When Real Madrid led by manager Zinedine Zidane visited Camp Nou in April this year, Luis Enrique’s Barcelona had to face defeat after an unbeaten La Liga record of 39 games. It took a brace from Cristiano Ronaldo to give Zidane his first Clasico win as Real Madrid manager.
Things have turned for the worse for the Catalans this season. Barcelona haven’t looked threatening so far and are trailing the league leaders Real Madrid by six points. With defeats against Celta Vigo and Deportivo Alaves, the defending champions appear to be in trouble heading towards the season’s first Clasico.
On the other hand, Zidane’s Madrid has not lost a single game since the Champions League defeat to Borussia Dortmund in April. With 6-1 win over Cultural Leonesa in the second leg of the Copa Del Rey, Zidane extended his unbeaten run to 32 games, the most ever for a Real Madrid manager. But, the Clasico, on Saturday, could change fortunes for both team.
Luis Enrique has announced the return of Andres Iniesta for the encounter against Madrid after a knee injury that kept the Barcelona captain on the sidelines for over a month. The 32-year old has played 33 Clasicos over the years, the most by any of the current players in respective squads. Besides his brilliance on the pitch, Iniesta chips in with his experience.
In the month of absence, Barca have had trouble finding a ‘replacement’ for Iniesta. New signings, Andres Gomes and Denis Suarez, have failed to have any impact. Sergio Busquets has not been in his best form and lack of Xavi Hernandez has left Barcelona’s midfield rusty and lacklustre. Without Iniesta’s defensive capabilities in the middle, Lionel Messi is required to play a much deeper and central role, which has often left Barcelona susceptible to counter-attacks, as the Champions League game against Manchester City showed.
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With Iniesta’s return, the Spaniard could perform the role of the play maker between the attack and defence. Zidane knows how much of a threat Iniesta can be with his attacking abilities. His brilliant passing skills and trickery with the ball left Real Madrid high and dry at Santiago Bernabeu in November last year when Barcelona thrashed Rafael Benitez’s side 4-0. Iniesta was replaced in the 77th minute and was given a standing ovation by the away crowd.
Enrique will be eager to end Zidane’s unbeaten streak on Saturday and find the right tone to the season. The returning Iniesta is the perfect trump card up his sleeve which could trouble Real Madrid who are soaring with confidence at the moment.