Despite two disappointing European defeats in midweek, Real Madrid and Barcelona will face off knowing that nothing less than 100% effort will be tolerated. As always, El Clasico is vitally important for everyone and everything surrounding it, but this is a big one because the destination of the league title could be decided by its outcome. Real hold a four point lead over Barca but travel to the Nou Camp knowing a defeat would severely affect their title prospects.
A 3-1 defeat at the Bernabeu for Los Blancos was tough to take; a similar result in Cataluña would be even tougher to swallow.
A 1-0 defeat to Chelsea on Wednesday night was tough on Barcelona – it wasn’t as if they failed to turn up at Stamford Bridge that night. With 15 more shots on target, 70% possession and a string of defending heroic from the Chelsea backline, Barcelona left wondering just how they had failed to score. It is unlikely to be the same story tomorrow however as Pep Guardiola’s men rarely fail to net – two consecutive blanks is surely out of the question, especially with Messi vying for a European goal scoring record.
The Argentine striker is on 61 for the season and with the added incentive of beating Ronaldo to the Pichichi, he’s certain to play a part in the match. One of his strike partners, Alexis, however may fail to feature due to a thigh problem which could mean Pedro is given a start. Other than that, a full strength Barca side should take to the field, one hungry to overturn that 4 point deficit.
Jose Mourinho’s defensive tactics backfired on Tuesday in Munich as Madrid conceded a late winner to Bayern in a 2-1 loss. He may well stick to his guns however and deploy a stern defensive wall to stop Barcelona from breaking through however. This option has had mixed results in the past with Inter Milan using it well and Madrid winning in the Supercup, but there have been occasions when it has not been successful. Be warned though, Mourinho has something up his sleeve; be it in the form of a blinding training ground routine or more of the childish provocation seen in past El Clasicos. We’ll have to wait and see.
As for absences, no players of note should miss out as Xabi Alonso returns and Cristiano Ronaldo avoided a fifth booking and a resulting suspension in the last match against Sporting Gijon. Real will be full strength, but wary of Barcelona and the force set to be unleashed.
Cards. Historically fuelled by politics, today’s encounters are flawed by play-acting and Pepe. The intensity will be fierce and fouls and dives will be commonplace at the Nou Camp as both teams look to rough up their opponents. As for the final result – too tough to call. It all depends on whether Mourinho plays defensive or whether Real’s key men perform on the night and restrict Barca to less than three goals.