Barcelona players celebrate (Image: Reuters)

With El Clasicoa little over 24 hours to go from now, the tension and excitement is building like each time. Both sets of fans want their side to triumph and think they will too. It doesn’t matter if Real Madrid are on a 15 game unbeaten run or if Barcelona haven’t been at their best away from home. When it comes to Clasico, things change altogether as a sense of parity is reached.

In this preview, I intend to give a perspective from the other side of the camp – Barcelona’s camp. This will help us, Madridistas, in understanding what to expect tomorrow and have a look at our competition. Jai Prasanth (yesjaypee on Twitter) and Prashanth Shriram (Prasinho_Cule on Twitter) are two Barcelona fans based in India who answered the questions I posed to them. Why two fans? Because it is fun to read what two fans of the same team think.

Tanuj: For the Madridistas who haven’t been following Barcelona’s recent games, could you please share how they’ve done in the league so far?

Prashanth: At home we’ve been nothing short of brilliant, but our away form is what has hurt us big time this season so far. We’ve had our fair share of bad luck and injuries, but I’d be lying if I said we deserved to come off with a better result in most of those games. Some of the performances have been very mediocre.

Jai: Barcelona have had a rather strange start to the league given that they have been rampant at home scoring 39 goals and letting in none in all the games played at the Camp Nou. While this is surely an exciting thing, the same, however, could not be said of the away form with a few draws and the loss at Madrid B, erm, I mean Getafe. While fatigue could be stated as one of the reasons, Barça have had to do with injuries as well. Iniesta was injured and was unavailable in the loss at Getafe and Alexis Sanchez, the new recruit had to be sidelined before he could taste some first team football after his big money move from Udinese. Afellay had to suffer a long-term injury as well which has kept him out for almost 6 months now.

Tanuj: Not going to beat around the bush so what do you think will be the starting XI in your opinion? What formation would be employed?

Prashanth: Well, Clasicos have always thrown up surprises from Pep’s side. I think Pep is seriously thinking about a 3-4-3 which kind of leaves it all down to the players to have a near perfect game. I’d probably go for a regular 4-3-3 in the 1st half and change it depending on the outcome at halftime. So the only question is the front three. Villa Leo Alexis would be my choice. Maybe we might even see Cesc as a false 9 with Messi on the right and Alexis on the left.

Jai: This is an interesting question to answer. Pep is known for trying out crazy things, like Leo as false 9, which proved to be a master stroke, Dani Alves as Right Winger, and the much recent, 3 man defence. It’s hard enough to predict the starting XI, and it’s more so to predict the formation. One thing is, the usual 4-3-3 can be converted into a 3-4-3 without any substitutions by moving Alves up the pitch.

I’d predict Pep to play it safe with the formation by going with the standard 4-3-3.

And the lineup would be,

Valdes
Alves Pique Mascherano Abidal
Busquets
Xavi Iniesta
Cuenca Messi Sanchez

My guess is Pep would like to play the surprise card by starting with Cuenca, who’s been a revelation this season after being at Barca B and then moving to Sabadell (a local third tier club) and then back to Barca. And, Sanchez has been in fine form of late and I would like if he gets the nod ahead of Villa who’s had tough times in front of the goal.

And, if it’s a 3-4-3, Cesc could start alongside the mid 3 with Pique sacrificed. However, Madrid are quite simply the best team in counters and I wouldn’t want a defence that genuinely lacks pace.

Tanuj: What are the positives and weaknesses of Barcelona going into the Clasico?

Prashanth: Positives : We’ve got an almost fully fit squad, so it leaves the manager with lots of options. We’ve also got 2 players in Alexis and Cuenca (probably won’t feature this time) who can give us other options and width as well.

Weakness : Villa and Pedro’s forms are most definitely a worry. Also the defense hasn’t really been top-notch with the injuries. Mascherano has been performing really well this season but we really need Puyol in top form for this game.

Jai:

Positives :

  • Have had very good last few games, specially the one against Levante.
  • Everyone’s fit. (Except Ibi Afellay of course who’s been nursing a longtime injury)
  • Have had enough rest and time to prepare given the rather easy run they had in the Champions League.
  • Also, the so-called Messi-dependency has lessened to an extent with Alexis getting on the scoring boots.

Weaknesses :

  • Lack of pace at the back which can be very dangerous against a team like Madrid.
  • The obvious knowledge of the 3 point lead (which could be extended to 6, given that Madrid have a game in hand)
  • Lack of height – This could mean a lot in a game where tackles will be flying in on ground play. Aerial balls will be played by Madrid and Pique and Busquets are the only guys who are genuinely tall to win the aerial battle.
  • Absence of Tito Vilanova – Not a weakness in a literal sense, this does handicap Pep a bit.

Tanuj: Real Madrid are on 15 game unbeaten run, do you think Barcelona can stop them?

Prashanth: Hard to say really. On form and collectively if you see Madrid have had a near perfect season. Ronaldo is slowly becoming more of a team player and both front 2 have been goal machines. But stats and other things are all immaterial when it comes to the Clasico. I do believe Barca can beat Madrid, but it would have to be a near perfect game like the one against Manchester United last year. If we get an early goal, we have big chance.

Jai: It’s true that Real Madrid have been on a brilliant run of form, and look like they have finally gelled together as a team.(Well, we did see glimpses of that in the SuperCopa itself) But, if there’s any team that can stop them, it’s Barcelona. And, given the track record of Barcelona in the past few Clasicos, I do believe Barcelona can stop them. As obvious as it may sound, it is no easy job though.

Tanuj: Real have been praised for their quick counter attack, how do you think Barcelona can cover that?

Prashanth: Its nothing new really for Barcelona. Madrid have always had a lightning quick counter attack and Barca will always maintain a high line. So, can’t see any real change to Barca’s approach to the game. Probably less of Alves in attack like the SuperCopa.

Jai: It’s almost a given that Madrid are the best team in counter attack and I am sure Pep would be having some plans to cover that. First and foremost, 4-3-3 is essential if Madrid are to be stopped. As this Barcelona side have shown time and again, the way to stop your opponents scoring is by keeping the ball possession. I think Alves would be asked to have a close eye on CRon as invariably the Madrid counters involve him. And, surely, all the Barcelona players work hard, running around, trying to win the ball back from the opponents. This has to be done properly in this game as well.

Tanuj: How is the feeling like ahead of the Clasico in Barcelona’s media?

Prashanth: Frankly its been very quiet compared to other Clasicos during the Guardiola reign. everyone has pretty much conceded that Madrid are the favourites this time. Having said that, there doesn’t seem to be too much noise from the Madrid corner as well. The recent Clasicos have really left a bitter taste in the mouths of both teams. So everyone is keeping a low profile as it seems.

Jai: It’s well-known that neither of the media, be it EMD and Sport who are Pro Barça or AS and Marca who are Pro Madrid have been reliable or neutral. EMD have, however, surprisingly called for a Pure football in the game, which all of us hope. Sport have come up with a headline saying “They’re (Madrid) afraid of him(Pep)”. I am sure that is respect and not fear. Xavi will be playing his 600th game. Both the papers have specials regarding this great achievement. Let’s hope the ugly face of the media doesn’t pop up once the game is over.

Tanuj: Amongst the new signings, who do you think can make the biggest impact for Barcelona in the Clasico?

Prashanth: All the recent Clasicos Madrid have been able to contain everyone except the little magician. Its almost as if Messi saves his best for Madrid. I do believe Alexis is a bit of a wildcard in this one. Its been too long since Barca had a winger like him. I feel he should start on the right than left so that he can have a go at Marcelo. As much as Marcelo has improved in the last few years, there are still some doubts about him at the back.

Jai: As much as I’d like Cesc to play and make an impact on the game, I don’t think he’ll start and may get a chance in the second half depending on the situation. And, Alexis, being on form, is most likely to start and could very well make an impact on the game with his ability to beat players unlike a certain *cough cough* Villa.

Tanuj: In the end, what is your score prediction?

Prashanth: I’m a bit of a pessimist. I’ll go with a 2-1 to Madrid. Ronaldo to score a penalty.

Jai: This has to be the toughest part, isn’t it? Madrid would be satisfied with a draw as they can maintain the lead at the top of the table. Barcelona would go for the victory. But, in the end it’ll end up at two goals each.
Real Madrid CF 2 – 2 FC Barcelona

With goals from CRonaldo, Higuain, Leo and Iniesta.