El Clasico: Key battlegrounds for capital's Clasico clash

Andy West 06:32 25/10/2014
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Strong start: Claudio Bravo.

Real Madrid and Barcelona con­tain high-class players all over the pitch, with weaknesses difficult to pinpoint and strengths in luxurious abundance.

But how do they compare head to head? Let’s break down the two Clasico teams in the game’s four key action areas.

Goalkeeper

Claudio Bravo comes into the game with the incredible record of not conceding a single goal during his 720 minutes of league action for Barca, and another clean sheet would see him jump into third place in La Liga’s all-time list for minutes played without conceding.

Although Bravo’s defences have been breached on the only occasion he was confronted by genuinely top-class opposition, losing 3-2 in the Champions League against Paris Saint-Germain, he will head into the game with full confidence after an excellent start to his career in Catalonia.

Iker Casillas, on the other hand, is a man under pressure after a series of high-profile gaffes over the last few months. He knows that another one this weekend will reignite calls for Keylor Navas to replace him.

Defence

Both teams have selection issues, with Real Madrid sweating on the fitness of the influential Sergio Ramos and left-back Fabio Coen­trao – the former is much more likely to be available.

For Barca, meanwhile, Javier Mascherano and Jeremy Mathieu have formed a promising partner­ship during their first few weeks together but that may be disrupted if the Argentine has to play in mid­field to cover for Sergio Busquets.

Mathieu is a certain starter and this will be the Frenchman’s first major test for Barcelona. He has impressed so far, but the pace, pow­er and movement of Cristiano Ron­aldo and Karim Benzema presents an altogether more difficult chal­lenge for the left-sided centre back.

The roles of the four full-backs will be crucial. The Spanish-Brazil­ian hybrid of Dani Carvajal, Marce­lo, Dani Alves and Jordi Alba are all extremely attack-minded, but considering the quality of attacking players on view they may well be instructed to adopt a more defen­sive approach on this occasion.

– Real Madrid vs Barcelona – El Clasico’s key battles

Midfield

A lot hinges on the state of Bus­quets’ hip: if Luis Enrique was over­stating his fitness and he cannot play, Mascherano will be drafted into midfield to give a more mobile but less controlled approach.

One intriguing battle will be between Croatia team-mates and close friends Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, both of who are enjoying excellent seasons and offer very different approaches with Modric’s guile matched by Rakitic’s athleti­cism. What the two do have in com­mon is tremendous vision.

For Barca, getting Andres Iniesta onto the ball will be crucial to link midfield and attack. It will be Toni Kroos’s task to stop him, as well as controlling possession and the flow of the game for the home team.

A similar dose of the unpredict­able could be provided for Madrid by Isco, who is in magnificent form and possesses the subtle skill set to mirror the role of Iniesta by unbal­ancing Barca’s defence.

And don’t rule out the Xavi fac­tor, with the veteran pass master overlooked in the early stages of the season but looking fresh and motivated in recent weeks to thrust himself back into contention.

In the cauldron of the Bernabeu, Xavi’s experience and composure could be crucial in allowing Barca to establish their customary domi­nation of possession – perhaps from the bench if Enrique’s side take the lead.

Attack

There has surely never been a more mouth-watering collection of for­ward talent on view in the same game in history.

With the world’s greatest two players (Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi) and their heir appar­ent (Neymar), last season’s leading scorer from the English Premier League (Luis Suarez), the World Cup Golden Boot winner (James Rodriguez) and the elegant skills of a bang in-form Karim Benzema all on the pitch, any manner of attack­ing brilliance is possible.

All six are capable of conjuring an individual piece of match-win­ning magic, but perhaps the big­gest key will be how they perform as a collective – and this aspect will be taken into consideration by Enrique when he decides whether to start Suarez or unleash him from the bench.

Pedro, although out of form, would be a safer option in terms of providing team coherence. Start­ing Suarez would be a gamble… but one that could pay off in absolutely spectacular fashion. 

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