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Saturday, December 23, 2017

The greatest age-old rivalry of Real Madrid vs Barcelona is finally here, but can the Whites defend their turf?


For obvious reasons, the biggest talking point of the El Clasico once again would be the never ending Messi and Ronaldo comparisons.
One of the greatest spectacles of the football world is the age-old rivalry between Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, and once again that time has dawned upon us. Get ready for some exhilarating and gut-wrenching moments!
Lionel Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo
For obvious reasons, the biggest talking point of the El Clasico once again would be the never-ending Messi and Ronaldo comparisons.
Ronaldo had a frustrating time at the start of the season and it took him quite a while to net his first La Liga goal, but things have taken a good turn for the Portuguese in the past couple of weeks or so. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has looked more confident on the field recently with visible improvement in decision-making inside the box.
The Santiago Bernabeu would love to see a fired up Ronaldo take on the Catalans, similar to the last occasion he faced Barca in the Spanish super cup, but maybe not shove the referee in the back this time?
Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid reacts after a red card during the Supercopa de Espana Supercopa Final 1st Leg match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid at Camp Nou on August 13, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Getty
Cristiano Ronaldo (L) of Real Madrid reacts after a red card during the Supercopa de Espana Supercopa Final 1st Leg match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid at Camp Nou on August 13, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Getty
Messi’s individual brilliance along with the ability to drag the side to victory with him will leave you astounded more often than not. Like the majority of the season so far, a lot will rely on the little Argentinian to turn up the heat on the home side. If he is able to pull something out of his bag of tricks, chances of a meltdown in the heart of Madrid is likely.
Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona (R) in action against Carlos Casemiro of Real Madrid (L) during the Supercopa de Espana Final 1st Leg match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid at Camp Nou on August 13, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Getty
Word of advice: Don’t get dragged into the Messi/Ronaldo greatest of all time (GOAT) debate because you will hear a lot of ridiculous opinions. Enjoy the fact that you are alive in this era.
Other stars of the show
It is unfortunate to see Gareth Bale miss so many games due to injury especially because he adds more dynamism to Real Madrid’s attacks. Whenever he has played this season, he has had instant impact on the game, but the final decision on whether he replaces and starts over Isco is an interesting dilemma for Zinedine Zidane because it is hard to see Karim Benzema getting dropped.
Although Benzema has complete trust of Zidane, the French duo could come under some serious criticism if the striker continues to be sub-par in front of the goal while also offering little in a facilitating and linking up play role on the pitch. Got to pull up your socks, Benz!
Looking for hot takes? Here is one: Luis Suarez should be watching the Clasico from the sidelines! But as it is quite often the case in La Liga, that won’t be happening after another poor decision by the referee.
Suarez got away unscathed with a rather nasty elbow on Deportivo player’s neck, which should have resulted in marching orders for the Uruguayan.
Fascinating midfield battle
Both teams not only have potent forward lines but also some great names in the midfield, which should mean a fascinating battle in the middle of the park.
Real Madrid has the services of the Croatian maestro, Luka Modric, whose formidable presence in the midfield has a calming effect on the entire side. When Modric is on top of his game, his movement, positioning and vision is a glory to behold as it makes the entire team tick.
Lionel Messi (L) of FC Barcelona conducts the ball next to Luka Modric (R) of Real Madrid CF during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou stadium on December 3, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Getty
Alongside Modric, the current La Liga champions also have Toni Kroos and Casemiro in their ranks. Kroos is extremely efficient in exploiting spaces and bypassing defensive structure of opponents, while Carlos Casemiro has grown into a very reliable defensive midfielder.
Barca’s key men in the midfield include Andres Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets who are really good at playing off each other.
Spanish midfielder Iniesta, despite aging and losing some of his edge, has shown that he has enough left in the tank to add vibrancy to Barca’s attacks. Busquets is a crucial part of Barca’s midfield as he plays a key role in building from the back. Plus the surprisingly good form of Paulinho must be heartening for the club after the initial question marks surrounding his signing.
Andres Iniesta of FC Barcelona (R) plays against Toni Kroos of Real Madrid (L) during the Supercopa de Espana Final 1st Leg match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid at Camp Nou on August 13, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Getty
The middle field battle between these two sides will have a major bearing on the result of the match.
Quality in defence
The defensive aspect does not normally make the headlines at Barca but this season they have the joint best defensive record in La Liga. Ter Stegen has been top notch between the sticks, however, it is unfortunate that they will miss Samuel Umtiti, who has been outrageously good at the back before he was injured.
Although the Whites conceded a few sloppy goals due to poor marking and defensive transition during the earlier games of the season, they have done reasonably well off late with Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane forming a solid centre-back pairing.
The full backs of both teams have been vital in providing width on the pitch while also being solid at the back. Real Madrid has two of the world’s finest players, Marcelo Vieira and Dani Carvajal, for that role. Their attacking nature makes the Los Blancos a constant threat on the flanks.
On the other hand, Barcelona is also sufficiently equipped in that regard with Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto. Alba’s chemistry with Messi on the left flank has worked to good effect while Roberto has effectively kept out Nelson Semedo with good performances on the right.
Tactical matters
Real Madrid’s 4-4-2 diamond formation with Isco at the tip of the diamond worked to great effect last season but it has not been that productive so far. If the home side goes with the same formation today, Zidane should ensure that Isco’s roaming is restricted to the final third and other players complement him efficiently by covering spaces he leaves behind.
Barca’s coach Ernesto Valverde, who has lost all five meetings against Zidane, has some interesting calls in terms of what combination to unfold bearing in mind the injury concerns. Like Zidane, he could also opt for the 4-4-2 formation with Paulinho in line for a start while Thomas Varmaelen should partner Gerard Pique in centre of defence in the absence of Umtiti.
Talking about players coming off the bench, Real Madrid is comparatively stronger as compared to their rivals. The home side’s young star Marco Asensio, in all probability, will start on the bench despite having scored in the previous two Clasicos; a fair reflection of Real Madrid’s bench strength.
Marco Asensio of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring his team’s third goal during the Supercopa de Espana Final first leg match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid at Camp Nou on August 13, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Getty
I am not going to go into predicting the outcome of this game but what one can safely assume is that at the end of the 90 minutes at the Bernabeu, the highlights reel will most definitely indicate a memorable encounter.

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