The two historic sides of Spanish football will face-off this weekend in a highly anticipated match expected to carry massive repercussions for the remainder of the season. Real Madrid are on top of the standings with a three point advantage over bitter rivals Barcelona. There is no lost love between the two sides and the regional and geopolitical factors add to the intensity of this clash. No doubt having what many deem as the world’s best three players in the shape of Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Barca’s duo Lionel Messi and Xavi will add further flavor to the match.
Below are some of the expected clashes and main subplots to this traditional slugfest between two of the best and most decorated clubs in the world:
1) Pep Guardiola versus Jose Mourinho: At this stage the younger coach Guardiola has the edge over Mourinho since the outspoken Portuguese boss has not beaten Pep in La Liga. In addition, Guardiola’s Barcelona have dominated domestic and European honors with the exception of Copa del Rey. Mourinho will be desperate to win to put behind last season demoralizing 5-0 loss at the Camp Nou.
One thing many should realize is the common belief Mourinho was always desperate to be coach of Barca and when the Catalans opted for Guardiola a few years ago he personally took it as a slap on the face. Thus, Mourinho is on a personal vendetta and that could explain his often controversial and aggressive speeches and interviews last season.
2) Barca’s Defensive line versus C. Ronaldo & Higuain: Barca’s defense has looked shaky at times this season and this is due to the fact club skipper Carles Puyol and his trusted partner Gerard Pique have missed a large chunk of Barca’s matches in La Liga this season. This creates instability at the back allowing quality players such as Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain to take advantage.
One of the main battles of the match will involve Ronaldo and Real’s attackers with Barca’s defenders. The help from Barca’s midfield will be crucial as the defensive line will likely falter against Ronaldo and his in-form teammates such as Higuain.
3) Barca’s Midfield and ball-possession: One crucial key to the match will be how much possession Barcelona’s midfielders, in particular the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas, can guarantee so as to relieve their defensive line from the intense pressure likely to be applied by Higuain, Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and perhaps Kaka.
Xavi and Iniesta are not defensive midfielders or anchormen, but their ability to retain possession, pass the ball around and create opportunities will help decide how much rest their defenders will be enjoying. In addition, by keeping the ball, Iniesta and Xavi will be limiting how much damage Ronaldo can do if he has possession.