Match Preview: El Clasico - Barcelona vs Real Madrid
Real Madrid meet Barcelona at the Camp Nou for one of the world’s most awaited fixtures, the el clasico, and it has come in the nick of time, where, Barcelona have won 9 of their last 10 games while Madrid have won only 6. Barcelona lead the title race by one point, and even though both the coaches have stressed upon the fact that this match is not the title decider, the result of the el clasico will go a long way to decide the winner of the Spanish League.
With 500 million people watching the game, talent worth a handsome 1.8 Billion dollars running around the pitch with the opportunity to get on the top of the league table and cruise through the rest of the season, the stakes have never been higher.
Ronaldo has the opportunity to silence his critics after his below-average performances in the previous month or so, while Lionel Messi can continue his superb form from the previous month (especially from his game against Manchester City, where he nutmegged Milner and Fernandinho).
If Barcelona win, they will lead Madrid by four points whereas if the Los Blancos win, they will surge to the top of the table, and lead the title rivals by two points.
Let’s take a look at the key aspects that will shape the match.
There is no doubt that both the managers will look to bring their best teams onto the pitch tonight. Luis Enrique would not like to make any changes to the team that faced Manchester City on Wednesday except for replacing the young German keeper, Ter Stegen, for Claudio Bravo. The Chiliean has started all of the league matches, and played the season’s only clasico back in October.
Carlo Ancelotti, on the other hand, has finally got his star midfielder, Luka Modric, and star defender, Sergio Ramos, back after losing both of them to injuries this year. Ancelotti is expected to make quite a few changes to the side that faced Levante. Keylor Navas should be replaced by veteran Iker Casillas, even though both of them look a little icky between the two posts while Lucas Silva will be replaced by Toni Kroos. The forwards for both the teams should and will remain the same unless injuries take their toll in the final training sessions.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Bravo, Alves, Pique, Mathieu (Mascherano), Alba, Mascherano (Busquets), Iniesta, Rakitic, Neymar, Messi, Suarez
Real Madrid (4-4-2): Casillas, Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo, Kroos, Modric, Isco, Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo
Real Madrid: James Rodriguez – Fracture on right foot
Barcelona: Sergio Busquets – Ankle Injury (might return to the team sheet; not 100% fit)
Thomas Vermaelen – Injured since the beginning of the season but might make his debut for Barcelona in April
W 1 - 0 v Man City (H)
W 2 - 0 v Levante (H)
W 2 - 0 v Eibar (A)
L 3 - 4 v Schalke (H)
W 6 - 1 v Rayo (H)
L 0 - 1 v Athletic (A)
W 3 - 1 v Villareal (A)
D 1 - 1 v Villareal (H)
W 3 - 1 v Granada (A)
W 2 - 0 v Elche (A)
W 2 - 1 v Man City (A)
W 2 - 0 v Schalke (A)
If one looks at solely the form of both the teams, it is evident that Barcelona is the one that comes out on top with 6 wins off the last 6 matches. Madrid, on the other hand, have lost 2, drew 1 and won 3 out of their last 6.
Another decisive factor is the home and away records for both the teams. In the last 6 games, Barcelona have played two games at home, winning both, they won 6 – 1 against Rayo where Messi scored an iconic hattrick and the Champions League 1-0 win against Manchester City, but if one carefully analyses the match, Barcelona could have won by a huge margin. Joe Hart was in superb form against Barcelona, making 10 crucial saves.
Real have played three away games in the last two months, losing one and winning two. Let’s start with their win over Schalke. Ronaldo and Marcelo inspired the win but the Madrid side had comparatively less chances on goal than they were expected to have. It could have been Di Matteo’s tactics but since that match, the BBC trident failed to inspire Madrid.
In their next away match, they won 2-0 to Elche, but yet again, they should have won by a bigger margin to the minnows of Spanish football and then they lost 1-0 to Athletic Club. Despite the Athletic keeper being in top form, Madrid could not get the ball forward to the attacking third as quickly and as efficiently as they could earlier in the season, which resulted in Barcelona taking over the top of the table.
MSN vs BBC
MSN vs BBC. These were the words that ruled the headlines of all the top sporting newspapers in the world when Enrique announced that Suarez would be playing the el Clasico in October. Although the ‘BBC’ (Bale, Benzema, Cristiano) got the better of MSN (Messi, Suarez, Neymar), it looks like this time it’s going to be close given the statistics.
Messi, Neymar and Suarez have scored 75% of Barcelona’s goals this season (82) and assisted 31 altogether. Out of those 82, Messi has scored 43 goals and assisted 17 in 34 matches, Suarez has scored 13 in 22 matches and has 10 assists and Neymar has 26 goals and 4 assists in 29 matches. The trio have clicked togther ever since the Real Sociedad match, which they lost.
Ivan Rakitic’s goal against Manchester City is a perfect example of how MSN creates goals. As soon as Messi received the ball, Suarez cut to his left and took Martin Demichelis along with him while Neymar cut into the box along with the right back. This gave space to Ivan Rakitic to come into the box unmarked and score.
BBC, thanks to their blistering form earlier this season, are not too far away either. Bale has scored 14 and assisted 6 in 31 games, Benzema has 19 goals and 9 assists in 32 games and Ronaldo has 39 goals and 13 assists in 32 games. That’s 75 goals (72% of Madrid’s goals) and 28 assists. But their recent form has been disappointing.
There have been reports of Ronaldo and Bale falling out after the Ballon d’Or winner reacted in a very selfish way to Bale’s goal. Their lack of harmony might be what is causing this dip in form, but in the end, they are world-class players, and they know what to do in an event like this.
This subplot is going to add more spice to the story that is the el clasico.
Players to Watch Out For:
Cristiano Ronaldo – He might not be in the form of his life, but there is nothing that Ronaldo loves more than silencing the crowd at the Nou Camp. His blistering pace might cause Barcelona and Jordi Alba a few problems. If Barca gives away a free kick within his range, then he might cause a few problems, and even though he hasn't scored in his last 51 attempts, the run will end soon. Why not in the backyard of your greatest rivals?
Luka Modric – Some say that Modric was the key behind Madrid’s amazing form, during which they won 22 games in succession. He got injured, Madrid lost to Atletico in the Copa Del Rey twice and in the La Liga once. They gave up the 4 point lead over their rivals. It will be interesting to see if Modric comes back to his old ways and if he commands the midfield tonight, there is not much Barcelona can do to stop him.
Luis Suarez – Suarez had a slow start to his Spanish life. But now he has scored 8 goals in the past 10 games. He has been pivotal to Barcelona’s turnaround since their defeat to Moyes’ Real Sociedad. Suarez and Messi have a great understanding and both of them can cause havoc to Madrid’s defence. It will also be exciting to see how he fares in his second Clasico as he admitted that in the first one he was a bit nervous.
Ivan Rakitic – Another Croat maestro. Rakitic did not have a good clasico at the Bernabeu and will look to get his revenge. He has developed a productive on-field understanding with the MSN, and how he performs could be the key to Barcelona's hopes of winning the derby. He has won over the hearts of the fans and Luis Enrique with his creative influence.