The arguably the biggest game in club football, otherwise known as “El Clasico”, is set to take place this Saturday at the Camp Nou as Barcelona host Real Madrid.
Both teams are in opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to recent form. The hosts are winless in three of their last four matches, while the visitors from Madrid have won all five of their last five fixtures. They are still undefeated this season in all competitions, the only club in Europe’s top five leagues yet to lose, while Barcelona have already suffered three defeats.
The Blaugrana seemed to be struggling without key playmaker and veteran captain Andres Iniesta in their recent matches, as the Catalan outfit was failing to connect the midfield with the front three, leaving the deadly trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar completely isolated from games. The great news for them is that Iniesta is set to return for El Clasico after missing the last six matches with a knee injury.
Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba are also back in training after suffering injuries in the weekend game against Real Sociedad, and are most likely to start. Samuel Umtiti is a another key player who is back to full fitness and started the Copa del Rey fixture against Hercules on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the luck isn’t in the visitors’ favor when it comes to injury issues. Gareth Bale suffered an ankle injury during a Champions League fixture against Sporting Lisbon last week and according to the latest reports, he is set to be on the sidelines until April.
Other important players such as Toni Kroos and Alvaro Morata are going to miss out due to injuries. Kroos is out with a broken foot while Morata suffered a hamstring strain during an international duty in early November. A positive for Zinedine Zidane is that Raphael Varane has returned to training after a knee injury kept him out of the last weekend’s action.
The hosts will look to end their recent dreadful form, and will try to dictate the tempo from the opening whistle. Pique has recently hit out at the “worrying attitude” of his team after a draw with Real Sociedad last weekend and they will definitely need to sort out their mentality to get a result against the league leaders.
Having Iniesta back is a huge factor as the veteran playmaker will be the key on starting plays from the midfield and connecting with the trio of “MSN’ up front. Ivan Rakitic will be another key figure for the team as the Croatian international’s tireless work rate and positioning will help them win important duels in the midfield.
Although it has been proven time and time again that the current Barcelona can be outplayed, Madrid will likely sit back and hit them from counter attacks in this matchup as the visitors are missing some important players.
Madrid came out with a very different tactical setup of 4-4-1-1 in a 3-0 derby win over Atletico two weeks ago, where Cristiano Ronaldo was used as a lone striker with Isco right behind him. Gareth Bale and Lucas Vasquez played out on the wings while the Croatian duo of Mateo Kovacic and Luka Modric sat in the middle of the park. However, with the returns of Casemiro and Karim Benzema, they are most likely going back to the usual 4-3-3.
Lucas Vazquez will replace the injured Bale on the right wing, while Isco’s fine form during the Madrid derby might not be enough to keep his place in the starting eleven as Casemiro will come in to provide a more defensive style.
Zidane will focus on dumping down the atmosphere and limiting the hosts’ opportunities. Casemiro could become an important figure for the game as the defensive midfielder’s role might be to man mark either Iniesta or Messi to stop them from finding the little pockets. The trio of Ronaldo, Lucas Vasquez, and Benzema will look to take full advantage of the weakened Barcelona defense, where three out of four starters are just returning to full fitness.
Although in El Clasico the team that needs the points more tends to win, it is hard to imagine Barcelona earning a victory in their current form. Real Madrid will most likely take a point or full three points back home.
Projected Line ups
Barcelona (4-3-3) - Ter Stegen; Alba, Umtiti, Pique, Sergi Roberto; Busquets, Iniesta, Rakitic; Neymar, Suarez, Messi.
Real Madrid (4-3-3) - Navas; Marcelo, Ramos, Pepe, Carvajal; Casemiro, Kovacic, Modric; Ronaldo, Benzema, Lucas Vasquez.