Early Talking Points Ahead of Real Madrid-Barcelona Clasico
It may be six days off, but El Clasico is already on everyone’s mind.
“Real-Barca clashes are the football equivalent of war,” Barcelona playmaker Andres Iniesta told El Larguero on Monday, as per Football Espana.
“Sunday’s match will be evenly-balanced,” offered Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti, according to AS.
Going into the encounter, Los Blancos, the Primera Division leaders, sit four points above third-place Barcelona and could severely puncture the Catalans’ title hopes with a win at the Bernabeu.
Over the next few days, as kick-off approaches, the talking points will continue to be churned out, but here is an early look at six of them—six sub-plots that, when all is said and done, will likely have had more than a thing or two to do with Sunday’s outcome.
6. Karim Benzema’s Fitness
“Nothing more than a scare” is how Marca described Karim Benzema’s leg injury, suffered during the first half of Saturday’s 1-0 win at Malaga.
Replaced by Angel di Maria after barely half an hour at La Rosaleda, Benzema was scheduled to have the quadriceps in his right leg scanned later on Monday.
In his press conference ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League match against Schalke, Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti revealed he was “hopeful” the Frenchman would be able to play from the start against Barcelona, according to AS.
5. Gerard Pique’s Fitness
Gerard Pique missed Barcelona’s Sunday match at home to Osasuna, but the defender—who has been battling an ankle injury—participated in a full session of training on Monday, as per AS.
Marc Bartra and Javier Mascherano started in the centre of defence against the Basque outfit, and it’s expected Pique will slot into Bartra’s spot for El Clasico.
Fellow defender Carles Puyol, meanwhile, continues to recover from a knee injury.
4. Embattled Gerardo Martino
Back in December, Mundo Deportivo reported Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino was “unhappy” at Barcelona and would be looking to exit the club at season’s end, as per Goal.
Then on Sunday, former FIFA agent Jose Maria Minguella told Spanish radio, as relayed by Marca, that Martino had not attended a meeting designed to formulate a plan for the 2014/15 campaign.
The Catalans have won only six of their Primera Division matches in 2014, and going into El Clasico, they have taken maximum points from just two of their last four outings.
Martino has taken a considerable amount of the blame for the downturn in form, and defeat to Real Madrid would only see him become further embattled.
3. Neymar’s Frame of Mind
Neymar has scored just once for Barcelona in 2014 and, on Sunday, he was an unused substitute as his teammates thrashed Osasuna 7-0.
At one point manager Gerardo Martino instructed the Brazilian to begin warming up, but not long after that the 22-year-old was back on the bench, Cristian Tello having been sent on instead.
Something doesn’t seem quite right with a player who seemed to settle quickly at Camp Nou.
Last week Martino said in a press conference (via Reuters) that Neymar had been affected by “the situation and the problems over his signing.”
And in Barcelona’s Champions League win over Manchester City, the former Santos forward was booed by the club’s own fans.
2. Madrid and the Big Occasion
So far this season, Real Madrid have lost to Barcelona, lost and drawn against Atletico Madrid, drawn against Athletic Bilbao and drawn against Juventus.
Whatever struggles they’ve experienced this term have tended to come against high-profile opponents, and their Champions League problems in recent seasons would also suggest they don’t exactly thrive on the big occasion.
Of course, a win on Sunday would go some distance toward dispelling that notion—as would an extended run in Europe this spring.
1. Ronaldo v Messi
It’s the talking point of all talking points—the most prominent subtext of El Clasico.
Who will perform better on the day: Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi?
Messi, with 18 Clasico goals, is the game’s joint top-scorer alongside Real Madrid legend Alfredo di Stefano.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, has scored 12 times in this tie—most recently in last year’s Copa del Rey semi-final, which Madrid won.
While it would be simplistic to suggest Sunday’s result will rest on this head-to-head, it would be equally naive to assume neither player is capable of lifting his team on his shoulders and delivering a match-winning performance.