Sunday 7 October 2012. Kick off 7.50 pm. Yes folks, it’s another clásico. Another duel between the might of Football Club Barcelona and Real Madrid. And for Barça, the chance to leave their old enemy 11 points behind after just seven games of this season’s liga.
Quite remarkably this will be the 14th clásico in the last 24 months. Of the previous 13 meetings Barça are 6-3 up in victories with four drawn matches, however, it should be pointed out that Madrid have won two of the last three. In those thirteen games Barça are also leading 26-17 in goals which seem to be assured in recent clásicos as neither side has kept a clean sheet in the last nine meetings.
The main problem for Barça coach Tito Vilanova is again in defence with captain Carles Puyol missing with a dislocated elbow and Gerard Piqué facing a race against time to recover from his sprained left foot. The fact that Piqué has been left out of Vicente del Bosque’s Spanish squad for next week’s World Cup games against Belarus and France, added to the fact that Piqué has only worked out in the gym this morning (Friday), suggest he won’t make it in time, though his teammate Xavi gave him a 50/50 chance when asked in a press conference today.
If Piqué doesn’t make it then Alex Song will again play alongside Javier Mascherano in central defence in a partnership that has only played 276 minutes together in which time Barça have conceded four goals. Piqué has become expert in covering the forward runs of Dani Alves, and it will be interesting to see if Vilanova allows Alves as much freedom to attack if Piqué doesn’t play. Alves has not been in good form recently but against Benfica on Tuesday we demonstrated that we can be just as dangerous attacking down left side with the overlapping Jordi Alba.
If Barça have problems at the back, at least going forward we now have the added option of a fit-again Andrés Iniesta which has coincided to a return to good form from Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez. Presuming that Tito plays 4-3-3 and that Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta and Messi all start, that leaves Pedro, Alexis, Cesc, Villa and Tello to fight for the remaining two advanced positions. Vilanova has shown a lot of confidence in Cesc so far, starting him in 8 out of the 10 games we have played this season. Curiously the two games Cesc didn’t start were the two Supercopa games with Madrid at the start of the season which are the only two games where we have seen our classic midfield trio of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta.
Despite being eight points behind Barça, Madrid arrive to Camp Nou in a good moment of form. Since their loss at Sevilla on September 15th they have won four games on the trot including imposing wins in their last two games, a 5-1 trouncing over Deportivo and the 1-4 victory at Ajax on Wednesday with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a hat-trick in both those games. We used to laugh at Ronaldo’s failure to score against Barça, but he has begun to find an irritating habit of scoring in clásicos , with a goal in each of the last five meetings.
With the addition of Modric and Essien to the squad and no current injury problems, Mourinho now has more choices than ever for team selection. Although a new trivote of Alonso-Khedira-Essien did appear in the recent Champions League game with Manchester City, it seems likely Madrid will play a 4-2-3-1 with a probable defence of Arbeloa-Ramos-Pepe-Marcelo – though Mourinho has begun to show confidence in 19-year-old Raphael Varane. Alonso seems sure to start with either Khedira or Essien alongside him, then the big question is who will accompany Di Maria and Ronaldo in the line of three. Ozil usually plays well at Camp Nou but he is not in his best moment, while Modric still hasn’t quite fit in to his new team, which leaves a real possibility that Kaká could get the nod after his impressive game against Ajax. Up front it will be the usual toss-up between Higuain and Benzema.
The bookmakers make Barça clear favourites for the game which is not surprising seeing as we have won 9 out of 10 games so far this season. However, our defence has leaked 11 goals in those games with only three clean sheets which suggests we will have to tighten up considerably to keep Ronaldo and company at bay. Madrid, of course, have to worry about Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, etc. and the knowledge that defeat could make the remaining seven months of the season seem like an eternity.
Barça: (from) Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Montoya, Bartrá, Piqué, Song, Mascherano, Alba, Adriano, Busquets, Xavi, Sergi Roberto, Iniesta, Fabregas, Pedro, Messi, Alexis, Villa, Tello.
Possible starting XI: Valdés; Alves, Song, Mascherano, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Alexis.
Real Madrid: (from) Casillas, Adan, Arbeloa, Ramos, Varane, Albiol, Pepe, Marcelo, Coentrao, Alonso, Essien, Khedira, Ozil, Modric, Kaká, Callejon, Di Maria, Ronaldo, Higuain, Benzema.
Possible starting XI: Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo; Alonso, Khedira; Di Maria, Kaká, Ronaldo; Benzema.
Clásico prediction: Barça 2 Madrid 1