The El Clasico is tonight at 2245 IST where Barcelona goes to the Bernabeu!
The game every football fan waits for, each and every season.
The game between the two Spanish Football giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid, is the second most watched game in Football now obviously after the UEFA Champions league Finals.
The game has received more attention in the modern era of football with both the teams signing world-class players like Ronaldo, Zidane, Roberto Carlos on one side and Ronaldinho, Deco, Figo on the other in the 2000s.
The El Clasico rivalry between the two clubs is now seen in the form of the attacking 3: MSN (Messi, Suarez and Neymar) vs BBC (Benzema, Bale and Ronaldo).
The six players have shared 111 goals between them in the last season with MSN scoring 56 while the latter scoring 55. In the current season with Messi who is mostly injured till now but the news is confirmed that he will play tonight, the pair of Neymar ans Suarez has done extremely well. Concerns of fitness of Rodriguez have also been dismissed.
The Catalan giants have won 9 of the previous 22 appearances since 2011 with Madrid winning only 7 and the others ending in draws. Barcelona beat Real Madrid in their last meeting 2-1 at the Camp Nou. In the previous two meetings at The Bernabeu however, the score is 1 each with Madrid winning 3-1 in 2014 and Barcelona beating Madrid at home in the dreadful game, 4-3.
It is also likely that it is the final battle between MSN and BBC with rumours over Messi transfer and also Ronaldo returning to Man Utd. Currently, Barca are leading at the top of the table with a difference of 3 points, Real being in the second place. If Real manage to win this one, the two teams will be level on points. However, if Barca wins, they will extend their lead to 6 points and would probably be difficult to catch.
Another interesting stat is that Rafa Benitez has won only 1 out of 5 previous home games at the Bernabeu.
Messi a major risk in more ways than one
Fans of both Barca and Madrid waited with bated breath to see if Lionel Messi would recover from a knee ligament injury in time for Saturday’s game.
Luis Enrique faces a difficult quandary. Fielding Messi at all – but especially from the first minute – represents a clear risk of an injury relapse which could damage Barca’s season well beyond the Clasico. More crucially, his return threatens a greater defensive vulnerability: in the nine games Messi has missed, Barca have scored more (21) and conceded fewer (6) than in the previous 10 with the Argentinian in the side, and are enjoying a seven-game unbeaten run as well as a sequence of four consecutive clean sheets.
No one has more goals or assists in the Clasico than Messi, but with Rafael Benitez having vowed to attack from the off, playing La Liga’s greatest goalscorer from the start could be a risk worth avoiding for the visitors – especially since a draw suits them better than it does Madrid.
Benzema must play – Ronaldo needs him
Benitez has declared Karim Benzema fit to return against Barcelona, however, and he should have no hesitation in putting him straight back into the side – not least to give Cristiano Ronaldo a helping hand.
Ronaldo has scored eight in La Liga this term, a drop of 10 goals from the same stage last season, despite taking at least 32 more shots on goal than any other player in the top flight (Neymar is second on 46). His chance conversion rate – 11.94 per cent – is well down on the mark of 35.29 in 2014-15, and Benitez’s tactical tweaks to his positioning have left him too often isolated, as shown by his lowest touch and pass figures since his first season at the club.
Dropping Ronaldo is unthinkable, so getting the best out of him must be Benitez’s priority. He needs Benzema for that. Ronaldo relishes playing alongside the Frenchman, thanks largely to his remarkably selfless approach to the number nine role.
Midfield battle will decide the war
Ivan Rakitic was as important as anyone to Barca’s treble-winning campaign – far beyond his opening goal in the Champions League final – and news of his return to the squad will be a relief to Luis Enrique. Yet, as with Messi, whether Rakitic is fit to last the 90 minutes in Madrid is difficult to tell, leaving the Barca boss with a tough choice over who to start alongside Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets.
Given Rafinha’s injury, Arda Turan’s ineligibility and Sergi Roberto’s more regular use as a full-back, it is Javier Mascherano who is likely to start should Rakitic not be deemed fit enough. The Argentina international certainly brings steel to the heart of the side and would limit the impact of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, but he offers little in the way of his Croatian team-mate’s more controlling presence and attacking promise.
Benitez faces a similar conundrum. He has voiced his admiration for Casemiro’s recent displays, and the Brazilian represents a far more elegant solution to the problem of disrupting Barca’s midfield possessional play than Pepe or Sergio Ramos – two options tried by Benitez’s predecessors Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti. But including Casemiro would most likely mean keeping James Rodriguez and Isco on the bench, denying Madrid a central creativity to feed their front three
For both sides, a choice over guile or grit in the centre will prove pivotal. Win the midfield battle, and the three points will likely follow.
Views presented in the article are those of the author and not of ED.