El Clasico Preview: Barcelona vs Real Madrid
On Sunday, the whole football world will be glued to events unfolding at Camp Nou when Barcelona welcome Real Madrid for the second El Clasico of the season.
Los Blancos were in red-hot form at the start of the season and they seemed destined to easily claim the title after a 3-1 victory in the first Clasico, but the Blaugrana recovered and have gone on to win 16 of their last 18 games in all competitions.
Barcelona come into this game off the back of six straight wins, which has allowed Luis Enrique’s men to overtake Carlo Ancelotti’s charges at the summit of La Liga.
They thoroughly out-played Manchester City in their last game in midweek and the Citizens needed an inspired performance from Joe Hart to avoid a heavy defeat.
Life has not been as smooth for Real as they head into this game after just one win from their last four games in a period that included defeats to Schalke and Athletic Bilbao.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has had to jump in to offer a vote of confidence to Ancelotti after the Italian manager’s tactical acumen and man-management recently came into question. It is not all doom and gloom at Real Madrid as they are still in the Champions League and they are just a point behind Barcelona in the La Liga title race.
This game also brings scrutiny to the world’s best players. Lionel Messi continues his record-breaking goal haul across all competitions. He now sits on 32 goals in La Liga, having scored 17 since the turn of the year, with five league hat-tricks already this season.
Current World Footballer of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo has not been at his best of late, last scoring in the league three weeks ago. He has scored just four La Liga goals since being announced as the Ballon d’Or winner in early January, yet his 30 goals in 24 matches so far this season is undoubtedly a more-than-impressive tally.
Barcelona team news
- Sergio Busquets (ankle) returned to training on Thursday to give him a chance of playing in this weekend’s match.
- Thomas Vermaelen (hamstring) has been out all season, is yet to make his Barcelona debut since a summer move from Arsenal and is still out.
Real Madrid team news
- James Rodriguez (metatarsal fracture) is the only real injury concern for the visitors.
Barcelona vs Real Madrid prediction
Barcelona can make do with a draw, but this is a fixture that rarely ends in stalemates. The winner will go top of the league and both sides will be targeting that advantage with 10 games to go after the international break.
Both sides will adopt similar tactics, with Luis Suarez and Karim Benzema as the mobile centre forwards in 4-3-3 formations. Both will frequently make runs to drag defenders out of position and create space for Neymar, Messi, Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to exploit.
Tactically, there is little that can be done to shut down Messi and Ronaldo when the pair are at the top of their respective games, but Real Madrid will have the edge in terms of central defences.
Los Blancos have been solid this season when Pepe and Sergio Ramos have started and Ancelotti will be glad to have the pair together on Sunday.
Barcelona will probably partner Gerard Pique with Marc Bartra as reports from Camp Nou suggest that the young defender was rested in midweek for El Clasico. Bartra may have impressive composure and brilliant positioning for a defender of his age but he could be a risky choice against the athletic Real front-three because he lacks pace. Bale already exposed him during last season’s Copa Del Rey final.
On the flipside, the defensive worry for Real Madrid could be Toni Kroos at the base of their central midfield triangle. Kroos is still learning the defensive side of the game, having been switched to a deep-lying role. Though he remains highly intelligent, he will need a good game to contain the third-man midfield runs of Ivan Rakitic and Messi’s infield movement from the Barcelona’s right flank.