Super Sunday is about quite a few big clashes around Europe, but none bigger than the greatest club match in the world, as Barcelona, with an 8 point lead in the La Liga and a Lionel Messi in somewhat of a drought, face the chasing Real Madrid, with the recovering and non-stop scoring Cristiano Ronaldo.
Form and the places in the league doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with a match that engulfs some much emotion and meaning for so many people beyond it’s football and title-deciding importance. A Barcelona win and it’s all over in the league. Real Madrid won’t come back from 11 points down.
The sadness and mood and contract of Cristiano Ronaldo has been the most talked about subject in the football world over the last month. Bottom line? It doesn’t really matter. He has scored six goals in the last two matches, 12 goals in 10 matches this season. Now, he doesn’t even see his usual scourge of Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol in front of him. And the way Barcelona defend will be the key to this match.
There’s no completely containing Ronaldo, even when his team is playing badly. One times that he breaks free, even against a team and coach that know his every move, it doesn’t matter. Barcelona keep conceding goals with the duo of Javier Mascherano and Alex Song, two defensive midfielders struggling with their new-old roles, despite having some practice at the position.
Barcelona will have to aid the two with Sergio Busquets. Xavi and Iniesta should manage to sustain midfield possession even with a less forward playing Busquets, who has been shifted forward by Tito Vilanova this season. Lionel Messi will lend a hand, and it shouldn’t harm Barcelona’s style too much. Keeping it a safe surrounding in the back is crucial for Barcelona to apply their usual pressure on Real Madrid’s defense.
And for Real? It’s going to be about Jose Mourinho’s mindset setting abilities. It’s still not clear how deep the rift is between him, Mesut Ozil and Sergio Ramos is. How much is it affecting the team? Not much, at least according to the results, but an away match in Barcelona with issues regarding his relationship with the players is a different kind of test.
Modric, Ozil or Kaka? Essien in the middle or Sami Khedira next to Xabi Alonso? Where does Sergio Ramos start? The big key isn’t about the personnel, but about the tactics Real Madrid play out to on Sunday evening. Regressive passive and allowing Barcelona all the space and time they want just won’t do. The attitude that pushed Real Madrid to their title clincher last season was aggressive. Real Madrid didn’t play an open style that led to a 5-0 loss in Mourinho’s first Clasico, but no one does against Barcelona. Finding the right balance and timing or applying pressure and relying on more than just defending with everyone they have is going to be crucial.
Lionel Messi? After three consecutive matches without scoring, the stat kings are already shuffling backwards to see how much of a drought this is. Messi and Barcelona don’t mind as long as he has the small opportunities to find players while four players are collapsing on him. He doesn’t have to prove anything, but this is a chance to show there’s no slump. Just balls not falling into the net. A win will make a drought look negligible.
Prediction – Cool heads will prevail, and the game-plan from Real Madrid, not Barcelona, will be the decisive thing. We haven’t had a draw at the Camp Nou in a long time, which makes me think it’s happening this time. Barcelona won’t be as bad defensively as in recent weeks, but it seems that not winning this, just not losing this, will be good enough this time for Barca.