El Classico Preview…
Barcelona go into this weekends Classico in less than ideal form. Two draws in their last two games and unpersuasive performances to say the least. This means they have only won twice in five matches. Conversely, Real Madrid have won their last five matches, and have won nine out of their last ten. Since Andres Iniesta hobbled off against Valencia in late October, Barcelona have only won three of their seven games played.
While Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez have scored a combined 21 La Liga goals already this term, the special affinity we’ve witnessed between these players in the past hasn’t been quite as prominent. Suarez, in particular, has looked a little off in the last few games. However, this is still Barcelona, and this is the Camp Nou in El Classico. Interestingly, Barcelona need to avoid defeat to avoid a very big dent in their title hopes. It’s rare for Barcelona to have that to content with in December, though I can’t seem curbing their attacking tendencies.
Madrid can build a nine-point buffer with a win on Saturday. Even without Bale and Kroos, Zidane’s side will expect to take something form the game. Los Blancos have showcased an unshakeable authority; they’ve lost just one league game since the Frenchman took over, accumulating 86 of a possible 99 points. And while Barcelona have Messi, Madrid have Ronaldo. After a hat-trick against Atletico, he netted twice against Sporting Gijon on Saturday. The Portuguese loves silencing the Camp Nou.
The history of this fixture is filled with great matches and stunning goals. Real Madrid have the advantage with five wins in ten games. Focusing just on the league, though, paints a different picture because Barcelona have three wins in the last five games. Messi and Ronaldo have twenty-one and sixteen goals respectively in this fixture which puts them first and third on the all-time list. Goals are common when these two meet due to both teams playing attacking styles of football, and this game shouldn’t be any different (although I’m going for a low scoring draw !).
Memories of Bale leaving Marc Bartra for dead and scoring the winning goal in the 2014 Copa Del Rey final are still fresh in the minds of both sets of fans. Of course, the anticipation ahead of the Classico typically centres around the attacking players on show, but so often it’s the footholds achieved in this area of the pitch that have swung the game. Casemiro’s dogged performance in the 2-1 in at the Camp Nou in April, when he disrupted Barca’s passing patterns, was a fine example.
Real Madrid have been playing possession based football whilst getting the results under Zinedine Zidane’s management. They usually play in a fluid formation with it being 4-3-3 when they attack, and 4-4-2 when they defend.
Gareth Bale is usually the player who pulls back into the four in midfield when defending due to his ability to track back which he learned when he used to play as a left-back. Lucas Vázquez is likely to start due to his willingness to track back. It will be interesting to see whether Casemiro starts because he was effective at cutting up Barca’s attacks when they played each other earlier this year or whether Zidane will trust Isco and Mateo
The 4-3-3 system used by Barcelona means Modric and Kovačić. will be tasked with containing their compatriot Rakitic and Iniesta in what should be a tremendous midfield tussle. Both are adept on the ball and have a defensive edge to their game. While they are both playmakers for Madrid, there’ll be an extra onus on their work off the ball on Saturday, especially with Iniesta returning. If the Los Blancos pair can hamper him on his comeback from injury and track the incisive vertical surges of Rakitic,
In years gone by, the Barcelona midfield was the hub of the team, where games would be won and lost, Under Pep Guardiola, the most successful coach in the club’s modern history and a primary disciple of Johan Cruyff, the man behind their definitive style, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta were more central to play.
Traditionally the Catalans dominate the ball, while Madrid are usually quite happy to relinquish possession for periods before striking their opponents on the counter. However, in the Luis Enrique era possession hasn’t been a priority and Barcelona have actually struggled to keep hold of the ball. Against Man City, Sevilla and Real Sociedad they have seen their opponents have spent more time trying to recover the ball than passing it about
Some great news going in to the match is that Andrés Iniesta is back. Gerard Piqué and Jordi Alba picked up knocks against Real Sociedad, so there is doubts over whether they can play. However, the importance of the match may give them the extra motivation to recover in time, and they are both back in training. Aside from that, there is no other issues with the first team players who are likely to start.
Real Madrid have a few injuries of their own to contend with. Gareth Bale is out for the match which will be a major blow for them. He has been one of their best players this season due to the goals and creativity he provides. They are also missing Toni Kroos, and Danilo is doubtful to play, but Dani Carvajal was likely to start over him anyway. Los Blancos also have a few players who have just returned from injury such as Pepe and Casemiro. Summary below:
- Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta is likely makes his comeback from injury.
- Jordi Alba will be hoping to overcome from knee and ankle concerns to start at left-back.
- Real Madrid will be without Gareth Bale, who picked up a long-term ankle injury last week. Lucas Vazquez is likely to take his place in the front three.
- Toni Kroos remains out, meaning Luca Modric will continue in a deeper midfield role.
- Casemiro could also feature on Saturday. Having recently returned from injury, the Brazilian midfielder started against Leonesa on Wednesday.
- Raphael Varane will be hoping to get the nod ahead of Pepe at centre-back
SSN geek fact: If Barcelona score in the game then they match the record for most amount of El Classico matches consecutively scored in, which is currently at twenty-two games.
SSN Classico Predictions:
De Luca 1-2