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FC Barcelona v Real Madrid CF: El Clásico Combined XI - When Stars Collide

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Ahmed Shahin and Mustafa Mohammed take us through their El Clásico Combined XIs.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

What happens when stars collide? Well, if they collide at an extremely high speed, then chances are that the stellar material would turn into a vast cloud of gas and never to become a star again. In contrast, if the speed is very slow, the stars are likely to merge into a much larger new star, according to Dr. Sten Odenwald.

That's certainly true. But what also happens when stars collide on 105 or so yard long grass pitches scattered with 22 titans in every sense of the word and more cameras than can be counted in an occasion widely known as ‘El Clásico' is a planet virtually at a standstill.


El Clásico. What comes to mind when thinking of the word? Rivalry? Best?
Barcelona? Real Madrid? Media? History? Politics? Language? Stars? Alfredo Di Stefano? Johan Cruyff? Anti-Catalan? Anti-Spanishness?

How about Messi or Ronaldo?

There is no right or wrong answer.

‘The Classic' is widely recognised as being at somewhere near the pinnacle of modern competitive football, and with good reason. It's the match of all matches. Indeed, in many ways, it's more than a match, more than a simple rivalry and more than mere commercial success. A rivalry that's as deep-rooted as it is fascinating. Off the pitch, there is the political upheaval caused by Franco at the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, the long-winded battle for Alfredo Di Stefano, the lingering thought of independence, and beyond. On the pitch, the two clubs and rivals are constantly pushing each other to greater heights in what is a never-ending battle.

Similarly to how sports and politics combine, one thing is for sure, Real Madrid's fate is forever intertwined with that of FC Barcelona and vice-versa. The relationship of two opposites, some may say; the relationship of two opposites attracting, others will say. One ‘rich', the other ‘richer'. One was founded in 1899, the other in 1902. One founded by a Swiss, the other by a group of academics and students of La Institución Libre De Enseñanza. Both heavily in debt as well as super successful. Similarities and differences aplenty.

El Clásico is usually spectacular and explosive, and this one promises to be no different.  Everything from the pre-match anticipation via media frenzy, fans flying in and tuning in from all corners of the globe adds to the El Clásico. So much so that "a kind of footballing fundamentalism," as it has been described by Sid Lowe in his outstanding Fear and Loathing in La Liga, is ignited.

There tends to be wall-to-wall coverage from the biased Spanish sports newspapers in the build up to El Clásico. And whilst a lot of it is good, it undoubtedly comes with the bad. As Sid Lowe put it: "Within Spain, the media are cause and consequence, digging the trenches deeper. The sports newspapers claim varying degrees of objectivity when none should claim any at all. El Mundo Deportivo and Sport are openly pro-Barcelona; Marca and AS are pro-Madrid."

Everything from Neymar's substitution to Cristiano Ronaldo's body language is pounced upon by the Press. Players mysteriously vanish by being airbrushed out of offside calls and key moments in matches are altered to favour the partial objective, amongst other things. Moreover, these newspapers have shown a tendency to turn on their own team. This is most pertinent with a look at some ‘campaigns' directed at previous or current managers. The ones by sections of the pro-Madrid media, whether rightly or wrongly, against Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho are well-known, as are the ones by parts of the pro-Barcelona media against Tata Martino and more recently, Luis Enrique.

This led Luis Enrique to take a swipe at the media by stating that he doesn't think playing away matters in response to a question on whether it is sweeter to win away from home. "All it means is if we lose or if we draw it's party time for the media," he told reporters ahead of an Atletico Madrid Copa del Rey tie earlier this season.

There is therefore the argument that the respective media are so blinded by profits as well as the ‘obligation' of winning that they are no longer acting in the club's best interests with their propaganda. At the end of the day, it's all about the money. Lucas Navarrete of Managing Madrid once wrote: "These journalists (need) to wake up and start informing--doing their real job--instead of trying to control the club with their fake-news propaganda." He certainly has a point.

However, it can also be argued that the Spanish Press does more good than bad and should therefore continue doing what they are doing in exactly the same way. Thus, they criticise and want what is best for their team. In any case, this is a debate for another day because there is little doubt that it's the stars on show who transcend El Clásico to the next level.

Most of us won't ever get the opportunity to watch stars collide in the galaxies. This makes it all the more imperative that we enjoy the breathtaking and awe-inspiring spectacle that we have in store for us on El Clásico day.

This brings us to the combined 11. It's ordinarily difficult to make a combined 11 consisting of players from any two teams in the world, let alone one where just about every player could get into almost any team in the world. It's a challenge to be relished! The only criterion is that everything should be taken into account.

Therefore, without further ado, here's our El Clásico Combined 11s.

Goalkeeper:

Ahmed Shahin: I never thought I'd say this before the start of the season but I have decided to go with Claudio Bravo in goal. He's been a calming influence, a great shot-stopper and a precise distributor. Barcelona have the best defence in the league and Bravo has been a fantastic addition. Ter Stegen, a once-in-a-generation type goalkeeper whose potential is massive, most probably needs more time to supersede Bravo. In fairness, there is an argument for choosing Iker Casillas, Marc ter Stegen or Keylor Navas, but the latter two haven't really played in enough matches, whilst the former has been more error-prone and less consistent when compared to Bravo.

Mustafa Mohammed: Iker Casillias is not the Real Madrid fan-favourite he once was. He has made his fair share of high-profile errors in the last 24 months. However, a legend like him deserves respect and applause. No matter what he does in his final years at Madrid, he will always be seen as a club legend. Many of Real Madrid's trophies over the past two decades would not have been won had it not been for his interventions. He may not be amongst the best goalkeepers in the world but he is one of the most experienced goalkeepers in top-level football and that could prove vital.

Defence:

AS: I will go with a back three in order to have space for an additional midfielder. I have gone with Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos as two of the back three. When playing without lapses of concentrations, Gerard Pique is an absolute man-mountain at the back. Pique is in the kind of form that made him one of the world's best under Pep Guardiola. His passing, intercepting and aerial abilities are particularly noteworthy. Yet it is his Beckenbauer-esque forays forward that have earnt him his Piquenbauer nickname.

Although sometimes erratic and unpredictable, Sergio Ramos is outstanding aerially, a very good passer of the ball and marshals his defence excellently. He also has a knack for scoring goals. When on song, he is among the best centre-backs in the world and a force to be reckoned with.

Pepe is my last pick in defence, just ahead of Mascherano. Pepe is a great defender on his day and has been consistent this season. Jordi Alba would have been picked had I chosen a left-back; indeed his seemingly endless ability to sprint up and down the flank is surreal whilst his pace is blistering. Alba's passing is also underrated. This would have been a very close decision since Marcelo has also been superb and much-improved in recent years. If I had chosen a right-back it would have been a straight choice between Dani Carvajal and Dani Alves. Marc Bartra and Martin Montoya simply haven't played enough whilst Raphael Varane hasn't really stepped up from last season.

MM:
Like my co-writer, Ahmed, I would also have to opt for a back three. Both teams are known for their flair in midfield and in forward positions rather than their defensive resolution, so this should come as no surprise.


Sergio Ramos
is imperious as Real Madrid's leader and main physical presence at the back. He is what many would term a monster. His positional awareness and heading ability is a stand-out. Critics will say he goes over-board at times and may even be too physical at times (the amount of red cards he has received in his career does not help) but most days he has opposition strikers in his pocket.

Next in my defensive line-up is Javier Mascherano. A midfielder by trade, he has mostly been deputising in defence for Barcelona since making his move in 2010. His ability on the ball and strong muscular build have no doubt aided him in his new position. Pique would also have been a great option but he has been off-the-boil ever since inspiring Barcelona side to domestic and European success under the management of Pep Guardiola.

My final defensive pick would have to be Marcelo. Both sides are not, in my opinion, gifted by great full-backs in the mould of Roberto Carlos or Cafu but they do possess adventurous full-backs. The most adventurous is arguably the Brazilian right-back who seems more like a winger than he does a defender at times. His defending does leave much to be desired, but he makes up for it in his elegance and speed on the ball. Dani Alves is not the player he once was but would also have been a great choice in place of Marcelo but misses out on this occasion.

Midfield:

AS: Luka Modric forms one part of the double pivot. Modric is a little wizard who runs the show in most games and is selected just ahead of Ivan Rakitic. Modric's effortless dribbling; passing; set-pieces and long shots are exemplary. The next choice is without a doubt the most difficult of them all.

I was at first almost certain to pick Sergio Busquets. I then switched more times than I care to remember from Toni Kroos to Javier Mascherano and vice-versa. Kroos is the more complete player, the better passes and has the stats to back him up, yet he is rather suspect defensively, especially with a back three behind him. Mascherano covers virtually every inch of grass, is flexible and offers that necessary defensive steel.

I have decided to go with the often underrated and underappreciated Sergio Busquets by a hair's length. Not only is his ball control and retention exceptional, passing exquisite and tackling outstanding, but Busquets' positional play and tactical awareness is unparalleled. In my opinion, the team still plays better with him in it (despite the fact that Barcelona have won all the matches without him this season). Having said that, he shouldn't be risked for this match and Mascherano should be given the nod in midfield. I'll never forget comments that Vicente Del Bosque and Pep Guardiola once made. "You watch the game, you don't see Busquets. You watch Busquets, you see the whole game," said Del Bosque. "If I was reincarnated as a player, I'd like to be like him," mentioned Pep.

I also want to say a few words about Javier Mascherano. I feel that he tends to play better when he plays in midfield as opposed to in defence. Further to this, the chosen system suits a "pure" defensive midfielder who shields the back three with steel and bite whilst springing attack after attack with his through balls. He also has the pace and power to cover the defenders as well as the flexibility and mobility to adapt to a formation switch. ‘El Jefecito' (The little chief) deserves some recognition with the way he has been playing (mostly out-of-position) in recent years.

Gareth Bale beats off stiff competition from the likes of Isco, Toni Kroos, Rakitic, Carvajal, Alves and James Rodriguez and is chosen on the right with Andres Iniesta on the left. Bale is more or less picked by default with the system requiring someone with the capability to run up and down the flank for the full 90 minutes (indeed he has recently been criticised for not tracking back, but he will have to do so in this system). Bale  possesses explosive pace, is excellent with the ball at his feet and on top of his knack for scoring goals, he can provide solid service from wide areas. He developed a reputation for scoring goals in the big games last season and is occasionally unplayable.

Iniesta is a player this team can't do without. In a statistics-mad era, the goal and assist tallies simply don't match the maestro's qualities. He absolutely radiates class each time he is anywhere near the ball. Iniesta tracks back, dribbles, creates chance after chance and has almost unrivalled vision in the final third. He may have slowed down just ever so slightly, yet his brain is as sharp as ever. He is therefore picked ahead of Isco.

MM: The two holding midfielders I have chosen are Luka Modric and Sergio Busquets. Both players are vital to their respective teams as they add balance to two sides that love to attack. Modric is great at distributing the ball from deep positions and supplies the ammunition for the likes of Ronaldo and Benzema to use against opposition defences. Busquets is great at the uglier side of the game. His tackling and ability to break down play is a great asset for a Barcelona side that does not have many players with that ability

On the left side of midfield Andres Iniesta is any manager's dream. His sense of balance and ability to make the impossible pass is what makes him stand out from any other player. He is never known to produce a bad display.

On the right side of midfield Gareth Bale is a certainty. His strength and power, as well as his pace and goal-scoring ability ensures that he is chosen ahead of James Rodriguez, who is a great player in his own right. He has had his fair share of critics at Real Madrid but he has nothing to prove as his ability is well-known to the world of football.

Attack:

AS:
Lionel Messi is otherworldly and widely regarded as the greatest player of all time. The superlatives have run out. His inclusion is self-explanatory and he walks straight into this team. Cristiano Ronaldo is another player who has been the epitome of consistency for several years now. Credit where credit's due. He fully deserves his spot in this combined 11.

Neymar
ahead of Luis Suarez and Karim Benzema for me in another difficult decision. Neymar is a technical marvel, magical wizard and a humble genius; nothing short of a ball of destruction. He is continuing to make a real difference for both club and country and has been making great strides this season, bar a recent slump in form by his very high standards. Indeed, he has already scored 20 goals and assisted 4 and is a real menace to most defences. However, an argument can instead be made for either Suarez or Benzema who have in recent months and years been in fine form themselves. Unlike Neymar, Suarez and Benzema are either the finished articles or close to being so. I therefore fully understand the decision my co-writer, Mustafa, has made. Yet since Bale is in this team, Neymar has to be too.

MM: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo pick themselves in my line-up. What else can be said of these two extraordinary players? They have shattered records and destroyed perceptions of what can be expected of a modern-day football player. Both score goals for fun and assist goals on a regular basis.

Luiz Suarez also makes his way into my line-up for his immense talent on the ball and his ability to create something out of nothing. He blew minds at Liverpool but has not set La Liga alight since his move to Barcelona in 2014. However, in recent weeks he has seemed to settle in with his new team-mates. He will have a vital opportunity to kill Los Blancos' title challenge and win the hearts of Catalans in the process. His temperament may be questioned due to his habit of sinking his teeth into his fellow players. However, that aside, there is no questioning his footballing ability. Neymar still has a long way to go to prove himself to be on Suarez's level and Benzema is not as consistent as the Uruguayan.

Ahmed's El Clásico Combined XI
Barcelona 6 Real Madrid 5

Mustafa's El Clásico Combined XI
Barcelona 5 Real Madrid 6


So that's our Barcelona-Real Madrid Combined XIs. Do you agree or disagree with our choices? Let us know what your El Clásico Combined XI is by commenting below!

Predictions:

AS:
I expect both teams to score and for Barcelona to emerge with a victory. Barcelona are at home and in great form, whilst Messi is playing on an entirely different level. The midfield battle will be key, but it's difficult to see Real Madrid getting anything more than a draw. Having said that, it's El Clásico and anything can happen. 3-1.

MM:
Both sides are not known for their conservative approach to games and as a result I have to presume this match will be goal-fest. Both teams are eager to win this match. A win for Barcelona will almost guarantee them the title, whilst a win for Real Madrid will mean they will be back in the title race. I do think Real Madrid will want this more and will run out 3-2 winners. They are due a great result in 2015.