We continue the comparison of the Liga rivals to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses going into the summer.
As new signings are made we will factor their impact into the final analysis to see which side is the favorite going into the next domestic campaign.
In the last article in this series we looked at the forwards, and concluded that Real Madrid have an advantage with so much uncertainty surrounding Ousmane Dembele, and the potential arrival of Kylian Mbappe.
The midfield is perhaps a more intriguing comparison.
Real Madrid continues to lean on trusted veterans, while Barcelona are changing the guard over to a new generation of midfield generals.
This is one area that’s relatively defined, with new signings focused primarily on forwards and defenders. Of course, that can all change, just ask Frenkie de Jong.
Which team has the more dominant midfield?
Center Defensive Midfield
Sergio Busquets vs Casemiro
Sergio Busquets has experienced a renaissance under Xavi.
It could be argued he was the most important player to the team’s late season success.
Experiments were run trying Frenkie de Jong in the holding role, but the team never looked nearly as sharp without Busquets.
Busquets was to Dembele what Dembele was to Aubemeyang. Those guys linking up created a new pattern of play that was at times unstoppable. Busquets had the Frenchman in his sights at all times, who then passed it on to his best amigo for the finishing touch.
This became a key goalscoring formula, but Busquets, being the brain he is, was able to pick a lock and break lines all over the field.
Next season could be his last dance with his contract expiring, and Xavi will surely be relying on him with no clear replacement emerging.
Casemiro continues to be one of the best defensive midfielders in the world.
Real Madrid were dominated by Manchester City without him in the first leg, losing 4-3, but it could have been much worse as City fans will tell you as they drink away their sorrows.
Casemiro plays the role in more of a traditional way, imposing himself physically, but intelligently, and brings intensity that covers for Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, so they can have the freedom to do what they do best.
Both players are central to forming the identity of their teams, and with the turnaround in the form of Busquets, both are back to being among the best in the world at their position.
Center Attacking Midfield
Pedri vs Luka Modric
Luka Modric may be the best attacking midfielder of the past five years, and Pedri could be the best of the next generation.
No one can quite pick a pass like Modric, and do it in such breathtaking ways.
The Croatian is special because he is balanced, equally good on the dribble, and able to score a goal when you need it too. His impact doesn’t always show up in the stats sheet, but impartial observers never hesitate to give Modric his due for the impact he makes on the pitch.
Pedri is similar. He’s not a statistical monster, but when he’s missing Barca is not the same team.
Alongside Busquets, Pedri controls the flow of the game and gives his side dominance on the ball.
He can make defenders look silly on the dribble, and make the pass that starts the attack that changes a game.
This season Xavi asked him to start scoring goals, and Pedri responded with golazos in clutch moments.
Given the age of Modric, you have to give Barca the advantage at this position, not just for this season, but as a solution for years to come.
Box to Box
Frenkie de Jong vs Toni Kroos
Will Frenkie stay or will he go? As of today, it looks like we’re leaning towards staying, but tomorrow could be a different story, depending on how high Manchester United and Manchester City are willing to bid.
For now, he’s here, and I hope it stays that way. Frenkie for me is an unsung hero. He came to the Camp Nou at an ominous time when the turmoil was really just starting.
In that climate, he has been a consummate professional and a leader of the pitch. He doesn’t do spectacular things, but when he’s not playing you notice it.
For me, Frenkie is at his best when playing a box to box role. He is the perfect balance of technical ability, which allows him to play the Barca system, and hard work, which has come in handy when pressing high, and when an extra runner was needed in the box to make up for the lack of a true center forward.
I’m on the record for saying Barca will miss him when and if he is gone, while acknowledging we have yet to see a true breakout season given the potential. I’d put my money on him continuing to improve his ability to influence games.
Toni Kroos, as a non Real Madrid fan, comes across as the forgotten man among the Galacticos. He quietly goes about his business as a playmaker in a deeper role, and has been key to the title winning success of the Merengues over the past decade.
The midfield really is where Barcelona and Real Madrid differentiate themselves and form their identity. Both units are elite in distinct ways.
Barcelona seems to have the brighter future, but do the veterans of Real Madrid have enough gas in the tank to keep their team above the Blaugrana?
Next men up
Gavi vs Eduardo Camavinga
Some would argue it makes sense to put Gavi above Frenkie de Jong, especially with a big new contract on the horizon.
No doubt, the young Spaniard is a building block for the future after exploding onto the scene this season and never looking back.
The thing about Gavi though is that he still needs to be molded to a specific role.
He was a bulldog this season at a time when Barcelona desperately needed one. That translated into winning balls in the midfield, and the determination to score and set up goals when needed, regardless of the position he was playing.
Towards the end of the season, however, his form dipped, probably due to being overplayed the way Pedri was the year before.
Without Pedri later on, you saw a player who struggled to fill the void on his own. Barcelona were left without a true number ten, and tried making it work with Frenkie and Gavi as dual eights. But it never looked convincing.
Next season, it will be exciting to see what Xavi does with Gavi at the club level, and how Luis Enrique uses him with the national team.
Eduardo Camavinga could be the future of the Real Madrid midfield. From what I’ve seen, I think it’s fair to compare him to Frenkie because of his work rate, which is nicely balanced by his technical abilities. Camavinga is an imposing presence on both sides of the ball.
Many people credited Camavinga for Real Madrid’s success over Manchester City, and it will be interesting to see what role he plays in the final against Liverpool.
As a Barcelona fan, I think it’s safe to say that the midfield is the least of our worries.
You have to acknowledge that Real Madrid has the talent to be formidable yet again next season, but more questions will be asked of them going forward as Modric and Kroos get older.
That being said, Barca will need to find a successor to Sergio Busquets and quick.
At the end of the day, the midfield doesn’t seem to yield a clear advantage to either side, but with Pedri that could change if he continues to elevate his level and become the definitive best midfielder in Europe.
What do you think? Which side wins the midfield battle?