La Blaugrana will now shift their attention to La Liga, where they will meet their number one rivals in the title race, Real Madrid. Barca News Network brings you four points to talk about ahead of the one and only El Clásico.
1. An eternal rivalry
If there is a team that does not need an introduction, Real Madrid is exactly that. Los Blancos are one of the greatest clubs in the entire history of the sport, with a rich past seasoned with overflowing success and glory. From Santiago Bernabéu to Alfredo di Stéfano, many legendary figures donned the Royal White of Madrid, building a legacy that made Real Madrid what it is.
In parallel, the rivalry between the greatest teams in Spain started to unfold from the beginning and intensified during Francisco Franco’s tenure. At that time, Real Madrid became the symbol of Spain’s glory even on the European stage, while Barcelona represented the Catalan resistance. Needless to say, the rivalry between the two caused innumerable scandalous moments, and the uncontrolled emotions established a strong bond between either side.
Passion, hate, anger, determination, disappointment, there were all. If I have to describe the rivalry and its emotional charge, I would point to the story of Luís Figo. The Portuguese star of Barcelona, who, belying his promise, joined the Galácticos, was frequently subject to hatred and taunt by the betrayed Barcelona fans, labeling him as Judas and throwing that ominous pig’s head at him during their encounter among others.
Tomorrow, this legendary duel continues, and after a long time, it might get up to the magnitude of the game again as both teams are seemingly at the peak of their powers. It was long ago when the Clásico had such importance, but now, a long-lost fire flames out when the two clash head to head tomorrow at the Santiago Bernabéu.
2. Real’s stellar season start
Turning to the actualities, Los Merengues started the new season in an impressive fashion, and they are just in goal difference behind Barcelona at the top of the table. 13 games, 11 wins, 2 draws – these are the compelling results of the Madridians so far, which predestines them to mention among the best teams in Europe right now.
Although their attacking play is not as refined, and detailed as their Catalan counterparts, with the outstanding individual force in the attack, they are able to exploit the quality in the team and turn their advantage into goals, thanks to the likes of Vinícius Jr, Benzema, Valverde, and many others.
What is visibly worse is their defensive record, as they conceded 6 goals more than the Catalans did. However, based on the advanced statistics, Barcelona was the one to overperform massively, thanks to Marc-André ter Stegen’s incredible performances, so the actual chances created, xG, and shots against both sides are quite even – slightly better for us, due to the intense high pressing.
Nevertheless, whether we look at the advanced statistics or the actual performance, Real Madrid is in the narrow elite, not just on the Spanish level. Thus, beating them will be a tough task for Xavi’s team as the Blancos are invincible this season so far, for a reason.
3. How to contain Real’s attackers?
It’s evident that their main weapons can be found in the frontline, with the Vinícius-Benzema duo leading the line at the Royal Guard. Although Benzema has been injured in the past month, and he had a quite moderated start to the season, it’s just a matter of time till he finds his terrifying form, which he established in the previous seasons. Hopefully, it won’t be tomorrow.
On the other hand, Vinícius continued his stellar form from the end of the last campaign and continues to be one of the most influential and key part of this Madrid side. His electric pace and flairy dribbling allow him to create out of thin air, and he is also able to finish off these chances.
Defending his explosive runs will certainly cause headaches to our defense, and thus, Xavi has to line up his team to neutralize best the danger caused by the Brazilian wonderkid. Marking him is difficult, due to his aforementioned skills, and I’m certain Xavi tasks Alejandro Baldé to defend against him on the right side of our defense, to match the speed of Vinícius.
What is another interesting aspect of Ancelotti’s team is that Rodrygo has a far more influential role than he had last season, and it is thanks to a tweak that the Italian master discovered lately. Unlike the past few seasons, when he played more as a traditional wide winger, now he is placed much more centrally, more like an inside forward or even a second striker. The success of this operation is also visible in his numbers, registering 3 goals and 2 assists in 6 games.
But if he drifts centrally, somebody has to fill the void in the right flank, and usually, it is one of the in-form Valverde or Carvajal, which essentially forms a 4-man frontline, which can cause problems for the Catalan defensive structure, especially knowing the style they are going to play. Usually, against top teams, Real is happy to give up the ball and rely on counters, which they can effectively execute with the aforementioned players.
So, what will be our response? Maybe personal changes, as Koundé has been already included in the traveling squad for the first time after his injury in the international camp with France, but it’s possible that there will be a systemic change as the answer.
4. Tactical tweaks
Thus, we might see some adjustments, and tweaks according to Xavi’s ideas. Just like the game against Inter, we might see the 3-4-3, which can help in various ways.
Firstly, the back trio can effectively play through the first line of pressure (3v2 against Benzema and Rodrygo), and it would ease initiating progress from the deeper zones. The midfield diamond, including the unquestionably crucial duo of Pedri and Gavi, might as well contain Kessié or Frenkie as an interior, while Frenkie can also take over the role of Busquets, following an impeccable cameo against Inter.
What Frenkie particularly excels in is when the defense is pushed deep and he is able to drive the ball forward with his excellent close control. Alternatively, he is able to operate as an 8 and can effectively support the attacks, stretching the defense and creating space with his runs behind. While the Dutchman also prospers in a midfield trio, he is more flexible according to what Xavi tasks him with.
In contrast, Busquets is comfortable operating under pressure as he is able to find his teammates with pinpoint passes. When given the space and time on the ball, channeling his inner playmaker, he can play killer passes to his colleagues, orchestrating the play from deep. Thus, it would be better to use him in his ordinary single pivot role in a 4-3-3.
So, if Xavi opts to stay with the usual 4-3-3, it allows one plus player in the rest defense, which is crucial in the defensive transitions against the likes of Vinícius and Rodrygo. However, it would also mean that we are in one man minus at the front, which can be easily neutralized by Real, retracting Valverde as the 5th back if Ancelotti opts to use the Uruguayan.
In the frontline, there are several factors to decide which players to use, as they have different things to offer – of course, excluding Lewandowski, whose place is unquestionable. Raphinha is decent in 1v1 situations, using his skills to get past the opposition, while he loves to take long shots from difficult positions.
Dembélé is currently the best winger in the team, his pace and explosiveness are unmatched, and is a constant threat from the wings, while he can also arrive in front of the goal, as we could see against Inter as well.
Ansu Fati still seems to struggle with confidence in take-ons and trust in his body, but his intelligent movement and combinative capability are huge weapons in the hands of Xavi. Ferrán Torres, who is frequently criticized for his lack of productivity in front of the goal, can also benefit from the situation, as he also possesses great movement which occupies the attention of defenders and creates opportunities for his teammates, which can also be used against Real’s backline.
Many questions to be answered, a game that promises much of excitement for the fans, while it can also determine the fight for the league title. Who wins this majestic derby, takes the advantage in proceedings, and in such a tight battle for the final victory, it might be an early but essential decider in the later phases of the campaign. However, this might not be enough too.
The eternal rivals clash once again. This is not just about 3 points. It’s not just a victory, it’s about the glory, the fulfillment of the emotions accumulated for decades, and the passion and obsession of overcoming. This is the background of this legendary battle, and we should be grateful to see another part of it playing tomorrow. For now and forever, Visca el Barça.