By Andy Hunter
Is there a bigger game in World football at the moment than el Clasico? This Sunday sees Barcelona and Real Madrid lock horns for the third time this season at the Camp Nou in the Primera Division. This eagerly awaited clash could prove to be pivotal in Real Madrid’s title defence with their Catalan counterparts already eight points clear after only six games.
It has been a peculiar start to the season for the defending champion. Having lost to Getafe and Sevilla away from home it has been suggested widely that rifts within Jose Mourinho’s team have emerged. There have been reports of a fall out with experienced defender Sergio Ramos and it indeed resulted in the Spaniard being left out in recent weeks. However, with the quality they have at their disposal results are always possible and nothing fires up the boys in white like a game against Barcelona.
Having finally superseded Barca at the summit of Spanish domestic football last season Madrid have been struggling to reach the heights they displayed last year. They have lacked the intensity and sheer will to win on various occasions already and have dropped points in situations they wouldn’t have done previously. Their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo has struggled for consistency so far but looked vastly improved when scoring hat tricks against Deportivo at the weekend and Ajax in midweek.
In contrast Barcelona have started majestically in the post Pep Guardiola era and have won all six of their games. The new head coach Tito Vilanova has admittedly not changed a great deal but the hunger and desire to retain the title is clearly inspiring them. Alongside the summer additions of Jordi Alba and Alex Song the return of David Villa has been a huge boost for the Catalans. Their 3-2 victory away at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium at the weekend against Sevilla demonstrated their sheer desire to win and to wrestle the title back from Madrid.
When you consider that for the majority of the season they have been without their recognised first choice defence the manner of their performances have been even more impressive. With the horrific injury sustained by captain Carlos Puyol against Benfica it is likely that they will have to survive until the new year with somewhat of a makeshift defence. However, with the amount of possession they are able to have and with the quality they have further up the pitch they are probably the only side able to survive with so many absentees.
It will be fascinating to see how Vilanova deploys his side on Sunday night. His rival manager has devised an effective method of play against Barca which involves the rapid transition from defence to attack. Madrid are set up to press Barca when in possession and when the ball is won back the pass count rarely gets beyond three and then the ball is played forward to the attacking players who break at pace. When Barca have been in possession for long periods of time their players are generally in the opposition half and Mourinho’s tactic has worked brilliantly in previous games.
The way Vilanova should target this is to deploy Busquets in a slightly deeper role than he has occupied in recent weeks. He needs to play as an auxiliary centre back which in turn will allow the full backs the freedom to get forward and supply the width for the side. With a likely centre back pairing of Javier Mascherano and Song Barca will need as much support as possible and Busquets is more than capable of aiding his team mates.
Another interesting aspect of team selection will be in Madrid’s side where we will find out if Ramos will play at right back or not. He played there against Deportivo last weekend but was moved back to his preferred position of centre back against Ajax in midweek. The young Frenchman Raphael Varane is certainly a massive part of Madrid’s future but would represent a huge gamble for a game of this magnitude.
It will also be fascinating to see whether the summer signing Luka Modric will start his first Clasico. The Croatian has settled quickly and has looked good during his time in Spain and it should come down to a straight shoot out with Mesut Ozil to see who plays behind the striker.
Whatever the line-ups the game should be a wonderful spectacle. A few years ago there were some rather drab and overly physical affairs between the sides but with so much at stake in this game both sides will look for the victory. A win for Madrid is crucial but winning in the Camp Nou is no easy achievement and Barca will be desperate to add to Mourinho’s woes this season.
Huge thanks to Andrew Hunter for submitting this fantastic preview ahead of the game this weekend. Andrew has his own site which is
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