It is that time of the year. El Clasico is less than 24 hours away, and the energy in Madrid and Barcelona could not be more electric.
There is a real buzz around this year’s grand fixture, especially considering the situation both teams are in. While Real Madrid have arguably completed a large part of their transition and look like a settled unit, Barcelona’s young talents have taken Spain by storm.
The battle between the Catalans academy stars and Real Madrid’s big signings thus sets up a game reminiscent of the teams’ beginnings.
Come Saturday, there will be exciting player duels all across the field. Right from the battles in the team’s boxes to those in the middle of the park, there will be no dearth of action in Montjuic.
Barça Universal brings you three key player battles whose outcomes could potentially decide the result tomorrow.
Joao Cancelo vs Vinicius Jr
Of the many player battles El Clasico has promised in its recent editions, the story of Barcelona’s right-back position has arguably been the biggest talking point.
One of the primary reasons behind Xavi Hernandez’s good record in Clasicos has been his mastery in handling the same.
Over the past two years, Ronald Araujo has featured, more often than not, as Barcelona’s right-back in Clasicos. He curbed the threat from Real Madrid’s biggest threat, Vinicius Jr, and thereby nullified Los Blancos’ attacking transitions to great effect.
With Joao Cancelo now taking over as the team’s right-back, there will be changes on the right flank come Saturday.
For starters, the Portuguese player is an attacking full-back who shines in the final third. Not particularly known for his defensive resilience, he will have to dish out a smart performance if he is to curb Vinicius’ threat.
Real Madrid will almost certainly look to overburden Barcelona’s right flank at Montjuic tomorrow. With Toni Kroos likely to start on the left side of midfield and Ferland Mendy overlapping him, Vinicius Jr will have all the required support to overwhelm Cancelo, especially on the counter.
Moreover, with the Brazilian playing a relatively central role this season, Cancelo will again be the one in the spotlight to hold the fortress on the counter. After all, the Portuguese star often drifts centrally to add numbers in midfield.
All eyes will thus be on the right-back tomorrow evening at the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys. Needless to say, he will require a strong shift from Gavi in midfield to help in curbing the counterattacks.
Ronald Araujo vs Jude Bellingham
Unlike previous Clasicos, Barcelona’s Uruguayan mainstay wall will be back in central defence tomorrow. He will man the right side of the defensive partnership, likely alongside Andreas Christensen.
It is thus a no-brainer that he will be the man tasked with stopping Real Madrid’s goalscoring machine Jude Bellingham.
The English midfielder serves as the Merengues’ attacking midfielder under Carlo Ancelotti, yet has been one of the team’s most promising outlets in the final third. Despite playing a role in the false nine areas, his runs into the opposition box serve as a serious threat.
Bellingham will thus largely loiter around Barcelona’s defensive midfield, engaging in duels with Oriol Romeu and Ilkay Gundogan in the middle of the park. Yet, it will be on Araujo’s shoulders to curb his runs between the lines and thereby prevent Bellingham from getting into scoring positions.
Joao Felix vs Federico Valverde
Perhaps the most queer, yet fundamental player battle in El Clasico this week will be that between Joao Felix and Federico Valverde.
On paper, the Portuguese star serves as Barcelona’s left winger and should set up a date with Dani Carvajal tomorrow. Yet, his tendency to drop deeper and orchestrate attacks pits him against a far more difficult customer – Fede Valverde.
The Uruguayan is best known for his tireless shifts in midfield, not only in attacking transitions but for his defensive shifts. He is essential to Real Madrid’s press off the ball and will find himself best placed to snatch the ball from Joao Felix in the spaces behind Barcelona’s striker.
It will thus be critical for Xavi to work around a ploy to get past the Valverde hurdle and set Felix free against Real Madrid.
After all, the 23-year-old has been Barcelona’s most creative player in the absence of Pedri and Frenkie de Jong and will face a tough time against Los Blancos’ right-central midfielder.