El Clasico: 5 Key Players in the Match Between Barcelona and Real Madrid
Heading into the first Clasico of the league campaign, it will be interesting to look at how Real Madrid and Barcelona's most recent form could shape the tie.
The importance of key players like Xavi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi should be seen as secondary components to otherwise vitally important peripheral figures in each side.
The makeshift back line of both sides could become a deciding factor, as well as the importance of players who can influence from areas of the pitch that the leading lights do not figure in.
A defeat for either side could be psychologically damaging over the course of the season: Barcelona being the side who appear to be recovering from their recent trough in form and Real Madrid the side who are so comfortably and confidently sweeping aside all opponents.
What will a defeat signal and who will be the five to watch on Saturday?
One of the leading right-backs in Europe has had to shift inside to centre-back in recent weeks due to the void left be Ricardo Carvalho. Despite excelling from the flanks, Sergio Ramos has brought the same level of quality to a more central position, forming an excellent partnership with Pepe and providing pace that has maybe been a little scarce during the partnership of the Portuguese centre-backs.
The importance of Ramos cannot be stressed enough: he will look to push the defence further up the pitch, not allowing Barcelona the space they like to operate within inside the Madrid third of the pitch. His pace means there is more of an option to press the advancing Barcelona players, unsettling them in neutral areas of the pitch while having the ability to recover quickly.
At the same time, he will offer a comfortable and assured option in the air. Should Madrid manage to force Barcelona's game out wide, Ramos will have no problem beating the smaller Barcelona forwards to crosses.
Alexis Sanchez' naivety in Clasicos may work in his and Pep Guardiola's favour. A player who has only encountered the threat of Real Madrid once over the course of a two-legged tie will look to play with no fear.
Above the importance of Lionel Messi in advanced positions, Alexis Sanchez will aggressively attack the Madrid defence and look to unsettle a likely full-back option and weakness in Marcelo.
Did Sanchez's return to the Barcelona first team last weekend against Levante have a great deal of impact in returning the side to their full attacking potential? He certainly adds another dimension to their game and, as the article suggests, plays with a natural aggression, contrasting to the meticulous build-up play of other members of the team, which is sure to unease most defenders.
While Isaac Cuenca has played in most of Barcelona's recent games in their attacking trio, Pep Guardiola will likely look to a more experienced member of his squad in Sanchez to take up one of the flanking positions to Messi.
An assured and confident finisher, his goal against Levante will be a reminder to Real Madrid of what the former Udinese forward is capable of.
Dani Alves' importance to Barcelona's game does not go unnoticed. His wide, attacking play is one which draws opposition defenders to the flanks and opens up room for the central players in Xavi and Messi.
Going into the game, I do not see Alves taking up a position in the Barcelona half of the pitch—rather his pace and desire to close players down will be used to retain possession in Real Madrid's half, not allowing their forwards to form an attack on the remaining Barcelona back line.
As has been mentioned, crosses into the box may prove to be a fruitless exercise from Barcelona's point of view. Rather, it will be Alves who ensures the game is kept in the Madrid half and not allow Cristiano Ronaldo or Marcelo to advance forward.
Much like Dani Alves, Marcelo will look to push back the Barcelona threat from the flanks with his own advancing runs. A player who has become a vital part of the Real Madrid squad, again providing width and late attacking options much like his compatriot at Barcelona.
Another player who scored at the weekend, Marcelo's greatest asset will be his inclusion in Real Madrid counter-attacks. His pace and threat going forward are something which will unsettle Alves and potentially hinder the Barcelona right-back's attacking capabilities.
Whether or not pep Guardiola opts to include the former Arsenal captain from the get-go is still undetermined. What is certain, though, is Cesc Fabregas' ability in advanced areas over both Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
A tidy finish at the weekend that looked remarkably like a David Villa goal, it will give Pep Guardiola something to think about—whether Fabregas can have a greater impact in the final third over another midfield option.
What Cesc offers in advanced positions is very different to his game at Arsenal; rather than pulling the creative strings from midfield, he is now on the receiving end of teammates' ingenuity.
A player who is composed, knows where the goal is and can play in extremely congested areas of the pitch, Fabregas will add a lot of diversity to an otherwise highly impressive Barcelona attack.