First place. Second place. Neymar-Suarez-Messi. Bale-Benzema-Ronaldo. This Sunday’s clasico offers the usual headlines of attacking talent and La Liga complications. However, what’s most interesting is not necessarily the goalscoring return to form of Gareth Bale or the smooth operator passing of Leo Messi, but how both sides have reconstructed their midfields. The engines in the center of the park will largely decide who comes out on top this Sunday.
For Barcelona, Xavi has finally been replaced as a lock in the Starting XI. Instead, Rakitic has offered late runs and vertical passing, while Iniesta has found himself closer to the centerline and in charge of keeping the cule‘s tiki-taka rhythm. His heel pass give-and-go with Messi against City was sublime, but his work rate in his own half is what made Barca tick. With Busquets likely injured, expect Mascherano to start and spray long balls wide and to the flanks, unlike the short, staccato triangle passing of Sergio.
As for Madrid, Luka Modric has returned from injury and slowly regained his confidence. In the first clasico this season, Modric’s passing and Kroos’ workrate overwhelmed the Barca midfield, leading to a Madrid comeback and eventual mini-rout. With James Rodriguez unavailable, Carlo will probably call up either Isco or Silva – depending on if he wants to go for broke early (Benzema has scored pretty early at recent games in the Camp Nou) or be conservative. I personally would prefer Isco, whose energy and attacking play has been one of the few bright spots in recent weeks.
In the back, the big question mark for Barca will be Mathieu – he looked fine against a discombobulated City midweek, but can he be trusted against the BBC? Will Alba and Alves get caught too far up the field too often? Alba made easy work of the petulant Nasri, but will have his hands full with a fit and in-form Gareth Bale. Alves has clearly lost a step, so expect him to either play conservatively or give Ronaldo too much license to roam.
Regardless, both Enrique and Carlo have Madrid and Barca playing vertical, quick, attacking soccer. The days of tiki-taka and counterattacks are long gone. Expect a spectacle, a wide open game with plenty of chances. And enjoy it.