El CLÁSICO

Real Madrid: Zidane's headache - how to stop Messi in El Clásico... 3 possible solutions

The Real Madrid coach faces the age-old dilemma: How can you keep Messi at bay? Zidane is weighing up three options with Fede Valverde at the fore...

It's been a headache for Capello, Schuster, Juande Ramos, Pellegrini, Mourinho, Ancelotti, Benítez, Solari and, during his two spells as coach, for Zidane: How can Leo Messi be stopped?

The most obvious formula would be to pair Casemiro and Fede Valverde to provide muscle in midfield as they bioth have been doing in this much-improved Madrid of recent weeks. Casemiro and El Pajarito would concenterate on keeping Messi at bay in a 4-4-2 system with Kroos and either Modric or Isco involved in helping the team going forward.

Casemiro, con Valverde.

Another possibility would be to increase defensive duties for Ramos and Varane in the zone where Messi tends to operate which would shorten the distance between the defensive line and the two pivots - Valverde in particular. The third option is to have Valverde man-mark Messi throughout the whole game - something which as we all know, is easier said than done. As Zizou himself knows... in the Clásico before last, he have Mateo Kovacic the task of tracking Messi but Madrid ended losing that game, at the Bernabéu on 23 December 2017, 0-3. On that occasion, Madrid were hit on the counter attack but Mateo continued following orders, leaving Rakitic a free run at goal to put Barça ahead...

Pepe fue la pieza elegida por Mourinho para intentar neutralizar a Messi.

Mourinho and Ancelotti's attempts to stop Messi

One coach who spent many a sleepless night pondering ways of eliminating Messi - or at least minimising his influence, was José Mourinho. During the month-long run of Clásicos in 2011 and 2012, he devised a system known as ‘The Cage’ which was designed to trap the Argentinean by using Pepe as a sweeper in front of the back four. Ancelotti opted for a similr plan in his first Barcelona-Real Madrid in 2013. He played  Ramos in an advanced role with Varane and Pepe as the two centre-backs in a bid to congest the area where Messi is most active. Even that didn't work. Madrid ended losing 2-1 (Messi scored the opener, Mathieu got the winner) and months later Carlo admitted that his tactical plan was “a mistake”.

Messi is in a magical moment of form and Zidane has nine days to put into place a complex system which will annul the Barça number 10 from the Clásico on 18 December.