Barcelona will hope to build on their massive victory from midweek as they get ready to host fierce rivals Real Madrid for the El Clasico of the season.
The La Liga season, much like the rest of the top five leagues, has started in a bizarre, rollercoaster fashion, as Real Sociedad sit atop the table, level on points with Villarreal. In other news, Atletico Madrid are the only unbeaten team in the league as it stands, with two wins and two draws in four gameweeks.
Of the big two, Barcelona sit lower in the table with just seven points out of a possible 12. The Catalan giants dropped points against Sevilla in gameweek three after a 1-1 draw and then fell to defeat against Getafe last weekend. They were, however, able to smash five past UCL debutants Ferencvaros in midweek. Life could not have come in a more whirlwind fashion for new coach Ronald Koeman.
Like their rivals for tomorrow, Real Madrid, too, are underway a massive squad rebuild, with club legend Zinedine Zidane at the helm. Being defenders of the La Liga throne has not helped their case this season, though as they too, will come into the El Clasico on the back of back-to-back defeats against newly-promoted Cadiz, and then Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League.
The last meeting between the two sides came at the Santiago Bernabeu, where the hosts ran away with a 2-0 win courtesy of two second-half goals from Vinicius Jr and Mariano Diaz. The reverse fixture at Camp Nou, however, was a goalless draw; the first one since November 2002. The Hard Tackle now takes a closer look at the biggest fixture in club football.
Team News & Tactics
Ronald Koeman’s side will be boosted by the presence of Jordi Alba in the match squad. The Spaniard came off against Sevilla after a hamstring injury and was ruled out indefinitely. However, the squad is still missing first-choice goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and World Cup winner Samuel Umtiti. Konrad de la Fuente, too, has been excluded from the squad because of a technical decision.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) October 23, 2020
Koeman came into the team with a clear idea about the structure that he was going to implement at Barcelona, i.e. a 4-2-3-1. The Dutchman believed that it would bring the best out of compatriot Frenkie de Jong, and subsequently the team. Tomorrow is going to be no different, as de Jong lines up in the double pivot alongside Sergio Busquets, who was rested against Ferencvaros.
Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet will continue as the first-choice defensive pairing despite facing trouble in midweek. El Clasico, however, often brings the best out of Pique, and predicting a solid game on the weekend from him would be a safe bet. Neto will continue in the six-yard box with the gloves.
Pique and Lenglet will be joined by usual partner Jordi Alba, who will be rushed onto the pitch playing as the left-back. The right is where the situation gets tricky. While Sergiño Dest brings with him a whiff of youth and energy, Sergi Roberto has had some of his best performances against the Los Blancos. We expect Koeman to go for experience over youth for this game, and give Roberto the start on the right.
Due to the same reason, Antoine Griezmann will take up the right-wing again after being dropped from the lineup that took on the Champions League opener. Philippe Coutinho and Ansu Fati will aid him as they form the trio that will be playing off of Lionel Messi. The Argentine has taken on a new role under Koeman as a false 9 in the attack but lacks runners in the side that can help get the best out of him.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Neto; Roberto, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Busquets, de Jong; Griezmann, Coutinho, Fati; Messi
Unlike his rivals tomorrow, Zinedine Zidane will have to cater to numerous injuries in the squad, with Mariano Diaz, Martin Ødegaard, Alvaro Odriozola, and Eden Hazard ruled out of action. Sergio Ramos, who was subbed off against Cadiz due to injury and missed the midweek fixture, has been named in the squad, with Zidane confirming his presence in the starting XI.
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadrid) October 23, 2020
Ramos will be partnering the only other mainstay in the Real Madrid backline, Raphael Varane. In the absence of Dani Carvajal and Alvaro Odriozola, Zidane has attempted to use Ferland Mendy in that role. The Frenchman did excessively well against Shakhtar Donestk on the right and will continue there, while Marcelo takes up responsibilities on the left.
With Thibaut Courtois between the posts, Zidane has a cheat-code up his sleeve, who has been the best players for Los Merengues alongside captain Sergio Ramos.
Toni Kroos is still returning from his injury and is not expected to get into the midfield straight away. Luka Modric is expected to continue in midfield alongside Federico Valverde. The work-rate of these two, combined with the defensive prowess of Casemiro, will help Madrid screen their frail defence.
Zidane has to stick with a 4-3-3 to counter Barcelona’s midfield pivot and Frenkie de Jong’s passing in advanced roles. However, starting Isco might be the key to unlock the best from the attack. More often than not, Karim Benzema drops from the centre-forward role to add creativity to the side, leaving them without an attacker in the final third. Isco can shoulder that responsibility while Benzema and Vinicius run at the Barcelona centre backs.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Mendy, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Valverde, Casemiro, Modric; Isco, Benzema, Vinicius
- Barcelona and Real Madrid have faced each other 180 times in the La Liga, with the latter just edging the former with 73 wins to the former’s 72.
- Only 35 El Clasico have ended in a draw in the history of the two clubs, which equals to less than 20% of the total encounters.
- The last meeting between the two sides at the Camp Nou ended in a 0-0 draw, the first goalless draw since November 2002.
- Zinedine Zidane is unbeaten in his five managerial games at the Camp Nou in all competitions (w2 D3) and is the first Madrid manager to do so.
- In the last ten meetings between the two in the league, Barcelona have won five games (D3 L2), scoring 20 goals, while conceding just 10.
Player to Watch
Philippe Coutinho kissing the ball after scoring his first goal vs Real Madrid with Barcelona. pic.twitter.com/VDl0NnMd6T
— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) October 28, 2018
According to reports, the only reason Philippe Coutinho was not sold to Arsenal was on Ronald Koeman’s request, who had clear plans over how to integrate the Brazilian into the team. So far, Brazilian has done everything right and lived up to what his gaffer expected off him.
Playing in the attacking midfield position as a mediapunta, Coutinho has registered one goal and two assists in the league in four games. Apart from that, he has also directly contributed int the form of a goal or assist for four games in a row as a starter in the team. He will hope to replicate his performance against Real Madrid from the 5-1 win in 2018 as he takes on the rivals again.
Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid
More often than not, Barcelona and Real Madrid look like completely different sides compared to what their form may suggest. Each player comes to life, delivering a top-notch performance, which is exactly what a game of the stature of El Clasico promises. Tomorrow, both sides go into the game with a similar record, a frail defence, and an attack still finding its place, but The Hard Tackle believes Ronald Koeman will take the win over Zinedine Zidane in his first El Clasico courtesy of his stacked attack.