This hasn’t happened in a very long time – Barcelona are the side under tons of pressure to come out of some sort of crisis, while Real Madrid are the other half of the El Clasico rivalry that feels completely relaxed and confident heading into the second league meeting between the two teams this season.
Does a body of work that has been built over four years suddenly crumble because of two disappointing results? No. Only when you’re looking to cause some sensationalism. Barcelona might be in some sort of mini-crisis, with two teams (Milan & Real Madrid) that simply figured out how to defend very well against Barca – closing down Lionel Messi and not giving up too much space for the rest of the players.
It’s not that they were shut down completely – it’s just that the players that were given space to preform couldn’t make the most of the situation, at least in the Real Madrid match. Cesc Fabregas had some low moments early in the season before finding himself as a starting regular under Tito Vilanova and leading the La Liga in assists. His lack of focus every time he touched the ball was one of the reasons Barcelona struggled to create chances against Real Madrid, being the one player that had more space than others to operate in.
And there’s the Lionel Messi issue which people love to focus on, but until Jordi Roura gets some sense and makes some changes to the way Barcelona play – meaning adjustments, that according to everyone close to the team, are a Tito Vilanova specialty, even during his time as an assistant for Pep Guardiola. Lionel Messi to the wing, David Villa in the lineup or Javier Mascherano instead of Sergio Busquets. Both Roura and Andres Iniesta admitted that some changes and some injection of energy needs to be made, not just for the league Clasico in a couple of days, but more importantly to the match against AC Milan in the Champions League.
And Real are thinking the same thing – Xabi Alonso might not play, or at least not start, due to a problematic groin. Angel Di Maria is suspended, and Karim Benzema might not be available as well. Real Madrid want to win the Clasico, but beating Manchester United at the Old Trafford is a much more important goal, and although some fans don’t view the matter in the same way (rivalry above anything for some), losing in the Clasico in order to give everyone the rest they need for the Old Trafford match is what Mourinho would like to see.
Xavi and Cesc Fabregas are also in doubt, playing with painkillers against Real on Tuesday. Real Madrid, regardless of who’s going to show up this weekend at the Santiago Bernabeu are confident, believing for the first time that despite the difference in the league table, they’re the better team, finding the code to crack the Barcelona formula over time.
And Barcelona? It’s a matter of adapting and willing to make a change. Of getting out of apparent depression and stagnation in their style and passing. The championship is already in their pockets, the Copa Del Rey something they won’t manage to achieve this season. The Clasico is the key to their biggest aspiration, the Champions League, and unlocking whatever it is that’s keeping their best football off of the pitch.