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James Rodriguez a Potential Real Madrid Weakness Barcelona Can Exploit

James Rodriguez a Potential Real Madrid Weakness Barcelona Can Exploit

Posted by Juan Gavasa on October 23, 2014

One of the notable differences between Real Madrid and Barcelona in the recent history of El Clasico has been the way Los Blancos' power has stood in contrast to the Catalans' intricacy.

More and more, these enthralling encounters have become battles between dynamism and finesse, with each outfit's leading identity—Cristiano Ronaldo for Real Madrid; Lionel Messi for Barcelona—standing as symbols of the clash in styles.

But Saturday's edition of club football's grandest contest is set to deviate from that theme somewhat, with Carlo Ancelotti's gifted but quite lightweight midfield holding an unshakable resemblance with that of their fiercest rivals.

When the teams take their respective shapes at the Bernabeu this weekend, the hosts will likely field a central ensemble of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Isco and James Rodriguez. Such a combination provides Real Madrid with the silkiest of midfields, but the absence of previous El Clasico figures such as Angel Di Maria, Sami Khedira, Xabi Alonso and Gareth Bale will ensure there's a distinct lack of the club's characteristic force in Real Madrid's ranks.

With that in mind, it's Rodriguez—set to cover Bale's two-way, right-sided role—who will be eyed as a potential source of weakness by Barcelona.

Of course, replacing the Welshman on the right side of Real Madrid's attack isn't entirely new for the Colombian. Due to Bale's injury, Rodriguez has slotted into that role seamlessly for the consecutive victories over Levante and Liverpool in the last week.

But doing so against inferior opponents is one thing. Excelling against Barcelona is another.

Both Les Granotes (who were spectacularly abysmal) and the Reds (who are still very out of sorts sans Luis Suarez) had no hope of dictating the game centrally against Madrid, allowing Kroos, Modric and Isco to control the midfield and reducing the defensive task of Rodriguez in Bale's role.

But Barcelona have typically dominated possession in clashes with Real Madrid—you can see the game-by-game breakdown of it at WhoScored.com—heightening the importance for Ancelotti's wider players to impact the game in a multitude of ways.

And that responsibility, as has been stated regularly, has been made clear by Ancelotti when discussing the inner workings of his system.

"[The] 4-4-2 is the best defensive system that exists," the Italian said last month, per Inside Spanish Football. "[The] 4-3-3 doesn't give the balance required, and it's more difficult to pressure higher upfield. Our intention is to defend with a 4-4-2 and attack with a 4-3-3, with two wide players."

Just a week later, the Real Madrid boss expanded upon that, per Inside Spanish Football, explaining the dual significance of Bale's right-sided role in his XI.

"When we have the ball, we play with three midfielders, and without it, Bale helps us to defend as part of a line of four, with James moving over towards the left."

Essentially, Ancelotti has relied on Bale as an exceptional athlete in order to cater for his revamped midfield.

Without the ball, the former Tottenham star provides the extra body in midfield by completing a second bank of four, reducing the defensive burden on Kroos and Rodriguez. When possession is won, the Welshman is then required to charge forward from that deeper starting berth to join Ronaldo and Karim Benzema and maintain the existence of Ancelotti's breathtaking front three of last season.

Ahead of Saturday's clash with Barcelona—a team that will force Real Madrid to defend and attack in equal measure—it's the sheer physical burden of that role that could be a problem for Rodriguez. A fine technician but a lesser athlete, the 23-year-old's impact is more likely to be felt in only one way.

Should he relentlessly attack, as is his natural inclination, the Catalans could enjoy a significant degree of freedom down their left flank.

For Barcelona, therefore, Rodriguez's defensive vulnerability in Bale's role—Levante and Liverpool were just never going to be good enough to make it an issue—appears to be an obvious area of weakness to exploit, particularly when one considers Luis Enrique's left-sided armoury.

At full-back, La Blaugrana have the rapid Jordi Alba to start their attacking punch from inside their own half, with Andres Iniesta and Neymar ready to bombard Daniel Carvajal or Alvaro Arbeloa if Rodriguez can't replicate Bale's work rate and firm up Real's midfield without the ball.

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