Thoughts Ahead of El Clásico
Posted by hiphopmama on December 12, 2008
Real Madrid makes the daunting trip to the Camp Nou tomorrow struggling to impart some semblance of order to their season against a Barcelona side displaying utter dominance in La Liga. Against any normal team experiencing Real’s current run of form and injury list, Barça would be virtually assured of a comfortable victory. However, with the contentious rivalry at stake and the symbolic importance of this match-up, you have to figure Real will be playing like their season depends on it and will have a decent shot at a good result because of it.
That said, Barça are still odds-on favorites to win the game, especially in front of their home fans, and any tactical analysis points to an easy victory for the Catalans. With the ridiculous number of Real Madrid players struggling with injuries and suspensions to be served by Robben and Marcelo, the Merengues are really up against it even in terms of fielding a squad of their usual caliber. Based on their play midweek against Zenit in the Champions League and available players, it seems likely that Michel Salgado will have the unenviable task of tracking Lionel Messi around on the right flank. While Salgado has a great tactical sense and plenty of experience in big games, there is no way he has the pace to keep up with Messi and will need every bit of help he can get to keep him under wraps. The rest of the back line is likely to be filled out by Cannavaro, Sergio Ramos, and Metzelder in some formation with Gago, Guti, Van der Vaart, and Drenthe in midfield. And of course Raul and Higuain up front.
For their part, Barça’s lineup is likely to look something like this: Valdes; Alves, Marquez, Puyol, Abidal; Xavi, Yaya, Hleb; Messi, Eto’o, Henry. There’s not much to say about this group – it pretty much speaks for itself. This general assortment of guys has been kicking ass with no need to even take names all season long, and I expect nothing less this weekend. Xavi will, as always, be central (no pun intended) to the Barcelona attack, and Messi will probably be free to run wild all over the pitch, although with Salgado at left back he might be content to stay on the right. Henry is coming off an incredible hat trick – three goals all taken on one touch – in Barça’s 4-0 romp over Valencia last weekend. Gago will have a lot of work to do to protect a Real back line that has looked as porous as SpongeBob this year, and Hleb (or possibly Keita or Gudjohnsen) will surely look to stretch the Madrid defense and create space for the three forwards.
In particular, Gago will have to keep Xavi off the ball as much as possible to limit his ability to initiate the attack. Gago is a capable player, but I doubt he has the wherewithal to snuff out Xavi or the help from his team to effectively patrol the midfield. Yaya will have a similar role to play in stopping Guti from engineering Madrid’s offense, but I foresee more success for the younger Toure. I don’t think Guti has the ingenuity of Xavi, but more importantly, Guti has fewer real threats around him that Barça has to watch out for, which will allow them to zero in on him.
In the end, I think Messi will run rampant and Alves will be a constant thorn in Real’s side, while Raul will continue his good form and Higuain will have another solid game, but all three Barça strikers will hurt Madrid and get the win for the cules. Prediction: Barcelona wins fairly easily, 3-1, and earns further breathing room at the top of the table.