Real Madrid host Barcelona on Saturday at the Santiago Bernabeu for what is the first Clasico of the season. Los Blancos, in third, could reduce the gap at the top to a single point with a win. Meanwhile, Barca would aim at extending the lead from their bitter rivals and also from Sevilla (in second).
As against the normal style of a preview, let’s build-up a comparison or catch up of sorts since the last Clasico where Real Madrid won 2-1 in the final of the Copa del Rey at the Mestalla.
Since the Copa del Rey final, Real Madrid added the elusive la Decima to their trophy cabinet thanks to a 4-1 win in extra time against Atletico Madrid at Lisbon.
Over in the league, Barcelona had the chance to win the 2013/14 La Liga but for last day heroics and drama which eventually saw Atletico Madrid winning the trophy. Real Madrid were in the running too but their focus probably shifted towards the final or was always about the Champions League in the end.
Real Madrid have added quite some talent in the summer and it has come at a hefty price for them. As a result, the club also offloaded some players which were essential to the la Decima winning team which saw a positive result in the balance sheet. Added to the already glittery squad were Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez, Keylor Navas, Chicharito. Two big names to exit were Angel di Maria and Xabi Alonso.
Over in the Blaugrana camp, their marquee signing was that of Luis Suarez from Liverpool which happened despite him picking up a ban for a bite on Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup in Brazil. And the first game that he is eligible for is a Clasico – talk about having big games in your stars! Also added were Marc-Andre term Stegen, Ivan Rakitic, Claudio Bravo, Jeremy Mathieu, Thomas Vermaelen and Douglas.
Seven players are expected to make their debuts in the Clasico – Kroos, James, Chicharito, Rakitic, Suarez, Mathieu and Bravo.
Carlo Ancelotti has stayed put as Real Madrid manager after winning the Champions League even though there were suggestions otherwise after a poor run at the end of last season in the league.
Over on the Barca side, Luis Enrique came in to replace Gerardo Martino having been manager of Barca B for three years. Enrique is one of the few players who have played for both Real and Barcelona and publicly expressed his displeasure of all things Madrid upon his move to Barca. His introduction to the team has brought more fluidity into their attack and become more direct than they ever were under Martino. Passing and build-up play, both are neat. Importantly, Neymar is being used better by him than under Martino.
Gareth Bale is a major absentee from either sides with the Welshman out due to a buttocks injury. His incredible pace could have been a much valuable addition to the side even though he’s come under much criticism from some sections for not being effective enough so far this season. An odd thing to say when he was really good in providing assists the last time he played.
Also missing are Jese Rodriguez who has still not recovered to be part of the training and Fabio Coentrao who is yet another important player. Marcelo, his replacement, is known to go for too much when pushing forward thereby letting go of his defensive duties and putting the team under undue pressure.
For Barcelona, Sergio Busquets had been a reason for concern but the Spaniard has recovered in time for the game having not played in midweek in their 3-1 Champions League win against Ajax.
Enrique confirmed in Friday’s pre-match press conference that Suarez would make his debut but he didn’t shed light on whether the Uruguayan would start the game alongside Messi and Neymar or not.
Even though Busquets is available, he is not likely to be in perfect condition for a game of this magnitude. For this reason, I believe Mascherano will play in the middle like he did last weekend against Einar and in midweek too.
Bravo, Alves, Pique, Mathieu, Alba, Mascherano, Xavi, Iniesta, Rakitic, Neymar, Messi
Ancelotti had said that he will play the same side that Liverpool 3-0 at Anfield in the Champions League. But to add to the mysteriousness and fun, Ancelotti in the presser stated he might throw in a surprise like last years’ Ramos in the centre and that he has plenty of options he’s considering. Having said that, I think Ancelotti would stick to the XI that played in England but for Carvajal coming in in place of Alvaro Arbeloa.
Real Madrid XI:
Casillas, Carvajal, Pepe, Varane, Marcelo, Kroos, Modric, Isco, Benzema, Cristiano, James
Real Madrid come into the game having scored 35 goals in last eight games in all competitions. Thanks mostly to Cristiano Ronaldo who is enjoying the best start to a league campaign – for him overall and also in the league. He’s scored 15 goals after seven games in the league.
Barcelona come into the game with a great record on the other side of the pitch. They haven’t conceded in the league so far – remaining unbeaten after eight games into the season. That accolade means Bravo has not been beaten for 720 minutes.
Lionel Messi is one goal away from equalling Telmo Zarra’s all-time goalscoring record in the league of 251 goals – a record that was set in 1955.
Score prediction: 2-2