During the Guardiola and Mourinho era, the clasicos were an exercise in Greek drama. Barcelona‘s impeccable passing and historically gifted midfield nucleus were the heroes, while Pepe, Khedira, and Arbeloa were the bad guys. Barca kept the ball and patiently attacked, while Madrid tackled and counter-attacked with precision. However, now that both teams have changed rosters and managers, this year’s clasico (like last season) offers a fresh script: less drama, more goals.
The most exciting and open clasico in recent years was probably the 3:3 draw in 2007. Riijkaard was still coach, and Barcelona switched between a 4-3-3 and 3-4-3 based seemingly on Rafa Marquez’s mood. Madrid opened the scoring in the 4th minute with a goal from Ruud Van Nistelrooy, but a midfield triangle of Deco, Xavi, and Iniesta was always going to wreak havoc. Messi equalized in the 10th, Ruud reestablished the lead off a penalty minutes later, and you could hardly catch your breath. Messi then equalized with a lovely half-volley off a rebound (after a surging Ronaldinho run), Ramos scored for Madrid off a header with 15 minutes left, but, after a great run and pass by Ronaldinho, Messi scored the tying goal and notched a hat-trick. At 19 years of age.
Like in 2007, Luis Enrique’s Barcelona is much more vertical than under Pep. Rakitic has offered more tackling and quicker passing than the aging Xavi. For Madrid, Khedira and Alonso have been replaced by James Rodriguez (or Isco) and Toni Kroos. Neymar is the new Ronaldinho and Bale is a compliment to Cristiano on the other wing. In sum, both sides are structured and have the personnel to run over opposing teams, not slug out drab 1:1 draws and then whine in press conferences.
Both teams are also much improved since last year’s Copa del Rey Final. Cesc, the disappointing False 9, is long gone and has been replaced by Luis Suarez. For Madrid, Cristiano Ronald should be fit and Toni Kroos may lack the polish of Xabi Alonso, but is several years his junior. Ironically, the two teams have changed roles: Luis Enrique’s Barca had an amazing defense, while Real Madrid is an offensive juggernaut under Carlo. Mou who? Fans can hardly remember the dark days when extra time was needed to beat Barca in the dreary 2010 Copa del Rey Final.
This Saturday, expect fireworks, end-to-end action, and goals. I don’t know who will win, but neutral fans can enjoy a guaranteed good show.