x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Tito Vilanova stamping his own mark at Barcelona

The coach has tweaked Barcelona's formation ahead of first el clasico against Real Madrid in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup, says Andy Mitten.

Tito Vilanova, the Barcelona coach, has altered Barcelona's formation as he looks to usher in a new era at Camp Nou. Gustau Nacarino / Reuters
Tito Vilanova, the Barcelona coach, has altered Barcelona's formation as he looks to usher in a new era at Camp Nou. Gustau Nacarino / Reuters

Barcelona and Real Madrid meet tonight in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup, a two-legged match held between the league champions and the Copa del Rey winners.

The Super Cup matches between the same two clubs last season were marred by Real coach Jose Mourinho poking Barca's assistant coach Tito Vilanova in the eye.

Vilanova is now Barca's head coach after replacing Pep Guardiola, but like Mourinho he is keen to play down the past.

With Lionel Messi describing it as "a complicated match because Madrid have a lot of experience", their encounter is being hyped as the "Game of the Summer" - and it is definitely still high summer in Spain, with many still on holiday and tickets not even sold out.

It will also be the third game at Camp Nou in just five days, following Sunday's opening league victory against Real Sociedad and Monday's annual Gamper friendly game which is usually a pre-season curtain-raiser but was held after the season started.

The new Spanish season begins in a complete muddle, the start brought forward to mid-August to create space at Christmas and accommodate a bigger than ever football calendar. The shift was not popular and the weekend's matches were poorly attended, with Barca's opening crowd of 57,000 over 20,000 lower than the equivalent fixture last season.

With Barca and Real meeting seven times in cup competitions in the past 16 months, many believe that there have been too many clasicos, yet Camp Nou will be fuller tonight as the match is taken very seriously by both sides.

Real are unlikely to change their tactics which won the title last season, yet Vilanova has tweaked the way Barca play. His defenders play closer together with right-back Dani Alves in a less advanced role. Messi plays deeper, behind wingers Pedro and Alexis Sanchez and almost level with Xavi and Cesc Fabregas or Andres Iniesta.

Sergio Busquets is asked to get forward more to support Messi, who has scored 13 goals in 19 games against Real but not one in the last four, while new left-back Jordi Alba will get forward more than whoever played at left-back last season. Barca also have new midfield signing Alex Song available.

The intriguing tweaks, seen when Barca played at the weekend, are Vilanova's way of making the team his own. Real may be champions, but Mourinho's side recorded just one victory in six games against Barca last season. The intrigue is enough to keep interest in the el clasico high.

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