A league Clasico that isn’t as important? Can that be? That’s the case more or less, with goals unrelated to the league title in the minds of both Real Madrid, no longer a factor in the La Liga title race, and Barcelona, who won’t let anything get in the way of a fourth championship in five seasons, but have other things to worry about.
The last couple of weeks changed the perception about the current Barcelona teams – a loss at Milan in which Barcelona struggled to create chances, followed by a 1-3 defeat at home in the Copa Del Rey to Real Madrid, in a somewhat humiliating fashion. Instead of feeling confident heading into the Santiago Bernabeu, Barcelona suddenly are the team that needs to work out how to figure out their opponent.
Will we see a different Barcelona? Slightly. Still, this is Jordi Roura, not Tito Vilanova. Barcelona may have a little more fire in their belly heading into this one, and with their Champions League match a little bit further away, don’t need to think about keeping players out of harm’s way.
The biggest question will be how more cautious they’ll be after the defense was completely exposed in the moments when both Dani Alves and Jordi Alba made their forward strides, leaving too much space for Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel di Maria. On the offensive side of things, it’ll be up to Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas, if he starts, to make the Real Madrid defense move out of position and allow some space for Lionel Messi to operate in.
For Real Madrid, its not only about beating Barcelona. The Manchester United match is three days later, and it will certainly mean Jose Mourinho will make some changes in the lineup, despite the perfection of his game plan in the middle of the week.
Jose Maria Callejon will start for Angel di Maria (suspended), and will mean more help on the wing, but a bit less of attacking flair. Javier Mascherano and David Villa will probably get to start as well for Barcelona, unlike in the previous encounter. It’ll be interesting to see if Real Madrid apply the early pressure they usually do in the home matches against Barcelona, or stick to what gave them so much success in the previous match.
Prediction – It’s hard to tell because this match isn’t as important for Real Madrid as it usually is, but pride and this rivalry go beyond the calculations of what’s more important quite often. Barcelona are wounded beast, with a lot to play for in terms of restoring their confidence. Sounds like a draw.