return leg it was pure agony, absolute agony."

Although their most famous victory came over Bayern Munich in the 1999 final, United have lost all four of the two-leg knockout ties they have played against German sides since the start of the Champions League in 1992.

"They have a self determination, the German people have, and it is reflecting the way they are approaching all the sports," he said.

"There is a similarity with English people, maybe more with Scottish. We have this determination in Scotland, like I have, although I am more mellow now," he said with a dry smile.

Never give up

Nevertheless Ferguson reckoned his team were looking good after making their fourth semi-final in five years.

"This is a team that will not give in. Absolutely no chance that this team will give in," he said.

"The present group has enough experience now in Europe. I think it is where we should be. Expectations from my point of view are high. You get envious of other clubs so we try to get parity with that, with Real, AC Milan, Ajax."

Ferguson, bidding for his third Champions League title and United's fourth, said criticism early in the season regarding their away form was in part unjustified given they have kept a clean sheet in all their Champions League away games this term.

"I think it was a wee bit misguided, the criticism referring to our away form. Our home form has been absolutely sensational. If you talk about away form (earlier in the season) you can see the criticism but not all the time," he said.

Several key players including Rio Ferdinand, Antonio Valencia and Park Ji-sung are all back fully fit, swelling Ferguson's options.

"It's important when the big, big competitions come along that all your players are fit and you have a selection problem. That's good," said the Scotsman, who also felt striker Wayne Rooney was peaking at just the right time.

"I think Wayne's form has been absolutely fantastic for the past two months. I think good players create their own platform in the sense of importance. There is a lot of expectation of the boy. He stepped up to the bat for that," he said.

As for who he would prefer in the final — Real Madrid or Barcelona — should United advance, Ferguson said: "I don't like jumping ahead. We first have to deal with Schalke, then we will see." — Reuters

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