The footballing world is full of many high profile rivalries but none brings more attention than El Clasico. The face-off between Barcelona and Real Madrid is the biggest showpiece occasion of the year. At the start of the year, football fans around the world eagerly check the fixture list to find out the date of the encounter. This season, the world has had to wait for it. The last game before the winter break brings the all-important matchup at the Santiago Bernabeu. In a time where Christmas is almost upon us, its Real Madrid vs Barcelona that dominates the headlines.
Whats the real story?
Real Madrid and Barcelona will clash at the Santiago Bernebau in Madrid. The match will kick off at 5:30 PM IST. According to reports, the game has been given an early kick-off than usual to suit the Asian audience. The match is sure to see a massive global audience with a plethora of stars in action.
Real Madrid’s struggles- Where do they stand
Despite starting the season as defending champions of both the La Liga and Champions League, Real Madrid has had a rough start to the season. Their league campaign has been way below expectations so far. The Las Blancos have only managed 31 points so far in 15 games. Their Champions League defense hasn’t been ideal either. Placed in a tough group with Tottenham Hotspur and Borussia Dortmund, the Royal Whites finished second in the group. Something that has cost them dearly with a mouth-watering match against the red-hot Paris Saint-Germain awaiting them in the round of 16.
On the other hand, despite a disastrous transfer window, Barcelona have done pretty well. They stand 11 points clear of Real Madrid in the domestic league table. With 42 points of 16 games, Barcelona is comfortable at the top of the table with a 6 point lead over Atletico Madrid in second place.
The reality of the situation is a win for Barcelona would make it virtually make it impossible for Real Madrid to catch up on the title race. On the other hand, it also presents them with the perfect opportunity to breathe life back into the title challenge. A defeat would be Barcelona’s first of the season and could be the catalyst to halt their momentum.
You might be wondering- Things to look forward to in the El Clasico
Catalan Independence movement-
Over the past few months, the political situation in Spain has been chaotic. The State of Catalonia has been rigorously protesting in order to gain independence from Spain. While everyone would like to deny any sporting implication, in reality, that’s not the case. Both the football clubs represent the two sides of the argument. Barcelona is the symbol of the Catalonian region and Real Madrid of the royal Spanish state. Thus, this El Clasico has an extra edge to it. Fans would want their political view to stand out and rely on their clubs to give themselves a moral lift.
Messi vs Ronaldo
Is a buildup to the EL Clasico complete without this matchup? For the nth time, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will face off against each other. Their rivalry needs no introduction as it is one of the greatest in sporting history. The 5 time Ballon d’Or winner fortunes this season have been completely contrasting. For Barcelona, Messi has been at his sublime best, leading the La Liga top scorers list with 14 goals. On the other hand, Portugal’s maestro Cristiano Ronaldo only has 4 goals so far this season in the league. While his form has been so far way below par expectations, his game-changing abilities can still prove crucial to Real Madrid in the El Clasico.
The Striker conundrum
Karim Benzema and Luis Suarez have for long been regarded as one of the best striker’s in World football. But for the past couple of season, their qualities have degraded a bit. This season, it has been visible more than ever. Both have been nowhere near the levels expected of the main man of teams like Barcelona and Real Madrid in their overall gameplay. While Suarez has still picked up form over the past month and has 9 goals this season, Benzema’s decline has been staggering. The former French International has only two goals in La Liga so far this season. Both sets of fans will know they need their striker to pick up their game to get vital in three points.
As always a lot will depend on the fitness of the players. Unlike the whole season so far, its Barcelona who find themselves on the wrong side of luck. While summer signing Ousmane Dembele remains a long-term absentee and not yet ready to return, its the injury to Samuel Umtiti which will hurt them the most. The Frenchman has easily been their most consistent defender and its avoid Barcelona will struggle to make up for.
On the other hand, Real Madrid does not have any major injury concerns. While Cristiano Ronaldo has missed training in the last few days, it is expected he will be fit to start the game. Also, in a major boost for the Champions, Gareth Bale is after a long while expected to be fit to start a match in the La Liga.
The managerial battle
Saturday’s encounter would be the first time Ernesto Valverde is in charge of Barcelona in an EL Clasico. Though this won’t be the first time he faces Zinedine Zidane. During his time Atletico Bilbao, the two came up against each other various time. In their 3 meetings so far, Valverde is yet to win against Zidane. Quite evidently, this will be a completely different match with stakes as high as they can ever be. Both the coaches faces different challenges coming into the match.
Life for the newly appointed Barcelona manager has got off to a good start at Camp Nou. Despite the turmoil, the club faced the start of the season, Valverde has managed to steady things and bring results to the club. He can also be credited for bringing back a sense of positivity to the club.
Mainly due to the injury suffered to Ousmane Dembele, Barcelona have shifted to a 4-4-2 formation under Valverde. This allows them to have more control and power in midfield and also, more importantly, gives Lionel Messi greater freedom on the ball.
While everything seems right for him at the moment, the big challenge for him is how he handles the magnitude of the match. It’s no secret that the pressure in an El Clasico is multiple times more than any other match. The former Bilbao manager has to ensure he doesn’t let it get the better of him and he keeps his composure.
Ever since taking charge of Real Madrid in January 2016, Zidane has overseen a golden period for Real Madrid. The Galacticos have won a La Liga Title and two champions league title under the legendary ex-French footballer.
This season, for the first time Zidane has hit a rough patch. The results haven’t come for him and neither have the performances been good enough. It’s fair to say that Madrid has looked the showdown of the side they were last season.
But under Zidane, Madrid have shown to raise their game when the odds are against them. Thus, it will hardly be surprising if Real Madrid comes up tops in the El Clasico. The task for Zidane is to find the right balance in his line up. The 4-4-2 diamond formation that worked brilliantly for him last season has looked inefficient this season. The fullbacks who were so effective last season haven’t been as good this year and hence they have lacked width. The question remains whether Zidane sticks with the 4-4-2 or goes back to a 4-3-3 as he did in the emphatic 5-0 win vs Sevilla.
What is the bottom line?
Form and momentum go out of the window in the El Clasico. The match is all about what happens on the day. Its impossible to predict what will happen. One thing to be sure about it is, it will be a tight and tense encounter. The team that reacts best to the pressure is likeliest to come out triumphs.