FC Barcelona will be looking to complete a memorable double over their eternal rivals Real Madrid tomorrow, as they welcome Zinedine Zidane to the Camp Nou for his managerial debut in El Clasico. It’s the biggest match-up in club football, featuring the very best of the best – and yet the Blaugrana enter as clear favourites to secure victory and extend their lead over Los Blancos at the top of the table to a staggering 13 points.
It’s testament to the success that Luis Enrique has achieved in his tenure as Barça head coach, and it’s testament to the talent of this sensational squad of players, who can collectively extend their unbeaten streak to an unfathomable 40 matches by avoiding defeat tomorrow. Consider that Zidane himself has only managed 15 matches for the senior squad at Real, and the longevity of Barcelona’s undefeated streak is made all the more impressive.
However, when El Clasico kicks off, the form book usually goes out the window – and Luis Enrique will be keen to impress this upon his players. While the streak has been memorable, it will count for nothing when the match starts tomorrow and the team will be tasked with proving themselves once again over the course of the 90 minutes. Real Madrid may be 10 points adrift of the runaway league leaders, but discount them at your own peril – they are clearly a capable side and if anything, the chance to end the streak could serve as an added incentive.
And with such a healthy lead at the top of La Liga, there may be a risk that Barcelona will be looking forward and keeping one eye on their upcoming UEFA Champions League quarter-final first-leg with Atletico Madrid.
Whatever happens, just know that we’ll be in for an unforgettable night of football.
Just over a week after Rafinha Alcântara got the medical green light to return to action, Barcelona’s brief spell without a major injury ended this week, as Jeremy Mathieu tore his meniscus while on international duty with France. There are conflicting reports on how long the centre-half will be out of action, but the consensus is that he will miss at least 4-5 weeks, if not more before he can return to the field.
While this news has been met with a rather cold response from some Culés, it is a shame because Mathieu can add a lot to the team when he’s fit and firing on all cylinders. A perfect example would this corresponding fixture from last season, where Mathieu started and ultimately scored in a narrow 2-1 victory.
Luckily we will have Javier Mascherano ready to start this season, as Luis Enrique is expected to name his "Gala XI" for this famous showdown. With a UEFA Champions League tie with Atletico Madrid to consider, there is a possibility that we may see a deviation or two, like Sergi Roberto, Aleix Vidal or even Arda Turan rotating in to replace one of our usual starters, but in general, we aren’t anticipating many surprises.
Of course this time round, Barcelona will be able to call upon the services of a fully fit Lionel Messi, as the Argentine was forced to sit through the majority of the 4-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu, where he only appeared off the bench in his first game back from a knee injury picked up against Las Palmas. With those problems firmly behind him, Messi has been hitting his very best form as of late – and will be no doubt hoping to mark his 32nd Clasico appearance with another goal.
The big news is that Real Madrid will be without the services of Raphael Varane, as it appeared to be a bad week for French defenders. This will likely mean a recall for Pepe, who in actual fact might be a better fit for this match given his record of frustrating the Blaugrana and thriving alongside Sergio Ramos. Either that or it’ll increase the odds of a red card being shown on the night.
Toni Kroos has shaken off a knock to be named in the squad, which means that Zidane’s only real dilemma is how he selects his midfield; the prudent option would be to select Casemiro and there are a lot of rumours in the Madrid press that he will do just that, but there were similar rumours before the last Clasico and Benitez ended up selecting Kroos, Isco and Luka Modric instead.
Factor in that Zidane also has James Rodriguez available, even if the Colombian midfielder is becoming something of a persona non grata at the Bernabeu these days. What will he decide? It’s anybody’s guess, but thankfully we’re only a few hours away from finding out.
Real Madrid: LWWWWW
Real Madrid 0-4 FC Barcelona – 21st November 2015 – La Liga
A brace from Luis Suarez either side of goals from Neymar and Andrés Iniesta secured an emphatic and euphoric win for the visitors in this blowout Clasico victory.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Bravo; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rakitić, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Neymar
Real Madrid (4-3-3): Navas; Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo; Kroos, Modric, Isco; Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo
I believe – 3-0 Barça.