This season’s first El Clasico was rescheduled from October 26 due to political unrest in Spain’s Catalonia region, and the stakes have only risen since then, politically and for the two teams. Despite the situation remaining calm for a significant period now, an estimated 25,000 protesters are still expected to gather outside Barcelona’s Camp Nou on matchday, seeking a dialogue between Spanish and Catalan authorities, and on the pitch, the winner of the clash will lead the La Liga points table.
With the same number of points in an equal number of matches, the clash between Spanish powerhouse clubs, Barcelona and Real Madrid, could be crucial to deciding who will win the title.
Here are some of the duels to watch out when the two teams face off:
JORDI ALBA vs DANI CARVAJAL: Battle of full-backs
Barcelona’s left-back Jordi Alba will be up against his Spanish teammate Dani Carvajal, and both will have to find the right balance between defence and offence.
In the last fixture between the two teams, Alba was lethal and provided the assist for the opening goal in Barcelona’s 5-1 demolition of Real Madrid. In the same game, the full-back delivered a dangerous cross that helped his side earn a penalty, resulting in Barcelona’s second goal. However, the victory came in the absence of an injured Carvajal, who’ll look to make a big impact this time around.
This season, Alba has only made seven appearances in the league so far, in which he found his name in the scoresheet on one occasion. Carvajal, on the other hand, has been more involved and has featured in 29 matches for Madrid in all competitions. In La Liga, Carvajal has played 13 of the 16 matches and has one goal and four assists to his name.
RAKITIC vs CASEMIRO: Midfield duels
The midfield duel in El Clasicos has featured footballing legends like Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Mesut Ozil, and last year’s Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric, commanding the flow of play. This year a familiar duel will take place between two adversaries, namely Ivan Rakitic and Casemiro, and it will be closely watched to see how they will influence the proceedings.
Casemiro and Rakitic occupy similar spaces on the pitch, but while the former will trying to protect Madrid’s backline, the latter will look to unpick it. Casemiro is known for his outrageous long-distance power-hitting capabilities and can charge forward, depending on the need or when the opportunity arises. Apart from Madrid’s clash against Valencia on Sunday, the Brazilian has featured in all the league matches and has one goal and an assist in 15 games.
Rakitic, an experienced veteran with an ability to maintain the tempo, has only started five league matches this season. Despite fewer appearances, the Croatian’s consistency has been crucial in the absence of the injured Arthur, and has also registered two assists to his name.
LIONEL MESSI vs REAL WALL
For long, the Clasico was dominated by two of the greatest footballers of the era, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. However, since Ronaldo’s departure to Turin, the focus is almost entirely on Messi, who has been a prominent figure behind Barcelona’s success over the past few years. This season, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner has already scored 12 times and has six assists despite being out for a month.
Apart from his creative dribbling and playmaking abilities, one area that will be closely watched are Messi’s direct freekicks. The defensive walls against the Argentine have to be perfectly positioned, especially if the shot is taken from what some refer to as ‘the Messi zone.’
His inch-perfect execution, both over and underneath the wall, mostly results in ending inside the opponent’s goalpost and the opponents are well aware of it. Given his current form, the Los Blancos will certainly wary about conceding a set-piece in ‘the Messi zone.’
VETERAN DEFENDERS vs CANNY STRIKERS
The match will feature intense battles between Spain and Madrid skipper Sergio Ramos and Barcelona’s Luis Suárez in one end, while the other end will be occupied by Gerard Pique and Karim Benzema.
Both Ramos and Suarez are aggressive and it could mean the most physical clashes could take place in and around the Madrid penalty area.
Ramos has featured in all the league matches this season and averages around 1.6 tackles per match. He also is a dangerous candidate when it comes to set-pieces, coming up with late goals in several encounters. Suarez, on the other hand, is a natural finisher and can rip apart the defence of any team on any day. This season, Suarez has scored nine times and will take every opportunity to increase his tally against Barcelona’s fiercest rivals.
At the other end of the pitch, Madrid’s French forward Benzema will be closely watched. Benzema, who scored a late equaliser for his side against Valencia, has 20 goals in all competitions so far.
The match will not be broadcast in India and it can only be streamed on the official Facebook page of La Liga at 12:30 am on 19 December (Wednesday).