The biggest of clashes could not come at a worse hour for Barcelona, as they stare into the darkness amidst their deepening grave. Setbacks continue to pile up one after the other. There just seems to be no respite for Ronald Koeman, as he tries to find the right solution for his XI ahead of the game vs Juventus, a team Barcelona have a rich history with.
On the one hand, he continues losing players to injuries, of which Ousmane Dembele is the latest victim. On the other hand, performances in the League aptly describe the Blaugranas situation. They have gone four away games without a win now, and hang just three points above the relegation zone.
Yet, as the team are just coming to terms with the happenings at the Estadio Ramon de Carranza, they face one of the biggest tests so far. Not for the fact, the Juventus have been particularly flashy and dominant in the League. The Bianconeri are drowned in an ocean of problems of their own, yet are undeniably in a position far more comfortable than their Catalan counterparts.
It is a monumental clash that the world will witness at the Camp Nou. It will be the face-off between two legends on the sidelines. The comparisons have been drawn before, and it will be an important night for the likes of Arthur Melo and Miralem Pjanic who have both not had pleasant starts in their new club.
However, the world watches on for a different reason. As it seems, it could be the last time we witness Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi gracing the same turf. It was the biggest takeaway from the Champions League draw.
The gods willed it to happen only once, with Ronaldo missing the clash in Turin. However, it will be a game that signifies the end of an era in so many ways, one that the history books could well remember for eternity. That being said, there are absolutely no excuses for Koeman to make slip-ups in the line-up. Here is how Barcelona should line-up against Juventus:
The second goal conceded against Cadiz would have indeed been a painful pill for the Marc Andre ter Stegen to swallow. Coming into the side late in the season, he has already been involved in two mix-ups that have directly led to defeats.
Yet, it doesn’t take anything away from the Germans class. He will have to shake it off and make a fresh start. Having to go up against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala for 90 minutes is a daunting task for any goalkeeper. The Champions league tag just adds more weight to it. Barcelona will need ter Stegen to be on the top of his game.
Sergino Dest and Jordi Alba will find their names in the starting line-up. Needless to say, they will have monumental roles on the night. The full-backs will be a vital cog in the buildup and will have to be the key to unlocking the Bianconeri’s five-man midfield.
Alba will have to run down the flank in the absence of Dembele and Fati. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty)
Central defence is where the doubts lie. Clement Lenglet, despite being an undisputed starter, has had his fair share of mistakes this season. He will cling onto his place for the upcoming clash nevertheless. Alongside him, one would expect Ronald Araujo to start. The Uruguayan recently received his medical all-clear. Not to mention, the duo has a big night in front of them. One where nothing less than their best will suffice.
Once again, Koeman finds plenty of cards on the table. It was in the midfield that Barcelona crushed Juventus earlier this season, and the coming clash demands to be more of the same.
The ideal combination would be to stick to the winning formula. The duo of Frenkie de Jong and Miralem Pjanic worked wonders the last time these sides faced off. One could expect a similar approach on Tuesday.
If there was a lesson to be brought back home from Cadiz, it was that the wings are the basis of any potent attack. It was criminal to start the game without a true winger, and it reflected in the team’s dull showing in the attack.
Undoubtedly, Koeman will have to put away his stubbornness and field a more dynamic XI. Even if it comes at the cost of benching some of the heavyweights. And this starts right from deploying Pedri on the left-wing, a position where he destroyed Juventus last time around.
Fransisco Trincao should be the one starting on the right-wing. The former Braga star has not had the smoothest of starts at Catalonia. Yet amidst all the injuries, this seems to be the time for him to step up.
As the attacking midfielder, one would expect Lionel Messi to start without any doubt. The Argentine has not been particularly clinical in front of goal so far, yet there is no denying his paramount importance on the pitch.
And they meet again. (Photo by BEN STANSALL/Getty)
Antoine Griezmann will be eyeing the final spot in the side, starting in the #9 role. He has been in high spirits in recent games, and much more involved not just in the buildup but also in front of goal. A big night for the Frenchman, can he step it up another notch?
Dest · Araujo · Lenglet · Alba
Pjanic · de Jong
Trincao · Messi · Pedri
Santiago Bernabeu: Lionel Messi’s conquered ground
With the second edition of El Clásico in the 2020/21 season less than 72 hours away, the footballing world is once more about to come to a standstill. Its master, a certain Lionel Andrés Messi, has ripped almost all the records pertaining to this tie to shreds. The Argentine maestro holds the record for the most goals as well as assists for any player against Los Blancos and will seek to add to this tally once Barcelona sets foot in Real Madrid’s Alfredo Di Stefano stadium.
Being a Barça player, every encounter against the eternal rival will be a special one. With the Clásico being played away from the ever-iconic Santiago Bernabéu due to the reconstructing taking place, we here at Barca Universal thought to re-live three of the 6-time Ballon D’or winner’s most memorable games in the Spanish Capital. He is, after all, the individual with the most goals for any player in the Clásico, and with goals come memories that will be indelibly etched in the history books for aeons to come.
3. Pep Guardiola’s False 9
Real Madrid 2-6 Barcelona | 2008/09
“Lionel Messi takes his time, and walks it in. Start shining the trophy now, the league may well be Barcelona’s.”
The Catalans’ 2-6 victory over Real Madrid is just one among a host of iconic performances that the Merengues were unfortunate enough to bear witness to in their own backyard. This humiliation in particular, against their biggest rivals, is one that the Madrid faithful will never truly scrape from their minds, not only for their sheer inferiority to Barcelona but the consequences that Pep Guardiola’s tactics would have on their ultimate enemy.
The bald genius, as some call him, gave new life to Messi, and such was his aptitude in this role that he continues to this day to terrorise defences in precisely the same way. Sitting between strikers Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry, the Argentine was tasked with acting as a false 9 in such a way that he would attract defenders to himself and punish his hosts for the slightest of lapses in concentration.
Putting theory into practice, La Pulga’s first contribution of the night came in precisely this manner. He lured a familiar foe in Madrid captain Sergio Ramos out of his den by occupying Zone 14, played a delicate chip into Henry who darted into the vacated space, and, cool as you like, he curved the ball past Iker Casillas to equalise the score for the Garnet and Blue after Gonzalo Higuain helped Madrid take the lead.
Bewildered, and with their lead lost, Real Madrid’s incapacity to handle the little man meant that this was just the beginning of possibly their worst nightmare. Carlos Puyol helped Barça take the lead just two minutes after this, and just after the hour mark, Messi would add further gloss to the scoreline.
The Catalans’ asphyxiating press proved too much for their Madrid counterparts to contend with, and it was in precisely this manner that they got their third. Xavi Hernández dispossessed Lassana Diarra following a pass from Casillas, and laid the ball on a plate for the Barça number 10. With acres of space and an infinite amount of time to think, he went one on one with San Iker, and with ice in his veins, placed the ball into the bottom corner of the net to essentially expel all hope Los Merengues had of mounting a comeback.
Even with a quarter of the game left to play, Messi was far from done with his torture of Madrid. Still, in his free role as a false 9, the Argentine drew left-back Gabriel Heinze towards him, released the ball to Xavi and darted into the newly vacated space. Casillas had the chance to make amends for having conceded the early goal, but Messi had other ideas. He faked one shot, and with the Madrid captain’s positioning now off, the Argentine took full advantage, slotting the ball past the Spaniard at the near post to record his 22nd goal of the season, as well as seal the Manita for his side.
Far from finished with his systematic dismantling of Madrid, he would play a massive role in creating the sixth and final goal for three Blaugrana. He lacerated the Madrid backline with a through ball to Samuel Eto’o down the wing. He then delivered a ball to Gérard Piqué, who slotted the ball past his Spanish comrade to record the sixth and final goal for Barcelona.
It was by some accounts his individual best performance against Madrid, but he would have another equally brilliant moment just two years later against his eternal rivals.
2. The best on the planet
Real Madrid 0-2 Barcelona | 2010/11
“Away from two, three, four… Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. How good is he!”
The 2010/11 campaign saw Pep Guardiola mould what is largely considered to be the best football team ever to have graced the earth. Their football was as enthralling as it was captivating; their passing as exquisite as it was crisp; their pressing as coordinated as it was choking; and to cap it all off, they had a version of Messi as majestic as he was deadly.
In stark contrast to the 5-0 annihilation and mesmeric football on display in the Nou Camp following the Catalan elections the year prior, this match was marked with a host of needless fouls brought about by the ruthless aggression of José Mourinho’s forces. They were out to avoid, at all costs, the sort of drubbing they had faced just the year prior, as well as end their decade long quest for a European crown. Lionel Messi had other ideas in store for them.
Bombarded by the ludicrous foul play by Sergio Ramos and Álvaro Arbeloa, the Argentine endured one of his most gruesome matches against the old enemy. Crafty as he is, he still ran circles around the Madrid defence whenever the opportunity presented itself, but such was the marking against him that he would always meet around five or six players laying in wait for him.
The match seemed closer to a draw than it was anything else, as Barça were incapable of finding their way through the white wall of Madrid.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and for the Garnet and Blue, Lionel Messi was that man. From Barcelona’s right flank, Ibrahim Affelay skipped past Marcelo Vieira with relative ease, and once at the byline, he played a sumptuous low cross into Messi’s path. Arbeloa failed to make any contact, and ready to pounce on the perfectly weighted ball was the bane of their existence, in the form of a little man with a 10 on the back of his shirt. He tapped the ball home, through Iker Casillas’ legs and into the back of the net to get that all so crucial away goal.
Real Madrid were in trouble. Their game plan might have involved shutting Barça out for the most time they possibly could, and perhaps seek an away draw in the Nou Camp to get to the final in Wembley. Disgruntled, and incapable of processing what had just happened, the capital club began leaving enormous spaces, the sort that Messi lives for.
With three minutes left to play, the then two-time Ballon D’or winner played a quick one-two with Sergio Busquets near the halfway line. Even with a sea of white right before his eyes, the Argentine didn’t break a sweat. He gracefully weaved his way past four Madrid players, and one on one with San Iker, he slotted the ball home with his right foot to seal the victory. No one could have foreseen this happening. Well, no one but that little magician in Garnet and Blue.
Even though Rob Palmer said it in a different game, Harry Houdini had nothing on Messi’s magic, and that goal was evidence of that. He had the audacity to craft such a move out of relatively nothing, in a champions league semifinal, and against his arch-rivals no less. Simply Messi.
1. It isn’t over until he says it is
Real Madrid 2-3 Barcelona | 2016/17
“Lionel Messi does it again he’s superhuman! Lionel Messi has just, exploded La Liga into life.”
On a run of six consecutive games without either a goal in all competitions against Real Madrid, doubts were raised over just how much Lionel Messi could do in this edition of the Clásico, especially bearing in mind the level of the version of the hosts he was up against. Los Blancos were, by many accounts, Europe’s best team that year. Fresh from a rather controversial 4-2 thumping of Bayern München in the Champions League, confidence was high in the Madrid camp, and with reason.
Barcelona needed to win to keep their La Liga title hopes alive and do so by any means necessary, and win they did, in quite emphatic fashion too.
Much like in 2011, Messi would be the unfortunate victim of a host of fouls from Los Blancos. Casemiro was hovering near Messi, and had already attempted two-card worthy challenges on the Argentine, only receiving one for taking him down near the centre circle. Not too long after, Marcelo Vieira elbowed him right in his mouth, somehow avoiding a red card for what seemed a deliberate offence from the Brazilian.
Los Merengues triggered him one time too many, and with the lion now awoken and infuriated by the needless assaults on him, he went on his hunt for goals. Subsequent to an extensively long possession phase by the Catalans, Ivan Rakitić, from the right halfspace, found La Pulga briskly making a run towards him. With one touch, he put his opponents to a standstill, the second and with their motion against them, he rid himself of all Madrid’s defenders, and with his third, he calmly slotted the ball into the back of the net past a helpless Keylor Navas.
With time going by, hope quickly faded away. Even without Sergio Ramos in defence following his crude two-footed challenge on Messi himself, all of Barça’s efforts on goal were met by save after save from the Costa Rican goalkeeper. To make matters worse, just four minutes from time, substitute James Rodriguez scored the equaliser to kill off the Blaugranas’ spirits — or so he thought.
With twenty seconds left to play, the Garnet and Blue showed their mental fortitude in its finest form. Sergi Roberto skipped past two Madrid defenders and made a darting run into the central midfield. He then laid the ball off to André Gomes, who immediately played the ball into Jordi Alba’s path. The Spaniard instinctively played the cutback to Messi, and for that one second, time stood still.
Dani Carvajal, noticing his error, ran right towards him. Keylor Navas, who by then had already produced at least ten saves, was perfectly positioned on the right. In front of him were two of his own teammates. Everything about this shot should have made it impossible to go in, but with this little man, is impossible even a word? On his left foot, and with 80,000 Madridistas whistling him, the 6-time Ballon D’or winner curled the ball into the back of the net, making it 2-3 in the final quarter of a minute and breaking the hearts of all Merengues before him.
What followed was easily the coldest celebration of all time. In front of hoards of Madridistas and a sea of white, Messi took his shirt off, reminding them who ran the place. It was the ultimate way to score his 500th goal for his beloved club, and in such a way that not a single Madridista will ever forget. All eleven players from the other aisle either fell to their knees in awe or lamented in bitter frustration. They had just been crushed, and crudely so, by a man they once so desperately wanted and could never have.
The question remains, what sort of a mark will Lionel Messi leave on the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium? Well, in due time, in perhaps his final Clásico, with the league on the line, we’ll find out.