El Clasico has always been a game of chess - one has to think three steps ahead of the game. While Madrid have enjoyed success in the Champions League their La Liga woes still continue, with 71 points and third position with four games left to play.
Their choice of a 4-3-1-2 has paid dividends (their Champions League record is historic) with Isco being the playmaker and Karim Benzema or Gareth Bale partnering Cristiano Ronaldo. The quintessential 4-4-2 has been a good solution to conceding goals, plus Ronaldo playing as a striker always adds goals for the team.
It is a no-brainer that the Los Blancos like to play through the left wing, with Marcelo and Ronaldo combining. The stats show that 42% of their total attacks come through the left in away games, and 41% overall. They are the team with the most key passes per game in the league this season (15 recorded) signifying their love for creating scoring chances. The changed formation has naturally shifted their general shooting direction with a whopping 67% coming down the middle.
But here’s the deal, their shooting prowess has been significantly reduced in away fixtures, with 16 shots per game recorded compared to 21 in home games. Their strength however, comes from their dynamic full-backs and their ability to cross whenever possible, with a figure of 25 crosses recorded per game. Their set piece abilities are also worth noting: they are the joint top scorers from set pieces along with Girona (19).
However, despite their stellar defenders, their defensive record has been shambolic. Although they have a better tackles-per-game figure (18 registered overall), they tend to lose their focus amidst the attacking duties of their team. They have conceded a whopping 37 goals this season, compared to Barca’s 21 and Atletico’s mere 18. Their embarrassing stat of four red cards collected this time isn’t too impressive either either.
Decimating los Blancos
What lies ahead of Barcelona is a world class team ready to defend their supremacy. Their weaknesses range from protecting the lead to their inability to stop opponents from creating chances. Their fixtures against Atletico, Malaga and most recently Leganes prove that even though they don’t lose easily, they can struggle to defend a lead.
Our weaknesses lie in our players getting dispossessed by opponents and making unsuccessful touches around the game, 13 times per game to be exact. Real Madrid always capitalize on opponents’ mistakes (Bayern Munich for example), but tightening the play with more short passes and less space given might reduce their chances.
Real’s hunger for long shots is a big deal; they are the most potent side in terms of landing a long shot with almost six registered per game. A 4-4-2 with midfield overloading can help curb this feat, with Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic expected to press more from the middle of the park.
The biggest concern for the Blaugrana has been the right-back position; their struggle to defend through the right has been apparent. But with Ronaldo this time around, a right back with a defensive mindset should be picked. Nelson Semedo. Sergi Roberto or Aleix Vidal could all be slotted into right midfield for extra stability, though Barcelona would prefer Philippe Coutinho or Ousmane Dembele to start.
Barcelona have to stop Real from creating chances. As mentioned earlier, a 4-4-2 with midfield overloading could do wonders and Paulinho is perfect for the formation and should be called upon in the second half.
Madrid have been a weaker side while defending this season and Denis Suarez has been a revelation as a substitute, winning Ernesto Valverde’s trust. Against Deportivo, he took an active part in two goals which saw Barcelona win the league. It is no surprise who the second half sub is going to be.
Fact bullet: This will be the 38th Clasico appearance for stalwarts Andres Iniesta, Sergio Ramos and Lionel Messi. Former Real Madrid player Manuel Sanchis leads the list with 43 appearances.
Ending on an invincible note would be the best gift for the players and the fans. Moreover, it’s Real Madrid- we have to win for our pride.