The matchup between these two eternal rivals has a different look to it what it seemed like at the turn of the year. Real Madrid ended 2014 with a Spanish record of a 22 match winning streak, and were in the musician’s song “on top of the world” beating all comers before them. At the start of the 2015, they were four points ahead of the Barcelona, a side in a midst of an internal crisis. In the game at the Anoeta which the Blaugrana lost; Messi was left on the bench, missed training the following day and of course was linked with a move to Chelsea after following the London side on Instagram. Also, Sporting Director Andoni Zubizarreta was dismissed and Club Legend, Carles Puyol, left his role as assistant Sporting Director. The crisis reached its peak when rumors of dressing room unrest circulated with the focus on the fallout between Messi and Luis Enrique. A dark cloud at the Nou Camp? You were not far from the truth.
Fast-forward and since that loss at Real Sociedad, Lionel Messi and co have tasted defeat just once in their last eighteen games. Messi has been extra-terrestrial since Enrique moved the Argentine to the right. He has also leapfrogged his longtime rival, Cristiano Ronaldo in the goal-scoring chart. However, things have not been so rosy at the Bernabeu; Madrid’s second leg loss to Schalke 04 was their fifth of 2015 in just sixteen games. Los Blancos have also seen their lead overturned after Barca took advantage of their slip up at the San Mames. Cristiano Ronaldo has not found the back of the net from open play in over a month. Also, Gareth Bale’s double against Levante last weekend was the first time the Welshman found the back of the net in eight games. How things change!
Ahead of the title clash on Sunday, it safe to say that Enrique’s men are in a position of supremacy but the question is – will Barcelona be able to extend their advantage or does Real Madrid have something up their sleeves to fight back with? TouchlineUI will analyse the chances of both sides and leave you guys as the jury to decide whether Barca will go four points clear, move two points behind or maintain their one point advantage.
The Catalans have the best attack (78 goals) and the best defence (16) in the La Liga.
Barcelona has lost at home twice this season in the league against Celta Vigo and just recently against Malaga. Will Real become the third side to inflict a third home defeat on Barcelona? History is not however with the Whites of Madrid as you have to go back to the 2007/08 season to see the last time Barca lost three home games in the League. Also, 77% of its home games this season, Barcelona have scored an average of 2.5 goals and the Blaugrana have netted 14 at the Nou Camp in their last 4 League outings. Imperious right!
Do you know Barcelona has the fifth best home record this season in the La Liga? The team with the best record is Valencia.
Real Madrid has lost two of its last three games on the road and in those defeats, Ronaldo and co failed to find the back of the net.
Do you know Real Madrid have the second best away record in the La Liga? Barca has the best.
LAST SIX GAMES (ALL COMPETITIONS)
MANCHESTER CITY 1 V BARCELONA 2
GRANADA 1 V BARCELONA 3
VILLARREAL 1 V BARCELONA 3
BARCELONA 6 V RAYO VALLECANO 1
EIBAR 0 V BARCELONA 2
BARCELONA 1 V MANCHESTER CITY 0
SCHALKE 04 0 V REAL MADRID 2
ELCHE 0 V REAL MADRID 2
REAL MADRID 1 V VILLARREAL 1
ATHLETIC BILBAO 1 V REAL MADRID 1
REAL MADRID 3 V SCHALKE 04 4
REAL MADRID 2 V LEVANTE 0
|BARCELONA||GOALS||REAL MADRID||GOAL SCORERS|
|LIONEL MESSI||32||CRISTIANO RONALDO||30|
|LUIS SUAREZ||7||GARETH BALE||12|
|LIONEL MESSI||14||CRISTIANO RONALDO||11|
|LUIS SUAREZ||9||KARIM BENZEMA||8|
|IVAN RAKITIC||6||ISCO ALARCON||8|
Luis Enrique has largely stuck to the Club’s preferred formation which is a 4-3-3 and her Tiki Taka football philosophy of keeping the ball and controlling the game in the opposition’s half. Barca favors a short goal-kick where the Pivot (Busquets, though he’s a doubt) comes to receive the ball short and then redistributes the ball to the advanced midfielders like Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic or Xavi. The midfield operates in a triangle, trying to keep the ball and taking advantage of space. With the forwards dropping back, it creates a problem for the opposition as they follow suit thereby playing a highline and running the risk of being exploited by full-backs or the likes of Neymar or Messi running into space. Barcelona can also attack through the middle and where the middle is congested, the fullbacks, Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, provide the needed width. Moving Lionel Messi’s to the right has begun to bear fruits after a difficult start. The 27 year old is however allowed to move inside and interchange with Luis Suarez.
However with most sides, led by Chelsea, beginning to beat the Blaugrana by playing a low block of two lines, Enrique has tweaked the style and made Barca a little more direct this term. While keeping the ball is still very much the focus, Barca can go direct and even counter attack. The Blaugrana do this by closing in on the opposition like a swarm of bees and then retrieving the ball and making the space left count. Easy on the eye? It requires a lot of telepathic understanding.
Barca’s approach makes it extremely difficult to stop them from creating chances and at the same time helps them to see out a lead.
Under Carlo Ancelotti, Real Madrid has played with either the 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formation. With the 4-4-2, Ballon d’or Winner, Cristiano Ronaldo plays inside tucked next to Karim Benzema while the third of the BBC, Gareth Bale plays as a winger. In the midfield, Isco plays on the left and helps offensively as well as defensively especially when Marcelo bombs forward. Modric and German World Cup Winner, Toni Kroos, play in the central midfield. Modric helps to give the White that needed balance and fluidity in the final third though he tracks back too and Kroos, playing the “Alonso” role, helps to switch play from one wing to another and also launch a counter attack with his long rangedpasses. The German has 7 assists to his name in the Spanish top flight. He also has a 92.3% pass completion rate which is the second best in that regard and also averages a healthy 2.5 tackles per game. However with a 4-3-3 formation, the BBC forms a three thronged attack though Ronaldo tends to drift in. The space left behind the Portuguese is filled in by Isco Alarcon or James Rodriguez which makes it look like a 4-4-2.
Furthermore, Madrid can either out-possess or play on the counter. That depends on the opposition. In the first meeting between the Spanish giants, Real went on the counter and attacked space and the third goal had an element of a counter attack in it. Against Barca on Sunday, expect Carlo to go with a counter-attack set-up again and hit Barca on the break using Bale and Ronaldo as the focal points. Real Madrid is also a side that is extremely strong in the air. They are adept at scoring from set plays. The table below shows how strong the Madrid boys are in the air and why the Blancos should be fancied in the air:
AERIAL DUELS WON
|PLAYER||AERIAL DUELS WON|
Marc Andre Ter Stegen should make way for Claudio Bravo despite the former’s penalty heroics in Barca’s win over Manchester City. Bravo has been the Number One in the League and you fancy him to get the nod over the young German.
Daniel Alves and Jordi Alba should start in the fullback positions. Enrique must however decide who would partner Pique in central defence. The decision would of course be influenced by whether Sergio Busquets who faces a race against time gets to feature. Should the Spaniard miss out, Javier Mascherano will play the anchor role which leaves a straight fight between Marc Bartra and Jeremy Mathieu for the other centre back position. The Spaniard should get the nod as he’s been brilliant in his few starts for the Blaugrana. He also heads the charts for Barca in the aerial duels with a 2.1 average while Mathieu has won just 1.6 of his aerial duels.
Barring any unforeseen events, Andres Iniesta will start as he will be key to whatever chances the Catalans have of dominating this fixture. His telepathic understanding with Messi makes his starting position non-negotiable. There will also be an anchor which could be Mascherano or Sergio Busquets who is battling with an ankle injury. Mascherano might not possess the ball-playing qualities of Sergio but there’s hardly anyone better than him in the defensive midfield role. Ivan Rakitic, Xavi and Rafinha will battle it out for the last place in midfield. The Croat should get the nod as he’s been brilliant of late and he’s coming to this fixture on the back of a superb goal against City. Xavi, though experienced, struggles against sides that employ an aggressive pressing style and Rafinha though promising is still too raw for these kinds of games.
Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. You’ve got a better three to start for the Blaugrana?
Do you know Lionel Messi has scored 21 El Clasico goals which is a record for Clasico goals scored? The 4 time World Player of the Year has also scored exactly half of Barcelona’s last 16 goals against Real Madrid
Iker Casillas should start over Keylor Navas despite the former’s dramatic nosedive in form.
Sergio Ramos is back so he should start in the central defence alongside Pepe with Varane set to make way. Carvajal and Marcelo should take the full back positions.
The structure of the middle of the park will depend on whether Carlo goes with a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3. A 4-4-2 will have Gareth Bale-Toni Kroos-Luka Modric and Isco Alarcon while a 4-3-3 will have Luka Modric-Toni Kroos and Isco Alarcon as the midfield trio. The German should be refreshed after being rested in the win over Levante and Modric is back from injury. It remains to be seen whether Luka can maintain the intensity needed for this blockbuster over 90 minutes.
Straightforward- A 4-4-2 Formation will have 30 year old Ronaldo play in a supporting striker’s role behind next Karim Benzema while a 4-3-3 will have the BBC trinity start; Benzema-Bale-Ronaldo.
WHAT EACH SIDE WILL DO
ATTACK THE WINGS
Barcelona, under Enrique, has been employed attacking through the wide areas which does not only create width but also stretches the opposition defence. Against Real, with Carvajal and Marcelo having the propensity to bomb forward, there is always a chance of Barca exploiting the flanks. Furthermore, the fact Ronaldo and Gareth Bale fail to track back means Barca can double up on the flanks, stretch the defence and tire out the midfield.
CONGEST THE TONI KROOS AREA
Summer signing Toni Kroos has had to readapt to more defensive duty in his stint at the Bernabeu and he has done that in brilliant fashion. With Luka Modric back alongside the German and Isco, Real look like the better side in the middle of the park. However Barca would want to exploit the defensive weaknesses of the Madrid trio in midfield. The likes of Suarez, Messi and Neymar will at one point come infield or drop back to congest the defensive midfield zone, make quick turns and win fouls off the German (who is a booking away from incurring a suspension). The big target will be to congest the area and then exploit the flanks where the likes of Alves and Alba will run into. Madrid will hope the likes of Bale and Ronaldo will be more alert defensively tomorrow.
This is one of those games you do not expect Real to dominate possession. It will be utterly stupid to attempt to do so. I expect Carlo to set up a counter-attack approach with lightning pace on the counter attack the plan. Real will draw Barca into their territory, get them unawares and them launch a counter-punch of theirs. It will not however be smart to start pressing from the start as Barca are so good at the getting the ball out from the back. Get them into the “comfort zone” with their fullbacks already high up the pitch, then press, get the ball and a swift attack. You’ll also see a lot of fastballs from the defence into space. With the likes of Alba and Alves playing high up when Barca have the ball, Real will exploit whatever spaces they leave and stretch Pique and co.
MAKE THE SET-PIECES COUNT
If there is one area where Real comfortably beats Barca, then it’s got to be at the dead-ball situations. The likes of Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are good at winning the ball in the air. Though Barca has improved at defending set pieces, defeats at Parc de Princes and even the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu still show it’s very much the Achilles Heel of Enrique’s men. Expect Real to make the most of dead-ball situations.
AERIAL DUELS WON
|REAL MADRID||AERIAL DUELS WON||BARCELONA||AERIAL DUELS WON|
|Sergio Ramos||3.4||Marc Bartra||2.5|
|Cristiano Ronaldo||1.5||Sergio Busquets||1.5|
|Gareth Bale||1.2||Sergi Roberto||1.4|
OTHER MATCH FACTS
- Real have won the last two Clasicos and could make it three in a row for the first time since 1978.
- Barcelona have however not lost at home to their rivals while topping the league since 1929/30
- Messi has scored 17 League goals in 2015 more than Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema combined who have 5 apiece.
- Cristiano Ronaldo has scored eight goals in his last seven trips to Barcelona.
- Barcelona has won 9 of their last 10 League games.
This game has the making of a shootout. A win for Barca and La Liga will be theirs to lose while a win for Real will put them right back in the mix of things. Barca will start as favorites given that Real have stuttered of late. Also Carlo has just one league win over Barca or Atletico in seven meetings and losing the other five. Barca is also in fine fettle winning 18 of their last 19 games so expect them to be the more confident side. History is also not on Real side as they have done the double over Barca just once in the last 30 years. For Real, good thing Ramos and Modric are back but lack of fitness could rear up its head in the latter stages of this game. If there’s a game where the BBC have to get back firing on all cylinders, it has to be this game.
All said and done, it’s a derby and form hardly matters but if we are to place a bet on a likely winner, then it has to be Barca.
Barcelona 3 V Real Madrid 1