We have potentially one of the most exciting derbies in years as Barcelona take on Madrid.
Barcelona have done well since coming under the leadership of Tito Vilanova, taking all 21 points out of a possible 21. The new boss has been tinkering with the formation and although it has come off thus far, you sense he will revert back to the 4-3-3 that serves them so well. The only problem facing Barcelona is the clubs mounting injury problems at the back. Their two main centre backs are out injured, with Carles Puyol suffering a dislocated arm and Piqué who is plagued with a foot injury. That leaves either Busquets, Song and Mascherano to fill the gap, although there is a feeling he will use the latter two as Busquets is irreplaceable at the heart of midfield. There is of course also Fontas but his selection still seems rather unlikely. Thiago Alcantara is out with a knee problem but the void is filled effortlessly by Andres Iniesta. You expect Xavi to be the final choice, and up front Messi and Alexis Sanchez are believed to be likely starters as well as one of either Pedro and Tello.
Madrid are very much the opposite of Barcelona so far this season in every department possible. They have been very patchy with an opening draw against Valencia followed up by a defeat away to Getafe. They appeared to have put this behind them with a 3-0 victory against Granada but since then the squad has been rocked by Cristiano Ronaldo’s claims of sadness, and it has taken them a while to get back into form. The problems for Madrid are that of the falling outs between Ramos and Mourinho. Ramos being one of Madrid’s mainstays at the back last season isn’t expected to start here, which is worrying. The only injury problem comes from Khedira being a slight doubt, although he did feature against Ajax in midweek. Other than that, expect Madrid’s strongest starting lineup, which may resemble the one against City.
In yet another Messi v Ronaldo clash, I think Ronaldo is the one most needed to perform. This match has consequences that Real do not want to suffer and he will be vital to their hopes of keeping in touch. If Messi is on form, however, you struggle to think of ways for Madrid to contain him and stay in the game. That, arguably, is the only question that has been put to Mourinho during his reign in Madrid that he has not effectively answered. That will need to change.
There have been some interesting quotes regarding the match and its hype, with former Real Madrid midfielder Steve McManaman having had this to say in the guardian: “It was immense. It was bigger than any other game I’d played in, bigger than Liverpool v Manchester United games and Liverpool v Everton. It’s not necessarily a derby, it’s just a weird rivalry. I knew that Barcelona were our rivals but it seemed to mean more to the Spanish players because of the history. We don’t have different types of languages or newspapers in England. We don’t have rivalries between communities and governments and even your own newspapers.”
No doubt there will be a few nerves after that statement then.
Meanwhile, Barcelona legend Johan Cruyff has turned up the heat on Madrid by saying if they lose the world will “collapse in on them”. The former Dutch international said: “Normally you don’t know what is going to happen, but this time I think that Madrid are in more danger than ever because they are so far behind. If they lose this one it is like having the whole world falling over you. These are normally the games I fear the most. Madrid will do more than everything to change this situation around. Mourinho will be under a lot of pressure after Sunday if they lose. Then there is a big problem.”
Mourinho has been faced in tight corners in the past. But if Real were to go 11 points behind it would be devastating, no doubt about it. You get the feeling that beneath the tough guy persona there is a worried man.
Overall, with Barcelona plagued by injuries and Madrid having fall outs, expect plenty of goals. I predict a 4-3 win for Madrid. Barcelona’s weakened back four should give a rejuvenated Madrid side the edge.