The biggest game in world football takes place tomorrow evening as Spanish giants FC Barcelona host arch-rivals Real Madrid in the latest installment of El Clasico.This fixture draws in an estimated 500 million viewers and never fails to entertain.
This Clasico has huge significance for the La Liga title race. As it stands Barcelona are in first place on 76 points 10 clear of third placed Real and 9 clear of Atletico Madrid. A win tomorrow night could all but seal the league for Barca with a potential 13 point lead over Real with 7 games to play. Alternatively a win for Los Blancos could see momentum shift to the capital side and provide a tense run in for the Catalans.
Last time out FC Barcelona traveled to The Bernabeau and demolished the home side 4-0 and worringly for Real Lionel Messi didn’t start that game. Goals from Luis Suarez, Neymar and Andres Iniesta saw the home supporters begin to boo their own team. This result certainly effected Rafa Benitez and was ultimately one of the results that saw him sacked in January. New boss Zinedine Zidane is under immense pressure tomorrow. His side have failed to produce any big results against the top six in Spain and have yet to be tested in the Champions League.
Barcelona were last defeated by Sevilla in October. They remain unbeaten in all competitions since that 2-1 loss – a run of 39 games. They did however draw last time out away to Villarreal while Real defeated Sevilla.The international break has given players a much needed rest ahead of El Clasico. This Clasico has added importance to the home side. This will be the teams first game since the passing of club legend Johan Cruyff. The club will honour their idol by wearing a special jersey bearing his name while the tiffo will spell out ‘Gracies Johan’. Captain Andres Iniesta has stated his side can honour Cruyff by winning this Clasico.
In terms of injuries both sides have some worries. For Barca defender Jeremy Mathieu -who scored in this tie last year- is out for the rest of a season with a knee injury while Andres Iniesta skipped international duty with an undisclosed injury. Midfield partners Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets also cut short their international breaks with knocks but are expected to play. Real Madrid’s main concern is toward center-back Sergio Ramos who also left national team duty to recover from a back problem but he is also expected to start.
The managers Luis Enrique and Zinedine Zidane faced each other for their respective clubs and they certainly didn’t get along well on the pitch. Enrique has propelled this Barcelona side to incredible achievements this season following last years treble. Zidane faces his first real test as a manager tomorrow and a poor result could put the Frenchman in hot water.
Most of the attention will be directed toward the two sides attacking trios. Barcelona’s ‘MSN’ trident of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar faces Madrid ‘BBC’ of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo. The key battles will be in defence and midfield. in the 4-0 win in November Barcelona completely controlled the midfield which led to the four goals. Barca’s defence was impeccable that day also. If Real can upset Barca’s passing they have a chance to use their very effective counter attacking system. Both center-back parings face huge tests tomorrow. Pique and Mascherano have a great understanding and will never pull out of a tackle. Pique vs Ronaldo will be crucial. Sergio Ramos and Pepe get quite hot-headed in this tie so keeping a cool head is highly important especially when Messi, Suarez and Neymar are your opponents.
FC Barcelona are expected to field their strongest eleven however Luis Enrique is one of the most unpredictable managers in world football. If Aleix Vidal or Arda Turan come on it will be their Clasico debuts. Don’t be shocked of Enrique opts for a different team as his side face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Madrid media is reporting that the above will be Zidane’s starting team. The biggest surprises are the inclusion of Danilo at right-back who has played second fiddle to Dani Carvajal while Casemiro is rumoured to start in midfield leaving James Rodriguez on the bench.
El Clasico is always an unpredictable game. Players play with extra passion in this fixture and it is sure to be a fantastic game. Kickoff is at 7:30PM and you don’t want to miss this footballing spectacle.