It’s the latest chapter in one of footballs greatest rivalries- Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi. Well that’s what you are lead to believe if you listen to various media outlets. But more importantly- the spectacle, magic and passion of El Clasico, Barcelona vs Real Madrid, is upon us and the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Real Madrid will start the match atop of La Liga, leading Barcelona by just four points. This gap has been reduced from ten points as Barcelona have won 11 league matches in a row. Real Madrid have won eight and drawn three of their last 11 league matches, so they both head into the match in good form. Both sides will also be looking to bounce back from defeats in their first leg semi-final Champions League matches this week. Real Madrid will be upset with the late goal they conceded against Bayern Munich to lose 2-1 and Barca will be disappointed to lose 1-0 to Chelsea despite dominating the game.
Mourinho will remember the first time he visited the Nou Camp as Madrid coach where they lost 5-0. His heaviest defeat as a manager of any club. In that match Mourinho played an attacking line up, which is what Madrid fans demand, and they were completely over run. Since then he has being trying to find a balance between defense and attack for his side. He knows he can not play a defensive game against Barcelona as that would not be accepted by the Madrid fans or the club hierarchy. Much to his frustration, he has struggled to find the right formula to combat Barca. So far he has only managed to win one match (in extra time), drawing four games and losing five against Barca.
Pep Guardiola will be confident that his midfield trio of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets will again dominate the ball. But they need to turn that possession into goals, which is something they did not do against Chelsea. The job of scoring will fall to Lionel Messi, he has already scored 41 goals in the league, a La Liga record. Messi has proved to be a bane to Mourinho’s men with the little maestro scoring six goals in the last nine games against Madrid.
For Madrid, Ronaldo is again the main threat, he has also scored 41 goals in the league. His aerial threat may be used to exploit a perceived lack of height in the Barca side. But it’s in midfield where the game has to be won for Madrid, therefore the focus could fall on their midfield general Xabi Alonso. He has not managed to hit the form of last season and that may have contributed to the recent form of Madrid where they drew three out of their last six matches. It is his link play and playmaking skills that has seen him only miss one league game all season.
An under current of aggression and distain seems to have developed against these two sides more recently. Keeping all eleven players on field became a problem for Madrid against Barcelona. Defenders Pepe and Sergio Ramos have become a figures of hate among the Barca faithful because of their recent antics. While for Barcelona- Sergio Busquets and Dani Alves have at times been accused of play acting.
It may seem cliché to say, but this is the biggest El Clasico to date. These games rarely end in 0-0. The last scoreless game came in 1989 so expect goals. It is not in the culture of these two sides to sit back and not go for the win. This game may very well decide the destination of the title. Mourinho has claimed that his sides always preform better in his second season and they will be desperate to end Barca’s dominance of the league. For Barcelona their biggest enemy this season has been complacency. It is hard to maintain the same levels of hunger and desire when you have won all that there is to win. But that should not be an issue in a game that divides a nation and where heroes and villains are made. Expect fireworks.