With today’s momentous el Clasico looming, I had the distinct pleasure of discussing the game with esteemed pundit and writer Guillem Balague.
Guillem has penned some superb books on some iconic figures in the Spanish game and opened up about how he feels both sides are shaping up ahead of the showdown at the Nou Camp this weekend.
Matt Jones (MJ): We’ve been running a feature this week looking back at iconic Clasico moments. Do you have a particular favorite moment that stands out?
Guillem Balague (GB): The moment when Pep Guardiola decided to ask Messi to drop deep and told Eto’o to play wide right in that magnificent, historic Real Madrid 2-6 Barcelona match.
The story is that on the Thursday of that week Guardiola—who waited for that moment, of clearance, of light on how to beat their rival—realized that the two centre-backs of Real Madrid drop very deep and there was a gap to be exploited.
At 10:30 p.m. in the training ground, he called up Messi and showed him the video, then instructed Xavi and Andres Iniesta to pass him the ball if you see him running towards the defenders because he will use his pace and skill to get the goal. And it worked wonderfully. It was a little twist that changed history!
MJ: It’s remarkable to see the contrasting fortunes of both teams coming into this one. What’s been the key factor in the turnaround in fortunes for both sides?
GB: In the case of Real Madrid, they quite clearly made a huge effort to win the Club World Cup and in the case of Ronaldo, a huge effort to win the Ballon d’Or. So there was a lot of pressure on this team at the beginning of the season.
There also wasn’t enough rotation. You may play with the same XI from January onwards but you must make sure everyone is fresh; Barcelona have done that, so that’s one key reason. Injuries as well, to Luka Modric especially.
For Barcelona, the key was the Real Sociedad defeat and on the next day Messi didn’t train. It was just a way of making sure everything was in place. The coach was able to do some experiments and realized the important people at the club are the players, especially Messi. Then we started seeing Barcelona winning much more regularly.
MJ: The incident involving Ronaldo and Bale has been a hot topic this week. Do you think it’s been blown out of proportion, or do you think there some genuine underpinning angst?