Barcelona’s Xavi Hernandez and Real Madrid’s Carlo Ancelotti represent two ends of the managerial spectrum.
One has won it all, lived it all, and fought through all kinds of adversity in his long spells across top clubs in Europe. The other is just getting started and still dreams of touching the stars as a manager.
The two tacticians lock horns on Saturday at Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys as the coaches of two of football’s biggest institutions. El Clasico kicks off in less than 24 hours, and not enough can be said to give it the hype it deserves.
Barça Universal brings you three talking points ahead of the gargantuan clash.
The big night
Football has seen many famous nights over the years, but few come close to the chord El Clasico strikes.
In the big game, all factors turn irrelevant. Form, players, managers, and luck do not play a role in the result, for it is a game decided by passion and emotion.
Barcelona take on Real Madrid tomorrow for the first time this season, and they will have the home advantage on the day. The Clasico in itself could not come at a better time.
The two teams are separated by just one point after Los Blancos’ draw to Sevilla last weekend. Moreover, both sides won their UEFA Champions League games midweek by an identical scoreline and passage of play. The field could not be more even.
Saturday will thus be a test of strengths. One of Barcelona’s youngsters against Real Madrid’s big-money stars; Carlo Ancelotti’s man-management against Xavi Hernandez’s tactics; and most importantly, Barcelona’s seld-belief against Real Madrid’s never-say-die attitude.
Is Xavi hiding his cards?
There is an element of surprise in the Barcelona camp ahead of El Clasico, for reports coming out of Catalonia appear more contrasting than ever before.
Heading into the midweek clash against Shakhtar Donetsk, Xavi was without several key stars. Robert Lewandowski, Sergi Roberto, Frenkie de Jong, Pedri, Raphinha, and Jules Kounde all watched on from the sidelines as their team took three points against the Ukrainians.
In theory, it should be near impossible for any of the players to be 100% fit for El Clasico if they could not even make the bench in the previous outing. Reports over the last 24 hours, thus, leave one perplexed.
From media leaking news of five injured players returning to training to others reporting that only one or two players will be fit, there is a grey area around the status of Barcelona’s injured stars.
One is thus forced to ponder – Are Barcelona really unsure of the status of their stars or is it all a part of Xavi’s pre-Clasico mind-games to bamboozle Real Madrid?
According to the latest update, Robert Lewandowski has been given the green light to participate against Real Madrid and could thus even start on the night. Raphinha also appears a certainty.
De Jong, Pedri, and Kounde participated in training earlier today, but it remains to be seen if they make the bench tomorrow. Clearly, there is no clarity over Xavi’s starting lineup against Real Madrid and it could well be intentional.
The right-back question
El Clasico in recent years has become synonymous with Ronald Araujo taking on Vinicius Jr. The Uruguayan-Brazilian battle has single-handedly decided so many recent meetings between the two clubs, for they are arguably their teams’ most important players.
Matters on Saturday, however, are expected to be different.
With Joao Cancelo taking over as the team’s primary right-back, he is expected to start in the position tomorrow. Yet, there are doubts over his ability to stop Vinicius.
Cancelo is a naturally attacking and centrally drifting full-back. That makes him the ideal target for a wide and pacey winger like Vinicius to capitalise on and exploit.
The battle down Barcelona’s right flank could thus single-handedly decide the result of El Clasico. Considering how pragmatic Xavi has been in Clasicos, however, there is a remote chance he could opt for a surprise defensive lineup tomorrow.
Cancelo may be the favourite to start, but there is a possibility Xavi will continue with Araujo at right-back and sacrifice the Portuguese international. In such a scenario, Inigo Martinez and Andreas Christensen would man the central defence and set up a fortress at the back.
It remains to be seen what cards Xavi is holding and how he chooses to play them.