El Clasico arrives this weekend at that perfect time when the two Spanish giants are seemingly unmatchable and on top of the world. On one corner we have a Real Madrid team that simply can not stop scoring goals. On another we have a Barcelona side still very much formidable in attack, and managing to find their defensive mojo.
But forget all that nonsense about defense. This is La Liga. Come Saturday, it will get ugly between the two at the Santiago Bernabeu and there will be goals. Lots of goals.
Mourinho’s gone, but Luis Enrique is in
Even though this fixture last season produced a memorable game for neutrals as Barcelona ran away with a 3-4 victory, the game was missing that extra spark of hatred between the two sides. Carlo Ancelotti vs Tata Martino was no Mourinho vs Guardiola (or Mourinho vs anybody for that matter). Last season was a match up between two diplomatic men, and the rivalry was toned down as a result.
This weekend, at least we’ll have Luis Enrique on the Blaugrana side. I don’t believe any of the customary talk that Luis Enrique is treating El Clasico like any other game. No, the Asturian may have played for Real Madrid before moving to Barcelona, but he’s Blaugrana through and through.
Just look at how much he loved sticking it to his former employers. Luis Enrique will transmit the same kind of determination to his players from the touchline. Besides, his record so far as Barcelona manager is almost tarnish-free.
Messi and Ronaldo are out to smash records
Lionel Messi has scored 250 league goals to date – one shy of Telmo Zarra’s all-time record that has stood since the ‘50s. For Messi to break that record at the Santiago Bernabeu would be incredibly insulting for Los Merengues, but is extra motivation for Messi to cement himself as one of the greatest of all time.
Though it’s still very early in the season, I can also see that Cristiano Ronaldo is hell bent on smashing another record – the most goals in a La Liga season. That record is held by none other than Lionel Messi, with 50. Ronaldo, however, already has an out-of-this-world 15 goals in seven La Liga matches. He has also scored a total of 192 goals in just 172 matches in La Liga. Messi’s tally isn’t actually unreachable, should Ronaldo decide to remain in Spain beyond this season.
Potent attacking partnerships
Which attacking partnerships will be more on form on Saturday night will most likely be the deciding factor of the match. While Ronaldo has scored half of Real Madrid’s goals in La Liga so far, his partners in crime have also been in great form. Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez and even Javier Hernandez have all taken considerable slices of the goal scoring pie, but they complement Ronaldo so well it’s no wonder Real Madrid have scored 35 goals in their last eight matches.
Things are also looking up for Barcelona’s attack. Neymar and Messi have finally gelled and are the team’s focal points for goals. Messi has evolved into an assist machine as well as being a goal scoring monster, with most of his assists finding Neymar. The two have either scored or assisted one another in almost every game this season. They have also both scored at least one goal each in the past five matches.
All that is without even mentioning Luis Suarez, who, as fate would have it, is poised to make his official Barcelona debut against Real Madrid. When match fit, there’s no doubt Suarez will replace the misfiring Pedro, but perhaps to start the Uruguayan after such a lengthy absence would be unwise. He could, however, make a difference from the bench in the dying moments of the game.
Sure, Claudio Bravo has not conceded even a single goal thus far in La Liga, but it’s unlikely any defense in the world could withstand Real Madrid’s attack at the moment. While Barcelona’s defense have markedly improved with Jeremy Mathieu proving to be an effective reinforcement, it’s still far from perfect, especially in dead ball situations (as PSG have demonstrated in the Champions League). Sergio Ramos may yet get a free pass to nod the ball in from a corner kick.
Luis Enrique would be wise not to start Gerard Pique and Marc Bartra for El Clasico. A Javier Mascherano – Jeremy Mathieu partnership should fare much better against Real Madrid. Playing Mathieu as defensive left back along with two center backs would provide an even better balance to Barcelona’s defense as Dani Alves marauds up the right flank.
Real Madrid, on the other hand, have conceded nine goals in La Liga so far this season. The culprit for this seem to be Iker Casillas. The legendary club captain has been the subject of whistles and jeers from his own fans at the Bernabeu this season, destroying what little confidence he had left. New signing Keylor Navas doesn’t exactly transmit confidence either. Real Madrid must be wishing they hadn’t shipped out Diego Lopez to AC Milan.
Many signs suggest that El Clasico on Saturday will be one to remember for the neutrals just like last season. We know both teams can outscore any team in the world at the moment, but I’m hoping the clash this weekend will be a more fiery and feisty affair, because that’s just so much more fun to watch.