25.10.2013 » Real Madrid and Barcelona: The never-ending struggle for power
After the latest round of La Liga, only 3 points separate Barcelona from Real Madrid. Each of Spain's top two clubs is battling an identity crisis, and the 3rd round of Champions League matches along with the latest from La Liga may offer some insight on which side is closer to resolving theirs. Despite Barcelona's near-record start to La Liga season, many of its most important players are showing early signs of not just physical but also mental fatigue. At the other side of the wall, Real Madrid is still looking to find their rhythm but in a game like the Clasico, it's likely that it will all come down to concentration levels and competitive spirit. Barcelona vs Real Madrid will kickoff at local 6PM in Spain and surely no one will want to lose this first battle...
Barcelona vs Real Madrid: The first Clasico of 2013-2014:
Barcelona's most recent performance in La Liga resulted in a 0-0 draw with relegation-zone Osasuna. Only a surprising 0-1 loss for Atletico Madrid against fellow Barcelona-city inhabitants Espanyol, kept Tata Martino's squad from losing their spot at the top of La Liga. The draw against Osasuna showed a dip in form for Fabregas, who otherwise has had a terrific start to the season. The former Arsenal star was moved from his favored free-range midfield position to center forward, in order to cover for the recovering Messi. Fabregas failed to produce any real on-target threats, even when presented with the ball at close range to the goal.
When Lionel Messi was subbed on in the 68th minute, it was surprising to find it was for Xavi and not Cesc. Undoubtedly it was to rest the "maestro" for the upcoming UEFA Champions League clash with AC Milan, but if the through balls that Xavi had been playing into Cesc had instead gone to Messi, the score line at the El Sadar stadium could've read very differently. Messi had a couple chances to find a winner, but couldn't get his aiming adjusted enough in the 22 minutes he played. Credit for stopping Barcelona reaching Real Madrid's record 9-straight wins start to a La Liga campaign is also due to Osasuna, who had some fantastic defensive plays, particularly from their Spanish center back Alejandro Arribas, who put in a man-of-the-match worthy effort. Out of 12 shots Barça were able to take, only 3 were on goal...
The clash with AC Milan saw the most familiar starting XI for Barcelona in recent weeks, with Neymar, Messi and Sanchez leading the charge, supported by Iniesta, Busquets and Xavi in midfield. The backline saw the return of Javier Mascherano, along with Pique, Alves and Adriano. The "Mascherano effect" made up for lost time, as his early game jitters became bitterly prevalent when an indecisive touch failed to collect or clear the ball, allowing the former Real Madrid stars Robinho and Kaká to take advantage of Barça's trailing backline. Kaká ran up the side and sent a ground cross into Robinho, who opened the scoring with a straight ground shot past Victor Valdes, in the 9th minute.
Milan played a heavily defensive game but with tremendous counterattacking pace. Kaka's performance was almost revelatory, as his pace and eagerness displayed a hunger and focus largely absent from his time spent with Real Madrid. The Brazilian player appeared to be at home in San Siro and performed wonderfully in both offense and defense, tracking all the way back more than once to his own 18-yard line in order to regain possession. Robinho also seemed to be delighted facing his old rivals, with his rainbow pass over Alexis Sanchez early on in the game showing he hasn't lost his touch.
The remaining 81 minutes of the game Barcelona dominated possession, allowing only 2 more shots on goal for Milan. The equalizer came in the 23rd minute, when Milan's defense repaid Mascherano's favor by mistakenly allowing Lionel Messi a wide open run on the right side. The whole of Milan's defense seemed to head toward Iniesta, who was dribbling forward when he spotted Messi's completely unmarked run. Despite receiving the perfect through ball in open space, Messi took a few steps into the center of the box in order to take the shot with his left foot. Just when it looked like the extra touches had given Milan defenders enough time to dispossess him, Messi got his low shot off with plenty of pace to beat Milan's second-choice keeper Marco Amelia, who otherwise played a very good game. But despite 7 other shots on goal throughout the game, the match ended 1-1.
The introduction of Balotelli in for Robinho in the 64th minute was anticlimactic, as Barça's possession game took center stage and the Milan forward barely got a touch. Tata's tinkering was visible as well, with Messi for the majority of the game playing at his old post on the right wing, occasionally sneaking into the center, where Sanchez spent most of his time. Placing Messi on the wing was both tactical and practical. As Tata's continues his search for an inspirational and effective plan B for Barça, playing Messi on the wing draws defenders farther away from the center and from Neymar, or, as is the case with the goal Messi scored, it helps the Argentinian sneak in behind defenders instead of having to run through them. This was brilliantly cautious management as Messi is still recovering from persistent problems in his thigh and the last thing he needs to get back to peak health is to be repeatedly tackled. However, the decision not to rest Neymar in the match against Osasuna could prove crucial for El Clasico, as the player was physically present during the match with Milan but appeared to be mentally weary. A rest may have made a world of difference in preparing him for the two big matches. Saturday will show whether the Barça players are destined to lackluster draws with other top clubs or if there is enough hunger, focus and creativity within the team to topple giants the way they once used to.
While Barcelona's stability is only just recently being brought into question, Real Madrid's has been under heavy scrutiny since the start. Regardless of their convincing preseason and their dominating UEFA Champions League run, Ancelotti has yet to find the most potent tactics for his team in competitive play. One week after a dismal loss to a determined Atletico Madrid (the second derby in a row that the Merengues have lost 0-1), Real traveled to Levante where they left it extremely late to turnaround around what appeared to be a 1-2 loss, by grabbing 2 goals in stoppage time to secure a hectic win.
A disappointing performance aside, it does exemplify the fact that Real Madrid have an unparalleled fighting spirit and that they do not give up until the final whistle. The home performance Anceloti's men gave last weekend against Malaga garnered positive reviews for the squad, as Madrid's defense played a positive role in securing the first clean sheet at the Santiago Bernabeu in the last 12 matches held there. The only goal scored in regular time came from none other than Angel Di Maria, whose consistency and workrate so far this season have been incomparable. It appeared Di Maria was attempting an early cross, but the fast long ball into the box bounced into the back of the net without anyone else making contact. Madrid managed to get 15 shots on goal, 7 of which came from Cristiano Ronaldo, but the inspired performance of Malaga goalkeeper Willy Caballero kept CR7 and company visibly frustrated throughout the match.
The game would most likely have ended 1-0, if returning star Gareth Bale had not been subbed on for Morata, in the 76th minute. The former Tottenham main man, whose absence has stirred controversy about his fitness, appeared ready to play. While he didn’t score, Bale made sure not to leave the pitch without creating some more controversy in stoppage time, by going down in the box after a challenge from the Brazilian defender Welington. The resulting penalty kick was slammed home by Ronaldo, who was apparently disappointed with his own performance as he celebrated the goal with some apologetic hand gestures to the fans.
Fresh off this victory, Real Madrid returned home to host Juventus in the 3rd round of the UEFA Champions League group stages. For me, this was the best performance Real Madrid has given this season. Almost every player in white was sharp, dominating and confident. The passing was smart, accurate and creative. With all the players working together and at their best, it only took 4 minutes for the masterfully cool Ronaldo to open the scoring. The Portuguese international made a brilliant diagonal run into the box, while Di Maria dribbled and distracted the as yet unsettled Juventus defense. Di Maria made as if he was going to shoot but instead slotted a quick through pass to Ronaldo, who then had to fake out the legendary Juve keeper Gigi Buffon, turn to face goal and punctuate his run with a straight toe poke into the net.
Juventus came back strong, settled into the stadium, and created several chances. It was the young Spanish international and former Athletic Bilbao forward Fernando Llorente who found the equalizer in the 22nd minute, on the rebound from Frenchman Paul Pogba's header that Casillas had blocked. The two Juventus players were virtually unmarked at the backpost when the cross came in from wide open Cáceres on the right, leaving Marcelo and Arbeloa to share the blame. Ronaldo's 2nd goal of the night (and ultimately the winner), was from a penalty kick after Chiellini foolishly pulled Sergio Ramos to the ground in the box. Though Chiellini did not receive a yellow card for this foul, it was not his lucky night. Three minutes into the second half, Chiellini was shown a straight red card in another one in a long line of controversial decisions. The foul saw Chiellini put an arm across Ronaldo's face, as they both chased the ball and Ronaldo made the most of it. The straight red card marred what up until then had been a very tense and entertaining Champions League match.
The remaining of the second half was played with a lot of pace and many attempts from Real Madrid to break further ahead, the most disappointing of which was Karim Benzema's poor connection on a cross from less than a yard in front of an open goal. Not surprisingly, Benzema was substituted off for Bale in the 67th minute. Hints that Ancelotti might try Bale as a center forward to see what it can produce have been surfacing, but I think come Saturday he'll stick with a more proven, winning formula. Overall, the second half felt like a somewhat deflated version of the very exciting first half, as a 10-man Juventus side retreated into defense and Real Madrid failed to break through.
With Real Madrid's current run of wins, their top form in the Champions League, their squad coming together into a cohesive unit and now only trailing Barcelona by 3 points in La Liga, fans of both sides will be watching the Clasico intently to see which of the two teams might be on the ascendancy and which might be stuck in a rut. In terms of results, neither side has a whole lot to be disappointed about so far this season, but because of their own high standards, both sides will be desperately seeking to leave the Camp Nou on Saturday having made a decisive statement about their football to the world.
Author name: Malachi Constant
Barcelona vs Real Madrid starting line-ups prediction:
Real Madrid starting XI: Diego López; Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Arbeloa; Sami Khedira, Modric, Isco; Angel Di María, Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema.
Barcelona starting XI: Valdés; Adriano, Bartra, Puyol, Daniel Alves; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Pedro, Neymar, Messi.
Cristiano Ronaldo upcoming game for Real Madrid will be the much-awaited "Clasico", for La Liga against Barça, right next Saturday (October 26, 2013). You can watch Juventus live stream, Barcelona vs Real Madrid live, Liverpool vs West Bromwich Albion, Man Utd vs Stoke City and Crystal Palace vs Arsenal, all matches provided from our soccer live section.
Real Madrid next game:
Barcelona vs Real Madrid kick-off time (26-10-2013):
Jakarta (Indonesia) | GMT+7: 23:00
Spain (Madrid) | GMT+2: 18:00
Portugal and England (Lisbon/London) | GMT+1: 17:00
Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) | GMT-3: 13:00
New York (United States) | GMT-4: 12:00
Los Angeles (United States) | GMT-7: 09:00
Beijing (China) | GMT+8: 00:00