This Saturday, El Clasico kicks off. To some, the biggest game in the football calendar. We discuss who will win it, who will shine, and some of the factors in play come the weekend.
Will Barcelona disrupt their recently found balance and form to start Messi?
Mo: Messi is the best player in the world. No matter how well you are playing as a team, when he’s back, you include him. Neymar and Suarez have been carrying the burden recently almost double-handedly. Munir on the right is not contributing to goals and barely any assists. With Messi there, even if he isn’t at full fitness, it would give defenders much more to think about and undoubtedly create even more space for his attacking partners. I think for a big game like this, he has to play. I would play him if he’s fit. Messi doesn’t create unbalance, he gives you an edge. I bet if you ask Neymar and Suarez if they would like Messi on the field, they would both say yes.
My prediction is that he will be deemed fit enough to be on the bench. I don’t think Enrique will start him. Enrique will see how the game is going with his current starting 11 and use Messi later on if required, but he will definitely play a part.
Alex: He will likely be declared fit, but I’d have him on the bench. Barcelona have been playing well enough, and Real poorly enough, that I don’t think Barca need Messi to win this game. Thus, if he can be afforded one more week of relative rest, I’d give it to him.
There’s also a psychological factor to consider. If Barcelona defeat Real without him, that’s a statement and a stick with which to beat Madrid. If, however, the game isn’t going as planned for Luis Enrique, bringing Messi off the bench can change the momentum of a match, and it would be damaging to the Real players to see that they had made all this effort only to be then be confronted by Messi.
Bernie: The real question is how fit Messi really is. If he’s fit he has to start, if he’s not then at least leave him on the bench because of the psychological boost his presence will bring. If Messi is fit, leaving him on the bench does not help anyone. Enrique and Messi have already had confrontation over his role in the team. Do you really think that Messi will take being on the bench lightly? A fit Messi coming off the bench in El Clasico could tear the dressing room apart. If he weren’t the best player in the world I’d say who cares? If he doesn’t like it send him packing. However, this is Lionel Messi, he’s still better than Neymar and Suarez and we don’t see any signs of him being on the wane yet so as I said, if he’s fit he starts.
Alex: I think you’re envisaging a problem that doesn’t exist. Things between Messi and the manager are fine and have been for ages, and every player – best player in the world or not – knows that returning from a long injury can be a case of easing in. Don’t forget that in September, when Barcelona played Atleti, Messi was rested after returning from international duty. With the score 1-1 and with half an hour to go, he came on and won Barca the game. No issues, no drama.
Mo: Good points. I agree with Alex that Messi now isn’t the drama queen he might have once been during the Ibra or Tata Martino days. He has matured enough now to understand that he can’t do it all alone anymore (See Argentina – damn close though). People say Messi is hitting the prime age of 28. With someone who has played that much football up to this point, his prime is definitely past him. I don’t think he will mind starting on the bench. We’ll see what Enrique decides.
How can Benitez trouble Barcelona with Ronaldo on the wane, an injured Ramos and Benzema out?
Bernie: Father time has finally caught up with Ronaldo and this Clasico will prove it to the world. No shame in regressing at the age of 31 but Real need plan B and right now I don’t see it. Sergio Ramos for me won’t have that much of an effect, I’m not sure he’s that great of a defender and it may be better to let him heal from injury instead of making him play with painkillers as has been suggested. Best to let Varane start this one.
Benzema’s indiscretions means that Ronaldo should play centrally which he doesn’t want to do, and James comes in to play on the left. James has been overlooked quite a bit but his presence could affect this result and create space for Bale and Ronaldo. Gareth Bale needs to be more dominant on the ball. Even if he’s going to play in Ronaldo to finish off moves he needs to command the ball and make something happen whether it be with goals or assists. Rafa has some work ahead of him that’s for sure.
Alex: Funny that Real could start with Ronaldo, Bale, James, Vazquez or Jese and yet we deem them to be in trouble. I honestly think that Ronaldo should transition to a #9 at this point. He doesn’t and will never be expected to contribute defensively on the wing, and when you have Marcelo on that side too you’re just asking for trouble on the counter. He’s also clinical in the box and given his aerial ability, would allow for more of a crossing game that could definitely trouble Barcelona.
It won’t happen, but I’d go Ronaldo up front, Bale on the left getting back to basics, and James cutting in from the right with Danillo or Carvajal bombing past him on the outside. Meanwhile, I’d entrust Modric, Kroos and Casemiro with the midfield battle.
Mo: Real Madrid come into this game 3 points behind leaders Barcelona. Also being at the Bernabeu puts more pressure on Benetiz who has quite a bit on his hands here. Rumors are already flying around that Ronaldo has told Real Madrid president that “we will never win anything with him”, referring to his coach. If Ronaldo is unhappy, the whole squad feels it. I agree with Alex in that Ronaldo should transition into a central striker, mainly for the reason Bernie pointed out; his age. Great points by Alex as well re: finishing, heading ability, and lack of defensive work. With Benzema out, Ronaldo should start centrally. Jesse wont cut it in this game.
I know Bernie doesn’t appreciate Ramos, but I do. He isn’t the best defender in the world by any stretch of the imagination, but for Madrid he is crucial. He is their main driving force, their Spanish leader, and he will take this Clasico more seriously than any of his team mates. With Casillas gone, Ramos is the last standing Madrid “legend” in this squad. Also, he does pop up with goals at very crucial times. I have a feeling he might get one come Saturday.
Bernie: Sergio Ramos is a legend of Real Madrid but a legend with mistakes in him. If he’s not fit you don’t want him out on that pitch. Forget the painkillers, those only minimize the pain not eradicate it. As we said with Messi, if he’s not fit leave him out. Varane is more than capable. I do feel Ronaldo should take one for the team and start up front as well. However, especially from that position if the service is weak then it falls apart. He can’t make late runs into the box as he would from the left so James needs to be involved and Gareth needs to take games by the scruff of the neck and start creating. Rafa needs to get it into his head that James must play. He also has to find a way to get into Bale’s head and get the Welsh wizard going because more so than Ronaldo, if Bales plays well, Real Madrid will play well.
Dare we make a prediction?
Alex: I’m envisaging a draw. Rafa is good at the “big” games, and tactically he will have a plan, here. It won’t stop Barcelona scoring one, maybe even two, but I think Real will counter that with goals of their own. Score draw.
Bernie: I don’t think that Barcelona will come to the Bernabeu and win this game. Sure they’ve done it before but I’m not really buying this idea that Barcelona are in the form of their lives. We’ve seen what Celta Vigo and a few other sides have done to them recently. That said, Real Madrid are hardly in world beating form either and are coming off a loss away to Sevilla. This has all the ingredients for a cagey draw with Madrid’s mean defence cancelling out the offence of Neymar and Suarez. 1-1.
Mo: I’m going with a Barcelona win here. Madrid haven’t looked good in a while and, with Messi back, Barca’s attack look too good for Real. The only concern with this prediction, is how tired Neymar may be from his long travels to South America during the break. Suarez on the other hand didn’t travel (international ban) and thus is as fresh as a recently picked tomato. Madrid will struggle to keep possession in midfield and thus will be frustrated at their home ground. 3-1 Barcelona.
Alright, enough chat. What’s your prediction, and why? Join the debate here