It’s that time of La Liga again. El Clásico is here. Friends become enemies and the thought of being on the losing end this battle is enough to create panic among fans of both Spanish giants.
FC Barcelona goes into Saturday’s duel sitting 3 points on top of the standings. Worst case scenario is that the Catalans leave the Bernabéu level on points with Real Madrid. A victory at the Santiago Bernabéu would place the reigning champions 6 points clear of Los Blancos. Either way El Clásico is always a tense and complicated affair.
Neither team has played its best football this season. Real Madrid, the team with the most squad depth in La Liga, should ideally be dominating every match. However, despite a deserved 3-2 defeat away to Sevilla and draws with Málaga, Sporting Gijón, and Atlético Madrid, Real has been seeing positive results. Barça seems to have recovered from an embarrassing evening at Balaídos which led to a 4-1 whipping.
The Messi Factor?
Lionel Messi has been out injured since September 26 after damaging knee ligaments in a La Liga fixture against Las Palmas at the Nou Camp. Since then Neymar Jr. and Luis Suárez have certainly been delivering the goods. Without the third member of the MSN trident, the pair has scored all 13 of Barca’s La Liga goals. The biggest question in the media is whether or not the Argentine will feature in Saturday’s game. It seems likely that Messi could make a return to the pitch in El Clásico.
During the international break Messi returned to full training. Real Madrid legend Zinedine Zidane has already labelled a potential Messi return as bad news for Los Blancos. Zidane explained:
Everyone wants to see Messi on the pitch, all the time. But from Real’s point of view I will certainly not say that it’d be good were Messi to take the field.
Do Barcelona need him? Sorry, we are talking about Messi here. Every team in the world would be delighted to have someone like him on board.
Messi’s teammates believe that he can very well play a role in Saturday’s game. Adriano stated that he would bet on Leo being fit for El Clásico.
He is recovering very well, doing everything to get to the game and to have him in the team changes a lot.
Every day he’s been the Leo we’re accustomed to: laughing, joking, and doing things with confidence.
Would I put money on him playing in the Clásico? Hopefully, yes.
In a press conference, Suárez explained that
If he plays or not is the decision for the coach and for him. He is training with us and the feelings are very positive, but we must wait. It is an injury that can have risks for the future.
We do not know if Leo would play from the start or be on the bench. It depends on how things go.
He can change everything [in a game] at any moment. But he has been two months without playing.
Without Messi, Luis Enrique faces a dilemma. He may very well have to depend on either Sandro or Munir to complete the front three. Based on form and experience, I cannot see either Barça B graduate making a significant impact on Saturday’s game. Keeping Sandro and Munir on the bench still leaves Lucho with the option of playing a 4-3-3 using Iniesta in an advanced position on the right. Even a 4-4-2 that was briefly experimented against Getafe and BATE Borisov is possible. In this configuration, Suárez and Neymar would start up top, with Iniesta, Sergi Roberto, Mascherano and Sergio Busquets in midfield, and a back four of Dani Alves, Bartra/ Mathieu, Piqué and Jordi Alba.
Rafael Benítez under pressure
With only one defeat in 11 La Liga games, viewers unfamiliar with the demanding environment at Real Madrid may wonder how it is remotely possible that Rafael Benítez is facing immense pressure leading up to El Clásico. In his first Clásico, at home no less, 3 points is expected. Anything less and he will be criticised, his tactics condemned, and his suitability to coach Madrid questioned.
One of his main problems is an out of form Cristiano Ronaldo (2 games without a goal is poor form to the Real Madrid faithful). Cristiano had an anonymous display against Sevilla. Certainly, he would be seeking to put on a much improved performance in Spanish football’s biggest clash. High off of his movie premiere, Cristiano would surely savour an opportunity to silence his critics. At his best he is definitely capable of challenging Barcelona’s defense.
Super keeper Keylor Navas has been saving Real time and time again. Luckily for Benítez, San Keylor is expected to return in goal. Sergio Ramos should also start despite a shoulder injury. The Real Madrid captain’s presence is definitely needed as Varane will not have the same impact and Pepe could very well be lost without his partner.
All in all El Clásico promises to be an enticing game and should not be missed. What do you think would be the result?