Madrid – Barça: The Bernabéu awaits

Real Madrid 3-4 Barça Leo Messi celebration Cristiano Ronaldo 2014Luis Enrique faces his biggest test since taking over in the Camp Nou hot-seat with the first Madrid-Barça Clásico of the 2014/15 season tomorrow evening at the Bernabéu (Saturday 6 pm). The Barça coach has seen his team drop just two points in the first eight league games which means an early four-point advantage over second-placed Madrid though Carlo Ancelotti’s team arrive to the game in extraordinary form with a remarkable 35 goals scored in a run of eight straight wins in all competition.

Luis Enrique has already proved to be an expert at keeping the press guessing his intentions for team selection and the big question tomorrow is whether Luis Suarez will make the starting line-up or begin the game on the bench. Suarez hasn’t played a competitive match since the World Cup and he will surely need a couple of games to find his full rhythm. Lucho may prefer to use Suarez as a substitute and persist with Pedro in the forward line or he could decide to play Xavi as an extra midfielder which would leave more freedom for Rakitic and Iniesta to support Messi and Neymar in attack.

Real Madrid Barça 2014The other big doubt for Luis Enrique is whether Sergio Busquets is in condition to play. Busquets has not been in his best form recently and this week he missed the game with Ajax with a hip injury. The defensive midfielder trained normally today and with Sergi Samper returning to Barça B this weekend there is a good indication that Luis Enrique believes Busquets will be fit. If not then Mascherano will continue after two good performances in midfield though if Busquets plays then the Argentinian could return to the defence at the expense of Gerard Piqué. To resume it seems likely that Bravo, Alves, Alba, Mathieu, Mascherano, Rakitic, Iniesta, Neymar and Messi will all start while one place will go to either Piqué or Busquets and the remaining place will be contested between Xavi, Pedro and Suarez. Adriano, Vermaelen and Douglas will all miss the game with injury and Luis Enriqué will name the squad early tomorrow morning shortly before the Barça expedition takes the plane to the Spanish capital.

Madrid will be without Gareth Bale who scored the winner the last time the teams met in the Copa del Rey final in April, but with Sergio Ramos set to return Ancellotti’s team selection looks easier to predict, although the Madrid coach declared today that there will be a surprise in his starting XI. Somewhat surprisingly Iker Casillas is being preferred over Keylor Navas as Madrid’s keeper and despite the alarming drop in form from Casillas, Ancelotti obviously believes it is worth persevering with the 33-year-old in the hope he can recover his old self. Carvajal will probably return in place of Arbeloa at right-back which means a likely defence of Carvajal-Pepe-Ramos-Marcelo. A midfield four of James, Modric, Kroos and Isco with Ronaldo and Benzema up front is expected though Ancelotti’s ‘surprise’ could be a place for Illarramendi instead of Isco if he wants to bolster his midfield.

Madrid had a shaky start to the season with defeats to Real Sociedad and Atlético but since then they have won eight on the trot including 5-goal hauls against Basel, Elche, Athletic and Levante and a massive 2-8 win at Deportivo. They warmed up for the clásico with a comfortable 0-3 win at Liverpool on Wednesday which leaves them with maximum points in the Champions League. Ronaldo has been in astonishing form, scoring 20 goals in all competitions including 15 in just eight league matches. The Portuguese is undoubtedly the man to stop though Barça shouldn’t forget Benzema who netted a brace at Liverpool and also scored twice in five minutes in last year’s corresponding fixture, or James who is proving to be a useful acquisition after his brilliant World Cup.

Real Madrid 3-4 Barça Messi celebration 2014That fixture last season, if anybody could possibly forget it, ended in a breathtaking 3-4 win for Barça with Benzema’s double getting trumped by Messi’s hat-trick. That victory was Barça’s fourth in the last six league games at the Bernabéu, a run of games that reads 2-6, 0-2, 1-1, 1-3, 2-1, 3-4 – giving an impressive goal aggregate of 9-17 in Barça’s favour in those games. Messi is back on form and his newly-found understanding with Neymar is provoking havoc in opposition defences with both players scoring in each of Barça’s last five games. A goal from Messi tomorrow will see him equal Telmo Zarra’s all-time Spanish league scoring record of 251 goals but given his excellent record at the Bernabéu where he has scored twelve goals it would not be surprising if he bags two to take the record outright. While culés everywhere will be hoping Messi can take the record on Madrid’s pitch I’m sure all of us would accept waiting a little longer in exchange for the three points tomorrow.

Possible XIs:

Madrid: Casillas; Carvajal, Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo; James, Modric, Kroos, Isco; Ronaldo, Benzema.

Barça: Bravo; Alves, Mascherano, Mathieu, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Rakitic; Neymar, Messi, Iniesta.

Prediction: Madrid 1 Barça 2

Date: Saturday 25 October 2014. Kick-off 6 pm local time.

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8 Responses to Madrid – Barça: The Bernabéu awaits

  1. Agree with everything Nic…except for the line up. Do you recall a run down the right field by one Ibrahim Affelay gthat ended in cross nicely met and sent in the ol’ onion bag by Messi (I think)?…I see SANDRO playing that role this time. Sandro should get the start along with Messi and Neymar. If we keep the field small by not playing wide, it will be a long day for us. It will turn around making Kross & Modric irrelevant. Let’s play wide and fast…that is the way to victory. I would leave Pique onbthe bench and go with Bartra and Mathieu with Masche as the holder alongside Xavi & Iniesta and Messi, Neymar & Sandro up top. There again, we could always move Mathieu to the right and play man marking on will be a tough one to crack. I would bet on a Blaugrana w in though!

  2. Barca4Lyfe says:

    Few things I have to say

    Despite the bright start I felt the manager, Luis Enrique failed to pick his starting eleven by merit but instead chose it by gut feeling and past influence.

    1- Xavi is way below his best. Just too slow. At this level, I’m afraid to tell you guys that he is just not cutting it any longer. Rakitic should have started in his position.

    2- with a slow Xavi, what’s worst is a slow and out of sorts Sergio Busquets. MAscherano should have taken the pivot role.

    3- Pique has been well below his best and looks very slow and sluggish as well lately. A Bartra, Mathieu combination is the best way to go about things in central defence atleast by merit that is. Leaving Dani Alves and Jordi Alba as wing backs.

    I’m ok with the Suarez gamble, but I hate the fact that Pedro was the sub that was utilized to replace him instead of the worthy super sub, Sandro!!

    Where’s the logic guys? You tell me!

    • Barca4Lyfe says:

      Overall, we were outplayed and out run in midfield. Our midfield wasn’t just neutralized, but we were well out beaten in that department. Speed and aggression wise especially. Madrid were pressing our midfield and we struggled to have our usual control of the match.

      I would have started this game with

      Jordi Alba, Mathieu, Bartra, Dani Alves in defense

      Mascherano, Rakitic, Iniesta in midfield


      Sandro, Neymar and Messi in attack.

      Leaving the option of bringing on

      Busquets, Suarez and Rafinha in the second.

      I expected a much better starting eleven from Luis Enrique! Truly gutted by the loss and left wondering what iff???!!

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