On Thursday we will get the first taste this season of a storied rivalry that has been heating up recently when FC Barcelona take on Real Madrid in the first leg of the 2012 Supercopa de España. Barca will be looking to get an early advantage playing at home at the Camp Nou, while Madrid will be looking to bounce back from a home draw against Valencia in the league.
It's no secret that Cristiano Ronaldo is Los Blancos' best weapon. His scoring record is fearsome, and he has even improved his passing. On the other hand, Dani Alves is a freak of nature, capable of running up and down the field tirelessly for 90 minutes. Alves will get help to deal with Ronaldo, probably from Carles Puyol, but in some cases the Brazilian will have to defend one-on-one.
Though not known as a defensive specialist, Alves is still capable of frustrating Ronaldo. But the flamboyant Portugese winger only needs one key moment to score. On the other hand, Barcelona's fullback is known for his great attacking quality and his link up with Lionel Messi. Ronaldo is unable or unwilling to provide defensive cover, so Dani will have his chances to help score in the away side's goal as well.
Sergio Busquets vs. Mesut Ozil
Ozil used to have a hard time breaking into the Madrid 11 in el Clasico. No more. Due to his latest performances he should be in the team sheet, and Busquets will be his primary handler. Neither is particularly fast, but they have great footballing minds and are very skillful passers. If Real break quickly and there is insufficient cover, Ozil can calmly deliver great balls for Madrid to put in the back of the net. For this reason, it will be a team effort to stop Ozil, but if the plan works it will still be up to Busi to stop the German.
On the other hand, Ozil's slow speed and limited stamina make him incapable of pressing Busquets for extended periods. The Blaugrana defensive midfielder then should have decent amounts of space to build Barcelona's attacks from the back. Ozil, like Ronaldo, is a risk for both teams to score, because they are offensive geniuses but give little defensively.
Jordi Alba vs. Alvaro Arbeloa
Two Spanish national team starters face off on Barcelona's left side. Alba, a new Cule signing, will get his chances to attack if Angel di Maria is lax in tracking back. Arbeloa could get burned by Alba's superior speed, however, he is a solid defender, technical and smart with his positioning. The Madrid right-back performed well in the Euro for Spain, leading the team in tackles.
But it was Alba who really shone during that tournament, capping off a breakthrough performance with an excellent goal against Italy. New signings tend to have big impacts in Clasicos (let us not forget Cesc Fabregas's key pass minutes after his debut for the trophy-winning goal last year), and Jordi will want to continue that trend.
Lionel Messi vs. Raul Albiol, Sergio Ramos, and the entire Madrid defense
Of course, Messi will always be a key player in any game he sets foot in. The Argentine maestro must be pleased that Pepe will be unavailable - not just because the Brazilian-born Portuguese international is a great defender, but also because of Pepe's string of nasty physical attacks in previous encounters.
His replacement, Raul Albiol, is a good player but nowhere close to capable of handling Leo by himself. Sergio Ramos is one of the world's most skillful and athletic defenders, but even he would never want to face Messi alone. It will take a total team effort to keep La Pulga from scoring, and even then it may prove fruitless.