Camp Nou, Barcelona
October 7, 2012; 19:50 hrs, CET
Finally it’s time. El Clasico yet again. This time these two teams will fight, perhaps to decide to fate of the league at a point sooner than ever before. FC Barcelona currently hold an eight-point advantage over their arch rivals. It’s not rocket science that anything apart from a win for Real Madrid will mean an uphill task for them to overturn the deficit – this keeping in mind that an eight-point lead, although well-nigh insurmountable, is quite the kind of challenge Jose Mourinho and his team might relish.
Team News And Tactical Brief
More than a game. That’s what it is for Barcelona. With the influential captain Carles Puyol ruled out, it’s advantage-Madrid as of now. With Puyol out, Barcelona have just Pique as the sole recognized centreback. But he’s also recovering from a foot injury and has been left out by Vincente Del Bosque from Spain’s squad for the World Cup qualifiers. The defender has reportedly made his desire known to play on Sunday through the pain-barrier, but that looks unlikely, leaving Vilanova with Song-Mascherano as the only defensive pairing. Jordi Alba and Alves should be available on either flank with Adriano making a cameo later into the match.
Vilanova has a steady team, save for his defense. Midfield is one area where the new manager might just have a little worry in the absence of Andres Iniesta. The European Player of the Year, might feature for some part of the game. Fabregas has been decent in the last few games and Vilanova might start him against Real Madrid. This should also allow the manager to accommodate Iniesta in the three-pronged attack with Leo and Pedro, in the event of Alexis’ poor form. Xavi and Busquets are expected to perform their duties in the midfield. The latter perhaps will have to drop a bit deep in order to provide cover to the fragile defense against the inevitable onslaught from Ronaldo and co.
Up front, Lionel Messi is expected to be partnered by Pedro. Vilanova has the option to use Alexis, who could use his pace to stretch the Madrid defense. Iniesta, with his immaculate close-control and movement has the potential to unlock the Madrid defense, but his recent injury might not allow Vilanova to risk him at such an early phase of the season, especially against a defense as physical as Real Madrid’s. David Villa too has made a comeback from a serious injury and might play a part in this game. This leaves the inexperienced but talented Tello to start with. Guardiola gave the youngster a crucial start in the match against Real Madrid last season, at home. However, it’s conceivable that Tello has grown as an individual ever since and will be more decisive if he gets to play a part in this clash.
The most crucial aspect of this match is perhaps going to be the pressure on Victor Valdes to pull off an immaculate performance. Despite some astounding and decisive saves, a few glaring mistakes from the Barca custodian have gifted goals and even a match to their arch-rivals on more than one occasion. This is one chance to salvage some pride for Valdes.
FC Barcelona Probable Line-Up (4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Mascherano, Song, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Cesc; Messi, Pedro, Tello.
Not many managers will want to be in this position. Eight points adrift of the league leaders, who are incidentally one of the best teams in history and facing them in a game away from home. But be not overwhelmed. The man in question is Jose Mourinho – a man who has proved his detractors before, and the team is Real Madrid who according to their fans – don’t just play; they inspire! Champions rise to the occasion and this is perhaps the best possible platform for Jose Mourinho and his men to prove their mettle against their biggest adversary. The injury list at the Camp Nou is too big to be inconsequential and that puts the visitors in the driver’s seat.
The squad at Jose Mourinho’s disposal is bursting at the seams. One of the finest goalkeepers of all times, coupled with a strong and disciplined defense, followed by a midfield comprising superstars and Cristiano Ronaldo – fairytale stuff indeed! Their current situation might not be the best of positions to be in but even the finest of machines need time for the gears to get into groove.
The defense should consist of Arbeloa at the right, Pepe and Ramos in the centre and Coentrao at the left. Marcelo might just miss out because of late Jose Mourinho has preferred the more physical Coentrao in the matches against Barcelona. This defense is as good as it gets and Barcelona will have to work their magic to unlock it. Leo and co. have done so in the past and will need to leave Madrid reeling early, if Barcelona are to have a chance.
In midfield, Jose Mourinho is spoilt for choice. And more importantly – Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite is back. Kaka is always an extremely difficult proposition when he’s playing against you and an extremely reliable one to be playing for you. Very rarely does the Brazilian disappoint and he’s all the more threatening when the opposition’s ranks are decimated with injury. With Ronaldo too hitting top gear, the Clasico has indeed come at the right time for Real Madrid. Iker Casillas has often regarded Xavi as the one player he’d love to have in his team when playing against Barcelona and if the Madrid midfield comprising Alonso, Khedira, Ozil, Di Maria et al, can shut out the Barca maestro, then Real Madrid stand a very realistic chance of beating Barcelona at home.
An ideal midfield combination for Mourinho will be Alonso and Khedira as a double pivot, with Ozil, Di Maria and Ronaldo up front assisting Karim Benzema. The Frenchman might just get the nod ahead of Higuain, who has been extremely wasteful of late. With Kaka, Modric, Callejon and Essien waiting on the wings, things don’t get any better.
Real Madrid Probable Line-up (4-2-3-1): Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pepe, Coentrao; Alonso, Khedira; Ozil, Di Maria, Ronaldo; Benzema
1. Wins: Barcelona – 87, Madrid – 88, draws – 46.
2. Most appearances: Xavi Hernández (34, Barcelona), Raúl González (37, Madrid)
3. Top scorers in Clasicos: Lionel Messi (15, Barcelona), Alfredo Di Stéfano (18, Madrid)
4. Barcelona have won 16 of their last 17 home matches in La Liga & Real Madrid are undefeated in 27 of their last 29 matches in La Liga.
5. The last 6 Clasicos have seen 22 goals scored, with Barcelona scoring 12 and Real Madrid 10.
Players To Watch Out For
This is a no-brainer. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) and Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona) are the dynamic duo that will capture the attention of most of the viewers. These two gentlemen have 12 La Liga goals between themselves and will only look to add to their tally. Even if they don’t score, it is almost certain they they will definitely contribute to the teams’ cause in the best possible way.
While Ronaldo has scored against Barcelona consecutively for some time now, Leo, despite not having matched that, hasn’t been any less influential. The duo will command a lot of attention and both managers will have something extra lined up for them.
FC Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid
This is perhaps Real Madrid’s game to lose. While they have their top players playing to the best of their potential, Barcelona have to deal with a lot of injuries and perhaps a little complacency that arises out of having an eight-point cushion. An exciting match followed by a win for a more desperate Real Madrid is on the cards.