Here we go again, Round 3 of the El Clasico World Series. After a dull draw in La Liga, a painful defeat in the Copa del Rey final, FC Barcelona are in dire need of a clear victory. Even though their season is far from derailing, let alone a disappointment, something is way off in Catalunya. Just a week ago there were talks of a second treble, but within a matter of days the world of FC Barcelona has been turned upside down.
The momentum has shifted towards FC Barcelona’s eternal rivals, Real Madrid. While it is admirable how Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola goes about his business, he has yet to find an answer to Jose Mourinho’s defensive set-up. I’m not suggesting a radical new game-plan, just a couple of adjustments here and there. Twice did Pep Guardiola name the very same starting XI, to no avail.
Furthermore, the confidence of Los Blancos and their supporters is sky-high whereas Culés have a rather cautious than convinced outlook on the immediate future. It’s not all lost in Barcaland but it could be A LOT better. Let’s see how the Blaugranes team (Arron Duckling, Paul Udani, Gabriel Roberts, Bostjan Cernensek, Shehryar Khan and moi) evaluates FC Barcelona’s chances for tomorrow’s game.
Will FC Barcelona be able to tackle Real Madrid into submission, at the Santiago Bernabeu no less?
Arron Duckling: In a nutshell, no. I think Real Madrid are close to unbeatable, given the current circumstances. Many of these Barca players are feeling the effects of 3/4 full years of non-stop playing, with little to no rest in between. Not only are key players injured or working their way back to full fitness, but Los Blancos are peaking, operating at the peak of their powers under a manager who has successfully installed a siege mentality.
The "us versus the world" policy has ensured Los Blancos are motivated for each game, and don't forget that the Copa victory was only a week ago. FC Barcelona have been far from their best, and with no recognized left-back(s) to speak of, one must imagine that Cristiano Ronaldo is going to be even more of a threat than he normally is.
While I think a victory is unlikely, a draw is a good result, especially if the Blaugrana can escape the Bernabeu with an away goal. One must think of it as an advantage like that will not be relinquished at the Camp Nou.
Paul Udani: I smell a dour 0-0 draw. Madrid will not want to concede that precious away goal; FC Barcelona will be a bundle of nerves after the loss last week. End result, cautiousness rules, setting up that 2nd leg at the Camp Nou.
Gabriel Roberts: I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about the boys in blue and red coming out of the tunnel to a packed Bernabéu. This match will be spectacular.
I don't think Barcelona can tackle Madrid into submission, but I think they can get a result that, paired with round two in Camp Nou, is good enough to carry them through to Wembley.
Puyol will be back, and with him a gigantic boost of confidence and poise for the entire Barcelona team, and specifically the back line. After the latest results, and considering Barcelona's form at home, the pressure is all on Real Madrid.
Los Blancos need to win, but have yet to prove they can play attacking football against Barcelona. Could Pep turn the tables on Mou and force him to do so? Probably not, but let's hope "los bajitos" come out swinging, go for goal instead of playing for whistles, and put at least one into the back of the net.
Barcelona truly believes that their football can win, and after what they've done under Guardiola, who are we to say that it can't?
Any draw, 2-1, 3-2 or better, and I'll be a happy man. A win would be nice too.
Bostjan Cernensek: For some reason I have seen enough El Clasico's for a while. But no matter how I feel, FC Barcelona will face Real Madrid two more times. With the first game played at the Santiago Bernabeu, the Blaugrana must avoid a defeat. With the return leg to be played at the Camp Nou, it would force Jose Mourinho to open his team up and allow Barcelona more space.
Neither manager is expected to change tactics, but both will play with different defensive lines. FC Barcelona’s troubles at the back-line have been well documented and now with Maxwell also sidelined there is no natural left-back available.
On a positive note, Carles Puyol should be ready to play and could move to the left side, with Javier Mascherano slotting in at center-back alongside Gerard Pique. The only other option is see at left-back is Seydou Keita, but I am not looking forward to that experiment.
Real Madrid's biggest handicap (apart from the Sami Khedira injury) is the suspension of Ricardo Carvalho, who has been their best defender throughout the season. Whoever Mourinho inserts in the line-up to replace the Portuguese won't be as good and FC Barcelona take advantage of that. If Barcelona can take at least a draw from this game, I fancy our chances to advance to the final.
Shehryar Khan: Coming off a brilliant run of form lately, Real Madrid do seem to have the edge against Barcelona in the first leg but I'm sure Pep has learned his lesson and would be well prepared to tackle the Mourinho threat; it really is now or never time for the Catalans. I think we'll see another hard fought game and I'm predicting that Barcelona would get a draw out of this game, 1-1 I'd say.
Adi-Oula Sebastian: I’m not exactly pessimistic but I’m not too optimistic either. Those last two Clasico’s sure did a number on my Culé-confidence. Furthermore, Andres Iniesta* has picked up an unfortunate injury too. It’s not sure if he’ll be able to feature in the Clasico at all.
Taking into account that FC Barcelona don’t have a recognized left-back, no real center-back to speak of to pair with Gerard Pique, one-half of the XavIniesta tandem injured and Pedro off-form, I’d say the Blaugrana will be lucky not to receive a battering at the Santiago Bernabeu.
I’m not suggesting that no one can replace Andres Iniesta, but I don’t think Pep Guardiola will entrust the youngster with Clasico-duties. So it’s back to Seydou Keita, a hard-worker but that’s about it. He is not the most creative player in Barca’s ranks. Though Ibrahim Afellay could feature in midfield, but then again, he is not likely to participate from the start.
I guess we are about to witness new levels of stubbornness from Pep Guardiola. If he doesn’t adjust his available personnel accordingly, I say bye bye Champions League. He has been found out by Jose Mourinho a while ago.
The general Blaugranes consensus: a draw, whether a scoring one or a dull 0-0 is considered a positive result.
*Editor’s note: The Blaugranes team submitted their predictions yesterday so they weren’t aware of Andres Iniesta’s injury.
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