The question an el clasico poses isn’t just about the three points; it’s a fight for glory and recognition. Winning the two clasicos is as much a talking point as winning the league. This matchup adds up in several dimensions- sporting, political, cultural and so on.
So what’s new? What to expect tonight? What are the major talking points for el clasico ?
◆ This Barca isn’t the old Barca. You could say they are only a shade of their former self, a structure which has grown fragile, but still standing. Who would’ve thought a club with ‘Mes que un club’ as their motto or whatever, would be in the mess they are in right now. But this adversities has also brought some other changes- a new manager, a new system and a new look to some old players.
◆ Koeman has ditched the traditional 4-3-3 in favour of a 4-2-3-1, defining new roles for many players. The midfield duo of De jong and Busquets operate in a double pivot with the four forwards occupying spaces upfront. The backline is traditional four man line, with Alba playing much higher in the left, Roberto playing a more conservative role.
◆ De jong is one of the players who has benefitted from Koeman’s arrival. He is playing a deep role much like what he was used to in Ajax. Earlier he was played out of position, often having to play advanced roles in half spaces between opponent lines. Now, he’s being played to his strengths-passing range and ball carrying ability. So its safe to say that the double tactic is working well.
◆ Coutinho is another player who has had a breath of fresh air. It’s still early days, but the situation looks promising for him. He was a flop in the wings (not fast enough) and midfield (not strong enough). It seems his days at Bayern have done him good, physically if not tactically. Now he mostly operate in that left half space, combining with Fati who drifts inwards and Alba who takes up outside positions.
◆ Much of their attacks have been made through that left side, with Messi seemingly on a silent phase. Maybe it’s the change of tactics, maybe it’s the aftereffects of the recent drama, maybe it’s the age catching up or maybe he’s just having a dry patch; afterall he’s human too. But the talking point here is Barcas earlier dependence on Messi magic to get them through scrappy games- normally he would have bailed them out of situations like their last two games (a draw against Sevilla and a loss against Getafe). That decisiveness seems to be lacking this time around, but as said before, it’s still early days.
◆ The last but maybe a particularly calming one is the absence of a certain goalkeeper, who just like Messi, saves Barca from scrappy games more often than not. By no means is Neto a pushover, but Ter stegan is just on a different level. Let’s hope Barca will miss him badly tonight.
2) Real Madrid:
◆ The first talking point will obviously be our recent lackluster games . We had disastrous first halves against both Cadiz and Shakthar (arguably owing to poor starting lineups), and then tried to change our fortunes in the second halves, but failed. But one can’t just put all the blame on the team, because there was and there still are a lot of injuries to deal with. Anyway, the criticisms have already been made, and we have to accept these failures as learning curves.
◆ But the most important and calming news is the return of our captain Sergio lionheart Ramos. It goes without telling that we miss him in every single game he doesn’t play- vs Ajax, vs City… and the latest, vs Shakthar. He is a calming presence, especially for Varane, who seems to be in all kinds of agony when Ramos doesn’t play. He’s strong in front of the goal, even though we don’t score from corners and freekicks like we used too (which is a talking point in itself, maybe for later). Simply put, we just loose our touch without him in el clasico and other matches.
3) Moving onto expected lineups:
Neto – Roberto – Pique – Lenglet – Dest – Busquets – De jong – Coutinho – Fati – Messi – Griezmann
Alba may feature as he has recovered in time, being lot more experienced than Dest. Early substitutes can be expected in the likes of Dembele, Pedri and Trincao. He may be feature in el clasico.
◆ Real Madrid
Courtois – Nacho – Varane – Ramos – Mendy – Valverde – Casemiro – Kroos – Asensio – Benzema – Vinicius
It is tough to get Zidane lineups right, as always. He has a history of taking more midfielders into big games, so it is very much possible that he removes the winger(s) and add midfielder(s)
4) Key players/battles:
◆ Valverde – Expect Valverde to start because we need his energy. He wil be crucial in driving into opposition territory and create havoc. Moreover he can be tasked to contain De jong, who is growing into that deep role in the left midfield for el clasico.
◆ Vinicius – He can offer us directness and penetration being pitted against Roberto. Vini is currently in a good run of form and we need that to continue. He just needs to calm up a bit at times, because the rest of our team is not up to his speed.
◆ Benzema – If we are to win this tie, we need Benzema in his A game. I know a lot of us aren’t his fans, but he is the one who can bring us victory tomorrow. If he fails, we fail. (Our dependence on him has been much discussed already, and I really don’t want to make this post any longer than it is.)
5) Expected results:
This is the tough one, really. Elclasicos are really unpredictable even before, but now there is the added variability of inconsistent showings from both the teams. But I expect a victory for us by a small margin. I’d go with 1-0 or 2-1 in our favour.