Real Madrid and Barcelona players are getting set for a second El Clasico in four days at the Santiago Bernabeu as both sides have to quickly move on from Wednesday’s second leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final.
That will be easier said than done for Los Blancos given they were on the wrong end of a 3-0 defeat, while their rivals will be buzzing after that performance.
But Saturday is a new day and a new game, with Madrid needing a win to keep alive their faint La Liga title hopes, as they trail leaders Barca by nine points.
Here’s a look at the key players for Saturday’s encounter.
Vinicius Junior vs Ousmane Dembele
Wednesday’s loss could have gone quite differently if Vinicius Junior had brought his finishing boots. The young Real Madrid star was looking on top form, especially during the first half, and finished the game with six shots – more than the entire Barcelona team. But only two were on target and none found the back of the net.
Former Madrid manager Jorge Valdano pointed out in the aftermath that club legend Raul also had trouble with his finishing early in his career. Given everything else in Vinicius’ armoury, if he can sort out this one flaw, he’ll be lethal. His first chance is on Saturday.
If Vinicius needs a player to model himself after he could do worse than look across the pitch on Saturday and see the man now being touted as the successor to Lionel Messi. Ousmane Dembele had a tough initiation to Barcelona but he, like Vinicius, has individual brilliance that can set him apart.
Unlike the Brazilian, Dembele is a more reliable goalscorer, having managed 13 this season to go along with his five assists. Allying his blinding pace and wizardry on the ball with that sort of end product is what’s drawing the Messi comparisons; he can showcase it all again on Saturday.
Toni Kroos vs Arthur
Toni Kroos had one of his better games of the season on Wednesday despite his side’s loss. His mark of three chances created were joint-most for the game as Vinicius and the same as Barcelona managed as a team.
If that vintage of Kroos shows up again on Saturday, Madrid should fancy their chances. They already know the 3-0 scoreline in Wednesday’s loss was harsh on them, and Kroos’ performance was a definite positive. It should also serve as a sign of hope that they can overcome their fierce rivals for the first time this season.
Arthur made a welcome return from injury on Wednesday and there’s a chance he could be involved from the start in this fixture, having made a late substitute appearance earlier in the week.
It’s a mark of how important a player the 22-year-old has become in just his first season at the club that his team looks more like Barcelona when he’s playing. His passing and movement, similar to Kroos, set the tone in a way that no one else at the club can quite manage.
If he’s dominating the ball, Barcelona are likely to be in good shape for a second Clasico win in four days.
Sergio Reguilon vs Jordi Alba
Coming up against the likes of Messi and Dembele is never an easy task but Real Madrid’s young left-back acquitted himself well on Wednesday, with Sergio Reguilon among a handful of players to emerge with credit from the game.
No one would have expected that the 22-year-old would be the first-choice player at his position for Madrid this season, but Marcelo’s sudden loss of form has provided an opportunity that the Castilla graduate has grasped with both hands.
Saturday provides the opportunity for an encore. He knows what he’s up against and he knows he can handle it: can he do it twice in four days?
Real Madrid may have been forced to ditch their heralded, veteran left-back this season but Barcelona have had no such problems. Jordi Alba keeps chugging along, and it was no surprise that he was awarded a new contract this week – one with a prohibitive €500million release clause.
Though this team is full of attacking talents, no one underestimate’s the Spaniard’s importance, as he is often the crucial player in attack, with his attacking instincts occupying space and defensive attention in a way that allows Messi, Luis Suarez, and co to flourish.
Time for the 29-year-old to show exactly why Barcelona gave him that bumper new contract.
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