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Keys to the Game: Real Madrid vs Barcelona

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Will Barcelona seize the day?

FBL-ESP-LIGA-BARCELONA-VALLADOLID Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images

A lot has changed since the last Clasico.

Ansu Fati and Philippe Coutinho are out. Ronald Koeman has stumbled upon his best formation. Atletico Madrid is back living on earth.

The finish line is in sight, and a win for Barcelona has the added benefit of putting Real Madrid’s chances of repeating as champions in serious jeopardy.

Symbolism aside, the Barca players are laser focused on lifting a domestic title.

It won’t be easy, but destiny is in their hands if they can win out.

Back in November, the 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid encapsulated the early struggles.

A shaky defense and midfield that got picked apart with an underlapping run by Federico Valverde.

A harsh penalty given by VAR after a shirt tug by Clement Lenglet on Sergio Ramos.

Three important points lost, and their confidence as well.

Since then it’s been a journey to recapture footballing magic. It’s back, and just in time for the greatest sporting spectacle in the world.

This should be a Clasico for the ages.

A Test for the Backlines

FC Barcelona v Real Valladolid CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Éder Militão and Nacho answered the call against Liverpool in place of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.

Barcelona should still plan on giving them a good test. Sergio Ramos, in particular, knows every button to push against the Blaugrane. The bogeyman is out, and Barca will appreciate the opportunity it presents.

On the other side, Ronald Koeman has big decisions to make.

The three-man backline has worked and it’s here to stay.

Oscar Mingueza, Clement Lenglet, and Frenkie de Jong have been the ones to execute on it.

Will Koeman take a chance and insert Ronald Araujo and Gerard Pique, or reward the players responsible for the recent success?

Either way, all eyes will be on the backline who cost Barcelona the last time around.

Hopefully, the points will be earned with exceptional play on the attacking end, but defensive vulnerabilities are something both teams will look to exploit.

Jodi Alba and Sergino Dest were bright spots in the last Clasico. Both are likely to get the nod on Saturday, and will be called on to be aggressive on the wing.

Battle of the Midfield

Real Madrid v Liverpool FC - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final: Leg One Photo by Helios de la Rubia/Real Madrid via Getty Images

Many pundits have hailed the Real Madrid midfield as the best in the world.

The resume of Toni Kroos, Luca Modric, and Casemiro is hard to argue with. They’re balanced, creative, and know how to control the pace and direction of a game.

With Pedri, Sergio Busquets, and a renegade Frenkie de Jong who will go anywhere as he pleases, Barcelona’s midfield has evolved into an organized and versatile outfit.

This is where the tactics will be felt.

Will either side really be going for it, or will they be cautious and content with a draw?

Real Madrid has more on the line, while Barcelona did themselves a big favor by finding a way to capture the three points against Real Valladolid. Conceivably, they could lose and still be well in the running.

All the more reason to go for the knockout.

With the three man backline, Busquets and Pedri will be spoiled for options up the field.

Unless the formation changes, Dest and Alba will be stationed wide with an eye on the final third at all times.

The Real Madrid defenders will have their hands full tracking Dembele and Messi, leaving Busquets and Pedri with possibilities in all directions.

I expect this one to be a classic matchup with Barcelona dominating possession, but vulnerable on the counter attack.

What will the Barca midfield do with the possession? Did they watch the way Real Madrid was able to tear apart Liverpool on the counter?

It will be fascinating to see who gets the upper hand.

Hunger in front of goal

FBL-ESP-LIGA-REAL SOCIEDAD-BARCELONA Photo by ANDER GILLENEA/AFP via Getty Images

Messi and Bezema are battling it out for the Pichichi.

Dembele and Vinícius Júnior are two of the most dangerous attackers in open space not named Kylian Mbappe.

Antoine Griezmann and Asensio fill out the supporting cast of forwards who know how to score important goals.

This game could come down to a moment of brilliance from any of these stars.

Ansu Fati was able to give his team a lift early on in the last matchup. After that, Barcelona was wasteful and let Real Madrid hang around until VAR came to their salvation.

Barca has gotten much better at putting away chances, and are currently leading La Liga with 68 goals, compared to 51 for Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid.

Dembele and Griezmann are in very good form and wearing the blaugrane with pride.

Messi looked rusty coming out of the international break, but he understands better than anyone what’s on the line, and will be eager to construct another iconic Clasico highlight.

You have to imagine that all these players will have their chances.

Will they take them? If they don’t, will they be made to pay on the other end?

Up and down the field, the head to head will be exciting to watch.

The reward will be there for the most hungry team to take.

Barcelona of late have looked brave and ambitious.

What better way to underscore their turnaround than to take down their rival in front of the world, and anoint themselves the betting favorites to become champions of Spain.