In what is a huge week for Spanish football, Real Madrid host eternal rivals Barcelona twice in four days. The first tie – the second leg of the Copa del Rey – will be played on Wednesday, while the La Liga Clasico is scheduled for Saturday.
Over the past few years, we have seen a lot of battles as a sub-plot to the magical show that takes centre-stage. Cristiano Ronaldo has got the better of Gerard Pique numerous times, while Lionel Messi has consistently had Sergio Ramos wiped out from the game – sometimes literally.
We take a look at some of the key battles that could bask in the limelight on Wednesday.
Vinicius Junior vs Nelson Semedo
This was the most interesting battle in the first leg of the semi-finals and the return leg could produce something just as exciting.
Vinicius Junior has been a revelation for Los Blancos ever since he became a regular name in the team-sheet. His ability to get past players with ease and accelerate, while dropping shoulders makes him a threat on Barcelona’s right flank – their weaker flank ever since Dani Alves parted ways with the club.
Luckily for Barcelona, they have a speed-monster themselves in Nelson Semedo. The Portuguese might not have a great reading of the game like Sergi Roberto does. But his pace and ability to track back after advancing forward means that Vinicius will not have it easy.
Will Vinicius make the difference, or will the Portuguese successfully shut him out of the game?
Luis Suarez vs Sergio Ramos
It’s true that Luis Suarez is enduring a rough patch, given how woeful he’s been in front of goal lately. But that should – in no way – rule him out as a potential man of the match in this huge tie.
When the two teams locked horns at the Camp Nou earlier this season, the Uruguayan made a meal out of the Madrid defence and netted three past a hapless Thibaut Courtois.
The kind of fighter he is, the lone goal against Sevilla is sure to fuel his confidence and psychologically prepare him for El Clasico.
Tasked to stop him, Sergio Ramos will be eager to put his best foot forward and assert dominance on the Uruguayan.
The centre-back has had his own share of problems avoiding the referee’s book in the last few weeks and clasicos and will have to choose his tackles carefully.
Nevertheless, it’s a massive game and one can expect Ramos to step up and prevent Suarez from returning to his goal-scoring self.
Luka Modric vs Ivan Rakitic
With Sergio Busquets controlling the flow of play from deep and Casemiro acting as a screen in front of the Madrid defence, the Croatians could decide who wins the midfield battle.
Luka Modric has had his hits and misses in El Clasico. The Ballon d’Or holder dictated terms for majority of the time in the first leg that ended 1-1, despite Madrid being the better team.
This has really not been Modric’s season, but on his day, Modric is capable of pushing Barcelona’s midfield to the edge and turning the game in Madrid’s favour. His ability to take accurate shots on goal from distance will keep Barcelona custodian Marc-Andre ter Stegen on his toes.
Often under-appreciated, Ivan Rakitic has made it a habit to step up to a whole new level in El Clasicos. In Barcelona’s 5-1 win over Madrid, the former Sevilla man and Arthur completely shut down Madrid’s midfield and played a massive role in handing the hosts a thumping win.
He also played a key role in Barcelona’s 3-0 win during their last visit to the Bernabeu.
A midfield tussle between the two Croatians who will be playing on the same side of the pitch can set the tone for the game.
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