Here we go again! Barcelona take on Real Madrid on Sunday with La Liga supremacy on the line. Surviving the pressure-cooker atmosphere of this most anticipated of club fixtures is just the start. So where wil El Clasico be won and lost this time?
SERGIO BUSQUETS – WILL HE OR WON’T HE?
Sergio Busquets sat out Barcelona’s win over Manchester City, but that doesn’t mean he’s fully out of contention for El Clasico. The midfielder trained the day after the game fully without any issues, giving hope to Barca fans he’ll make the final cut. It might well be a significant factor in the outcome of Sunday’s game, given the influence of Busquets on this Barca team. If Lionel Messi is the definition point in the final third, then Busquets is almost certainly the equivalent when it comes to beginning attacking moves.
Sergio Busquets has fully recovered from his ankle injury and is available for El Clásico pic.twitter.com/4gT0OZdCHw
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcolona) March 21, 2015
There are two ways of looking at Busquets’ role however. If he’s there he’s essential to the traditional Barca system of retaining and recycling possession, bringing others into play and moving onto the front foot against deep-lying teams. However, as was seen against City, Barca’s direct methods can be extremely fruitful. Take Busquets out of the equation, put in the more energetic Javier Mascherano, and Barca make up for their lack of natural speed and power. The Argentinean can cover more ground, and reduce gaps quicker, whereas Busquets’ game is based more upon reading the play and being in the right place at the right time. There is much for Luis Enrique to digest, but these fulfilling ‘problems’ at least.
LUKA MODRIC – SO GOOD HE CAN INFLUENCE AT SUB-100%
Like Busquets to Barcelona, Modric is a key component of Real Madrid’s central fulcrum. The Croatian’s return is still relatively fresh, but he could have a significant say on the game. Madrid’s greatest problem recently has been the lack of direction and composure in midfield without the former Spurs man present, even with someone as talented as Toni Kroos around. The German has been putting out too many fires on his own, while also trying to create them to hurt other teams. Modric will look to make sure Madrid aren’t dominated, and they have their own foothold in the game. If Los Blancos give up midfield supremacy to Barca, it could be a long evening at Camp Nou. Modric will look to bring guidance to his team, with the end destination being a precious three points.
BBC vs. SNM
One trio versus another; the battle between the big guns. Whereas the likes of Modric and Busquets are the thinking man’s players to watch, the six attacking players on show across both sides will be the headline grabbers. Real Madrid’s BBC, made of up Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo, have been receiving their fiercest share of criticism since first coming together. The critique has stemmed from Bale’s seeming unwillingness to integrate into the team system, Cristiano’s individuality and Benzema’s recent lack of end product. All those can be eradicated with a strong performance in this, the biggest game of the season. The trio will need to get on the same page, and put any rumoured differences aside to achieve what is most important, a winning result. It is important Bale imposes himself as everyone knows he can, and looks to take the game to his opponents, while Cristiano must show more humility in his game and put his frustrations into churning out a positive reaction.
“Bale must impose himself as everyone knows he can, while Cristiano must show more humility and put his frustrations into churning out a positive reaction.”
Barcelona, meanwhile, have no such problems, their past issues such as Luis Suarez’s adaptation and the burden on Lionel Messi, appear to have vanished. Neymar’s slight drop in from is a problem, but one that isn’t overly worrying right now. He failed to take chances against Manchester City but his performances for much of the season have been impressive. Suarez is the man looking red hot however, aside from the ever in-form Messi, with the Uruguayan managing seven goals in his last eight games. Messi looks on a different level – with a spectacular display against City, showcasing every side to his game and is primed perfectly for another show-stopping Clasico performance.
BARCELONA’S HIGH INTENSITY
This one goes back to the inclusion of Busquets. How Barcelona set up will be intriguing to see, given that under Luis Enrique they have differentiated in styles. Against City it was the most pleasing-on-the-eye display of the season, with Barca showing that when they play with speed and a direct attitude, it can be devastating for opponents. Ivan Rakitic has been supreme in recent weeks, after what had been a long dip in form after a spectacular start. The Croatian’s movement both on and off the ball is vital to Barca playing in their direct style, given his fitness levels mean he can cover a lot of ground take the game to opponents, or make sharp movements into the penalty area. How he fizzes the ball, and at what intensity, could well be a factor in how Madrid themselves move. If they sense a lethargic Barca, they might be willing to press further up and shift the ball into wide zones on the counter. Every Barca fan knows how they want to see Barca play, but will Luis Enrique oblige?