Real Madrid vs. Barcelona: Key Matchups Present in El Clasico This Weekend

Rohan SubraSenior Analyst IAugust 13, 2011

Real Madrid vs. Barcelona: Key Matchups Present in El Clasico This Weekend

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    El Clasico is probably the biggest rivalry in soccer history. Dating back to the days of Franco, the dictator, Real Madrid vs. Barcelona didn't just mean a game—it could mean life or death.

    Not only is this a rivalry full of hatred, but the feeling towards the other team is apparent in matches, where play can get very physical.

    Nowadays the rivalry is so big that the sense of anticipation before every match is like no other. Barcelona have Argentine star Lionel Messi, the best player in the world right now, while Madrid are led by Cristiano Ronaldo, the second best in the world.

    The managers of the two teams are also two of the best in the world; Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola are always being compared.

    Last year, the two teams met five teams, with Barcelona winning twice, Real Madrid triumphing once and two matches where nothing could separate the teams.

    This weekend, there is a much-anticipated match in the Supercup, where the winner of La Liga (Barcelona) meets the winner of the Copa del Rey (Real Madrid).

    Here are some key matchups for the weekend.

Iker Casillas vs. Victor Valdes

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    The battle of the goalkeepers.

    Behind each solid defense, stands an equally solid goalkeeper. Both Iker Casillas (Real Madrid) and Victor Valdes (Barcelona) are Spaniards who traveled to South Africa with La Furia Roja.

    Casillas, who starts for Spain, is widely considered the best goalie in the world. He has the uncanny ability to stop penalties like no other man can. He demonstrated this throughout the 2008 Euros, and since then his penalty stopping has been great.

    Valdes, whose reputation is very high also, is another fantastic keeper; just not as good as Casillas. Though he can't stop shots as well as the Real Madrid man, he is a great leader for La Blaugrana, as he commands the team well.

    The reason this matchup is key is because when one team's offense manages to break the other's back four, it will be up to these two men to save their teams.

    Winner: Real Madrid

Kaka and Ozil vs. Xavi and Iniesta

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    Ricardo Kaka and Mesut Ozil make a formidable midfield.

    Kaka, to the dismay of Madridistas, was injured a large part of the season and was unable to contribute his marvelous talent to Real. Though he is a great passer, dribbler and shooter, lack of fitness has stopped him from performing at the Bernabeu.

    Mesut Ozil really broke out in the 2010 World Cup, where he played spectacularly for the Germans and helped them reach the semifinals, where they eventually fell to Spain. The lefty is a fantastic dribbler and an awesome shooter; he has done very well so far for Madrid.

    Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta form the best midfield in the world.

    Xavi, the orchestrator of Barcelona, is by far the best passer in the world (hence his nickname "Chameleon Eyes"). His vision alone is astounding, not to mention his ability to land the ball on a dime.

    Iniesta is a fantastic passer as well, but he is a more versatile player than Xavi. He is very quick and is arguably the best dribbler in the world. His game also features an accurate, powerful shot that he doesn't use as often as he could.

    The battle of the midfields will be very interesting.

    Winner: Barcelona

Carvalho/Albiol vs. Pique/Puyol

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    This is the matchup of the center-back pairings.

    Real Madrid's Ricardo Carvalho moved to the Bernabeu last year, after a successful run at Chelsea. He was brought in to steady the back four. His strength and build really help him to overpower defenders, and he is doing that well in Madrid.

    Despite being underrated, Raul Albiol is one of the weak points (maybe the weakest) of the strong Real Madrid squad. Though he is big and strong, he commits rash tackles at times and is not at the same level as Carvalho.

    Gerard Pique is one of the best center-backs in the world. At 6'4", he towers over several players. He uses his size to overpower opponents and win headers. He is a great tackler and contributes well to the "tiki-taka" style of Barcelona.

    Carles Puyol is also one of the best center-backs in the world; some say he's the best. He is a hardman if there ever was one—he goes into challenges strongly, he wins tough headers and he gets up immediately after picking up a knock.

    Winner: Barcelona

Ronaldo vs. Alves/Abidal

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    Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the fastest players in the world and he also possesses immense strength and balance, which makes him a deadly threat. He also has arguably the best shot in the world, which means that he doesn't have to be too close to goal in order to have a chance at scoring.

    Eric Abidal and Dani Alves are two fullbacks for the Barcelona squad. Since they are both excellent defenders, they make life hard for wingers who enjoy running at them, such as Cristiano Ronaldo.

    Since Ronaldo plays on either wing at different times, he will have to face both the Brazilian and the Frenchman at different points in time. The match could turn depending on whether Ronaldo's quick feet and dazzling moves are able to get by the solid fullbacks.

    In this fixture in the past, it has not been only one player man-marking Ronaldo, but multiple, since he must be contained at all costs. Despite that, Cristiano has still looked very good and was able to beat the defense in the past.

    Winner: Real Madrid

Pepe vs. Messi

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    This is probably the most important matchup on the pitch.

    Lionel Messi is the best and most unstoppable player in the world, with the ability to dart past countless defenders at a time (sometimes even through them). He can shoot, too, and sets up his teammates for goals.

    After Messi absolutely ripped up Real Madrid in November 2010, Jose Mourinho needed a man for a mission. Pepe, a center-back who is over six-feet tall, was selected by the "Chosen One" to play the role of man-marker. Mourinho wanted Pepe to stick to Messi like glue—to creep in his shadow, regardless of what the back four did.

    When Pepe was assigned to this task in April of this year, he was absolutely sensational, and Messi was very quiet in comparison to his normal self. Therefore, Mourinho gave this job to Pepe for a while, trying to make him do that in later matches, too. However, when the Portugese center-back was sidelined, Messi was unleashed and once again tore up the defense of Real Madrid.

    It is up to Pepe to determine how much the presence of the "Little Argentine" impacts the match, though I think Messi has the edge.

    Winner: Barcelona

Tactics: Mourinho vs. Guardiola

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    This matchup is Real Madrid's genius defensive tactics against Barcelona's phenomenal "tiki-taka" style.

    Jose Mourinho has been successful no matter where he's been. He won the Champions League with Inter Milan and even Portugese side Porto, a team that the average football fan would give no chance for the most prestigious trophy in Europe.

    With Internazionale, Mourinho managed to beat Guardiola's Blaugrana in the 2010 Champions League semifinal by focusing on defense, putting almost everyone behind the ball and relying on counter attacks to score goals. His strategy might be the best in the world right now.

    Barcelona did have somewhat of a pass-and-move style before the arrival of Josep Guardiola. Nonetheless, when he arrived there was a dramatic difference in the style employed by the Catalans, as they started playing "tiki taka," a wonder to watch, as well as a deadly tactic when used right.

    He won the treble with Barcelona in 2009 and went on to win two more La Ligas and one more Champions League. Almost every single team who has faced Barcelona's style has not really been able to stop it.

    Winner: Despite Jose Mourinho's brilliant tactics, Barcelona's tiki taka is equal to that. TIE.

Conclusion/Predictions

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    Barcelona has a small edge in terms of matchups, and I predict that they will prevail if they use their normal starting lineup. The pass-and-move plus the presence of Messi will be too much to handle for Mourinho's men.

    Prediction: Barcelona 3-1 Real Madrid.