On Saturday night, more than just La Liga is at stake in the Santiago Bernabéu. In the most anticipated match of world football’s young season, Barcelona must prove that the glorious run of the past three years isn’t coming to an end. Since 2008, Pep Guardiola and his men have kicked Real Madrid up and down the pitch in sometimes humiliating fashion—be it at the Camp Nou or in Madrid. We, as culés, have enjoyed the most scintillating stretch of victories any soccer fan could ever hope for—beautiful goals, inspired play, and glorious victory after glorious victory over Real Madrid.
But now Los Merengues are coming up. The big spending is finally starting to have an effect, and the ridiculous lineup is beginning to play up to potential. They are fast, big, strong, and extremely confident. They’re smacking in goals from all over the place. Ronaldo is better than ever, Benzema and Higuain are lethal finishers, and Mourinho’s men are beating La Liga into submission.
For a few more days, however, FC Barcelona remains the team to beat. Xavi, Iniesta, Messi and the rest are still ready to roll. Pep Guardiola and his beautiful system are still in place. After three league titles, two Champions League crowns, and a "Mundialito" to boot, the Blaugrana claim to want more, to be capable of more, and to be ready to take down Real Madrid.
I, for one, have faith. If Barcelona are to beat Madrid in the Bernabéu, here are five things they must do.
2. Move the ball through the middle
Barcelona’s best chance at beating Madrid is to keep the ball in their possession. The pressure in the Bernabéu is going to be extremely intense, and as Barça likes to attack up the wings, they must be prepared to retreat when necessary. Moving the ball through the middle is the key to turning away from the pressure and exploiting the weak side of Madrid’s defense.
Passing back to the center-backs is better than losing the ball, but by the time Barça reaches the other side of the pitch, Madrid will have recovered and be pressuring anew.Xavi and especially Busquets must show for the ball in the middle and turn it successfully in the face of Khedira and Alonso. Not an easy task, but if anybody can do it, it’s them.
3. Be Patient
This is really preaching to the choir, as there may not be a more patient squad in all of football, but to win on Saturday Barcelona must fully embrace this ethos. Over the course of 90 minutes, Madrid will provide scoring chances. Barcelona must trust that their system and their methodical style of play will put them in position to capitalize. One pass at a time, Barcelona can win this game, and every completed pass is a step in the right direction. Every moment of possession, no matter how boring, is a moment that Madrid is not attacking and that the Madridistas are not screaming in anticipation.
4. Let the refs make the calls
While Barcelona has rightfully enjoyed the benefit of playing 10-man Madrid in recent Clásicos, this cannot be the intention on Saturday. With Madrid likely coming to play, the referees are not likely to hinder the pace of the match with petty fouls. Barcelona must follow the lead of Messi and Iniesta by playing through challenges and staying on their feet as much as possible. In the end, Barcelona’s cleaner style of play will be rewarded, but going down easily is more likely to result in a Madrid counterattack than a yellow card.
If Barcelona is still the best team in the world, they need to act like it on Saturday. From the tunnel to the pitch, from the back four to the front three, Barcelona must carry themselves with confidence. Their attitude must be one of seniority, of a squad that knows they are going to win and cannot wait to prove it. Their intention must be not just to achieve a good result, but to humiliate Real Madrid in front of their home fans, to elude defenders with flair, and to score goals with style.
We all know the certain energy this team exudes when they’re on form—when Busquets makes two men miss at once, when Iniesta receives the ball in space, or when Xavi slots a slow roller through for Alves. Within five minutes at the Bernabéu, we’ll see if they’ve got it.
For more on El Clasico, check out the SBNation coverage of Real Madrid vs Barcelona