preview | 2016-12-03
La Liga Round 14 - El Clásico Preview - Barcelona vs Real Madrid
Barcelona host Real Madrid in La Liga on Saturday afternoon in what has become a must win game for Luis Enrique’s side who find themselves sit six points behind their title rivals at the top of the table
In recent seasons Barcelona have been largely dominant in La Liga with six of the last eight titles being won by the Catalan side but things haven’t been going well this season and Real Madrid will be many people’s favourites to pick up their second win in a row at Camp Nou.
Real Madrid come to Catalunya six points clear at the top of La Liga with ten wins and three draws in their thirteen league games. Real have scored more goals than anyone else in La Liga (36) and defensively only Villarreal (10) have conceded less than their 11 goals. Away from home Real Madrid have won five and drew one, conceding just four goals in the process. Right now it’s difficult to find fault with Real as they have gone 32 competitive games without losing. Confidence is extremely high since Zinedine Zidane has taken charge, and rightly so, as they closed the gap at the top of La Liga last season (Barcelona won the title by a single point), won the Champions League and they have made a great start to this season.
In recent weeks Real Madrid have won five games in a row with the most impressive being a 3-0 win away to Atlético Madrid. Last weekend they didn’t play particularly well but still managed to pick up the three points in a 2-1 win over Sporting Gijón. Last time out, Real beat Cultural Leonesa 6-1 in the Copa del Rey although most of the eleven that started won’t be in the starting lineup on Saturday with Dani Carvajal and either Isco or Casemiro the only ones likely to be selected in Zidane’s starting eleven.
While things are going well for Madrid things are completely different for Barcelona. Barça sit 2nd in La Liga on 27 points from their 13 games. In recent weeks Barça have won just two of their last six games. They produced a superb second half display to beat Sevilla and enjoyed a comfortable win away to Celtic but a Champions League loss to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, back to back La Liga draws with Málaga and Real Sociedad and a disappointing draw away to Segunda B side Hércules has led to a lot of criticism of the team and manager, Luis Enrique.
The recent run of results has been hugely disappointing but even more worrying than that has been the level of performances in those games. Barça have looked disjointed and more like three separate teams than one coherent unit in recent weeks. The forwards have been completely isolated with a large gap developing between the midfield and attack. This has led to the defence often bypassing the midfield when looking for the front three and the midfield shuffling between defence and attack. Much of Barcelona’s success over the last decade has been built on a philosophy of playing there way out of trouble but with the front three so far away from the rest of the team it looks at times as though Barça are playing with eight men and this is not good enough at the highest level.
Real Madrid will be without Toni Kroos, Gareth Bale, Álvaro Morata, Fábio Coentrao and Danilo for the visit to Camp Nou. Of these five Bale and Kroos would have definitely started and Morata may have had a chance should Zidane choose him over Benzema. With those injuries Real Madrid’s lineup will most likely see a back five of Keylor Navas, Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo. The big question mark will be in midfield and whether Zidane decides to go with a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1. Last season in this fixture Zidane played Casemiro and the Brazilian was widely credited with being the main reason for Real’s victory. It is likely Zidane will go with the same system this time which will mean Casemiro starts instead of Isco. Mateo Kovacic and Luka Modric will join him in the midfield. Up front Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema will start in their usual roles with Lucas Vazquez replacing Bale on the right wing. Bale and Kroos will be huge absences for Zidane’s side, with Bale in particular causing all kinds of problems for Barcelona in previous meetings.
Luis Enrique has received a huge boost ahead of the game with news that Jeremy Mathieu is the only player likely to miss out. This means Samuel Umtiti, Jordi Alba and Andrés Iniesta are all available for selection and although he will now face bigger selection headaches than his opposite number it’s not a bad problem to have. Marc-Andre ter Stegen will continue in goal and Sergi Roberto and Gerard Piqué will start in defence. Javier Mascherano has been playing alongside Piqué recently but Umtiti looked to be first choice before his injury. The Frenchman got some action midweek in the Copa del Rey and should take back his place in defence on Saturday. At left back Alba has been declared fit so should start although many fans feel Lucas Digne could be set to take over that position. Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets will take their usual roles in midfield and with Iniesta fit it is highly likely that he will be selected ahead of Andre Gomes, even if he can’t last the full 90 minutes. Up front it will be business as usual with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar leading the line for the Catalans.
Perhaps the most interesting thing will be what tactics the two managers employ when the game gets underway. As discussed above it looks likely that Zidane will go for something similar to the game last season when Real beat Barcelona 2-1 at Camp Nou. Casemiro played just in front of the defence that day and he was instrumental in stopping Barça getting into a rhythm.
For Barcelona it is expected it will be business as usual which is a little worrying considering how things have gone recently. Luis Enrique claims nothing has changed but that is not how it looks on the pitch. The one positive for Barcelona will be the return of Iniesta as the veteran midfielder is still the best in the world when it comes to linking up with the forwards. That has been a huge issue for Barça in recent weeks and fans all over the world will be hoping Iniesta is the missing ingredient that the team need to get back to winning ways.
Head to Head
There’s really not a lot to separate these two and the most recent pattern seems to be no team wins more than two in a row against the other. Over the last nine meetings there were two draws in a row, two Real wins in a row, two Barça wins in a row, two Real wins in a row and two Barça wins in a row. Real Madrid won the last game so if that pattern is to continue then Real will win but football doesn’t always work that way.
Historically, Real have a slight edge with 93 wins in the 231 meetings between the sides. Barça aren’t far behind with 90 wins while the other 48 matches have ended in a draw. In those games Real Madrid have managed to score 390 goals to Barcelona’s 376. Lionel Messi is the top goal scorer in the fixture with 21 goals.
Saturday’s game will be refereed by Carlos Clos Gómez. Barcelona have won four and drew one of their last five with him as referee. He has shown Barça players nine yellows cards in those games and awarded Barcelona five penalties. In his last five games refereeing Real Madrid, Real have won two, drew one and lost two. In those games he booked 14 Real players and awarded them one penalty.
We asked members of the Grup 14 team for their predictions ahead of the game.
Gerry Johnston: Everything is pointing to a Madrid win but when the odds are stacked Barça tend to pull something out of the bag. Messi and Suarez to score the goals in a 2-0 home win.
Rafael Hernández: Expecting a defeat, tactically Barça has lacked any shred of cohesion and Real Madrid are strangely looking better prepared in the technical side, anything can happen in El Clásico but I feel that Messi and company won't be able to overcome such difficulties.
Heimo Paffhausen: I have zero expectations which is probably the best that can happen when you attend the game at Camp Nou. The team usually strikes back exactly at such moments. So that means I go for a 2-0 win for us.
Chintan Patel: I will go for a 3-1 win.
Karim Guemmoula: I can’t predict but we have to win and the team usually bounce back. What makes me optimistic is last season’s first Clásico. Madrid came in after a series of wins but were beaten 4-0. I’m optimistic Heimo is attending and that we have Iniesta back.
Jaime Ibarra: I sense a 1-1. Hopefully I’m wrong though and Barça win.
Anything wrong? Send your correction.
WRITTEN BY: Gerry Johnston
Gerry Johnston is a 31 year old Civil Servant from County Antrim, Ireland. Gerry has been writing about football for various websites since Euro 2012 and he has been a Barcelona fan since the mid 90s.