El Clásico is back for 2022 as Barcelona and Real Madrid get ready to face-off in the Supercopa de Espana semi-final.
Real Madrid won the first Clásico of the season, clinching a 2-1 victory at Camp Nou in one of Ronald Koeman’s final games in charge. Now Xavi has the reins in Catalunya and he will lock horns with Carlo Ancelotti for the first time.
The match will take place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which is bizarre for many reasons. Chief among them the country’s poor human right’s record and the fact that neither of the qualifying competitions (2020/21 La Liga and the 2020/21 Copa del Rey) took place in Saudi Arabia.
Still, the prospect of these two giants meeting in the Supercopa for the first time since 2017, when Real Madrid notched a monumental 5-1 aggregate victory over two legs, is tantalising. Not least because this new format is a single-legged knockout affair and whoever wins still has to deal with a final against either Atlético Madrid or Athletic Bilbao.
But who will win? Who will score? What else could happen? Here are five things we think will happen when Barcelona face Real Madrid in the semi-final of the 2021/22 Supercopa de Espana.
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1. Barcelona’s line-up will be:
Xavi’s start to life as Barcelona coach has been made so much more difficult as he has been without several key players through injury and illness. Chief among those absences has been young superstars Ansu Fati and Pedri, but others have missed time too and the start to the year has been particularly brutal.
However, on the eve of the Clásico Barcelona released a couple of tweets announcing that Ansu, Pedri, Frenkie de Jong, Ronald Araujo and new signing Ferran Torres have all been given medical clearance to play against Real Madrid.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) January 11, 2022
But given the late nature of the decisions it’s unlikely many will actually start, with only Ronald Araujo, who fractured his hand in the weekend draw with Granada, likely to take his place in the starting XI alongside Gerard Piqué at the heart of defence ahead of Marc-André Ter Stegen and between veteran duo Jordi Alba and Dani Alves.
Alves will be starting his second straight game since re-signing for the club and his quality on the ball will be key for Barcelona, but Araujo’s return will be a huge boost to their ability to defend and contain Madrid’s explosive attack.
In midfield Sergio Busquets will man the pivot spot for yet another classic battle against Luka Modric while, ahead of him, Nico and 17 year-old miracle child Gavi are likely to retain their places with Frenkie de Jong again coming off the bench to add dynamism in the second half.
Attack should be spearheaded again by Luuk de Jong who has scored two goals in his last two games and has bagged a goal against Real Madrid before. Either side of him you can expect to see wing-wonder Ousmane Dembélé and the hard-working Ferran Jutgla, with a lot of hope resting on Dembélé’s shoulders before the likes of Memphis Depay, Ansu, Ferran or Pedri are called from the bench.
2. Real Madrid’s line-up will be:
Real Madrid’s situation is much more stable and predictable. You can name nine of their starting XI without even thinking about it. Thibaut Courtois will continue to keep goal where he is arguably the world’s best, making key saves on a regular basis.
Eder Militao and David Alaba will be at the heart of defence, and while they aren’t the most solid duo they offer Madrid a lot of athleticism and Alaba in particular relishes playing Barcelona. The Austrian scored a stunner on his Clásico debut and don’t rule out him doing similar in the Supercopa. He’s sensational.
Ferland Mendy will be left-back, a solid defensive presence. Meanwhile midfield is the ageless trio of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro. The artist, the pass master and the tackle machine. Negotiating these three will be the biggest test of just how far along Xavi has developed Barcelona’s passing game because Madrid’s midfield is the gold standard in La Liga.
Up front the impossibly brilliant Karim Benzema leads the line, while electric Vinicius Jr plays on the left wing as his able and willing sidekick. Those two as a duo have outscored several La Liga teams this season and will look to terrorise the Barcelona back-line.
The only question-marks in the starting XI are right-wing and right-back, where Ancelotti will have to make decisions. At right-back it’s whether he goes with Lucas Vazquez or brings in Dani Carvajal who isn’t 100% fit yet. And then in right-wing he has to decide between Marco Asensio and Rodrygo to start, but both are quality options and whoever is on the bench will come on anyway.
3. Ansu the Super Sub
Barcelona’s resurrection under Xavi has been notable despite the injuries slowing the speed of change. No doubt Barcelona will look to dominate possession and may even do so for large stretches of the game, but their major issue again will be whether or not they can pose a credible goal threat. Their scorer from the earlier Clásico, Sergio Aguero, has since retired.
However, Barcelona have a goalscoring genius on the bench. Ansu Fati, a player so promising they handed him Lionel Messi’s no. 10 shirt at just 18 years of age, has seen his last two seasons blighted by injury but despite that and the poor coaching he’s still scored a healthy 1:2 ratio, with five goals from 10 games last season and four from eight so far this year. He is a natural goalscorer, which is more than you can say about Barcelona’s other prominent wing-forward Ousmane Dembélé who is more of a creative type without that killer touch.
Ansu won’t be fit to start, Xavi has admitted this much, but it’s highly likely that he comes off the bench and when he does, he will bring a goal threat with him the likes of which Barcelona will sorely be needing. In fact, such is Ansu’s prowess and goalscoring ability (he scored less than 10 minutes into his first Clásico), that he will definitely score when he comes off the bench and give Barcelona hope of glory (he’s 2/1 to net at anytime inside 90 minutes with Sky Bet).
4. Vinicius The Killer
While Karim Benzema is undoubtedly the best no. 9 in the world right now (sorry Robert, it’s true) he’s also the kind of player who can be kept relatively quiet by a top-class centre-back performance. Gerard Piqué essentially did this in the first Clásico of the season because he has played against Benzema so many times he was able to predict and neutralise his movements.
Vinicius Jr, however, is entirely different. His sheer pace makes him almost impossible to contain, even if a defender is playing well and he isn’t. And Barcelona will be deploying the 38-year-old Dani Alves up against him so even if Alves has him locked down for the most part all Vinicius has to do is get by him once and no way Alves can catch him.
Vinícius Júnior among players under 23-years-old in LaLiga in 2021:
◉ Most take-ons completed (84)
◉ Most chances created (48)
◉ =Most assists (6)
Worth every single penny. 👌 @LaLigaLowdown
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 7, 2022
The young Brazilian has an incredible 12 goals and four assists so far in La Liga this season and has exploded into being one of the world’s most dynamic attacking threats. And while the stupendously athletic Ronald Araujo being fit will go a long way to helping Barcelona actually defend Vinicius, there’s just no way they’ll be able to contain him for the whole game and the second he’s isolated on Alves or Piqué it’s game over. He’s far too sharp in his decision-making and finishing prowess to be stopped by a defence as rickety as Barcelona’s.
Whether he scores himself (13/10 in 90 minutes) or gets assists (3/1 in 90 minutes) instead, the game will end with young Vinicius as it’s most impactful forward and the Madrid player who will drive a stake into the heart of Barcelona’s Supercopa ambitions.
5. Madrid move forward to the final
While Barcelona have come a long way under Xavi, and for sure will be able to contest Madrid better than they have done ever since Ernesto Valverde left the club, it’s not likely to be enough.
Perhaps if Ansu, Pedri and new signing Ferran Torres were fully fit and ready to start, then you could see Barcelona possessing enough quality and punch to engage Real Madrid meaningfully. But none of them are ready for more than a cameo and as a result the Blaugrana are likely to be wanting for sharpness in the final third, and when Barcelona don’t have a goal threat the whole system falls apart.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, are a harmonious wonder right now. They’ve lost just once since October and are miles ahead of everyone else in Spanish football right now. They nearly always play well but even when they aren’t, Thibaut Courtois, Karim Benzema and Vinicius give them such massive quality at the sharp ends of the pitch that they can muddle their way through almost anyone.
This should be a competitive Clásico, with Barcelona finally showing serious signs of improvement, but it’s unlikely that they will have enough quality to stifle the juggernaut that is Real Madrid and you can expect Los Blancos to make it five consecutive Clásico victories (1/2 to reach the final) and march their way into the Supercopa de Espana final on Sunday where they will hope to win their second Supercopa in three years.