The season’s first Clásico is upon us.
Barcelona and Real Madrid were meant to have locked horns months ago but the game was rescheduled because the Spanish authorities were concerned about protests in Catalunya. The delay has only ratcheted up the anticipation for what is still the biggest game in club football, as both sides are now neck-and-neck at the top of La Liga, separated only by a minor goal difference.
What do we think will happen?
1. Lionel Messi to make it 50, yet again
Leo Messi loves playing Real Madrid. The Argentine forward not only repeatedly puts in fantastic performances against Barcelona’s arch-rival, but he also scores against them. Like, a lot. No one has scored more in the history of El Clásico than Messi. Barcelona’s no. 10 has notched 26 times against Los Blancos, 18 of which have come in La Liga.
Leo Messi also loves scoring 50 goals for club and country in a calendar year. In fact, he’s only failed to hit the half-century mark once in the last decade, and that was in 2013 when serious injury meant he only managed a measly 45. He is currently sitting on 49 for 2019 and after being held scoreless by Real Sociedad, will be eager to mark another half-century.
You do the maths.
2. Karim Benzema to torture the Blaugrana
Karim Benzema has been electric so far this season. The Frenchman looks like he’s having the time of his life as the focal point of Real Madrid’s attack after so many years being the point-man for Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Frenchman currently has 12 goals in La Liga. No one has more; he’s level with Messi atop the Pichichi standings and lags just one assist behind him, too. These days, Benzema looks as lean and mean as he ever has in Madrid white. He’s moving freely, quickly, sharply. He’s dropping deep, drifting wide, pushing forward into the box. He’s linking attacks and creating chances and scoring them, too.
And Benzema has a habit of playing brilliantly against Barcelona. He’s not always been the most reliable finisher against them with some pretty enormous misses to go along with his nine goals against the Catalans, but in terms of performances he’s routinely tortured Gerard Piqué and Co. So you can expect him to do that yet again.
3. Frenkie vs. Fede will be decisive
The Barcelona and Real Madrid midfield set-ups have been rejuvenated this season by two young midfielders whose names both begin with F. Of course, Frenkie de Jong and Fede Valverde have wildly different stories and styles of play, but they are emerging as key men for their new sides.
Valverde is the energy that Madrid’s midfield sorely needs and, along with Casemiro, the legs to cover for Toni Kroos. Frenkie meanwhile is whatever Ernesto Valverde asks him to be; the Dutchman is that good he’s played several roles already in his short career in Catalunya.
Them locking horns is inevitable. Neither shirks defensive duty and as the most athletic midfielders for their respective sides are most likely to break forward into the opposing boxes. In fact, whichever one of these youngsters comes out on top could go a long way to deciding the game.
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4. Vinicius, Rodrygo and Ansu will change the game
One thing you wouldn’t have expected to unite two of the biggest club sides on planet earth was their reliance on teenage wingers, but that’s where we are.
Rodrygo and Vinicius Jr. have both had moments of magic for Madrid, with Rodrygo a potent goalscorer (he has a Champions League hat-trick to his name) and Vinicius a bundle of skill and speed who has previously tortured Barcelona.
Ansu Fati, meanwhile, emerged this season as a 16-year-old and scored on his debut. He then became the youngest ever goalscorer in Champions League history with a supreme goal in the San Siro against Inter.
Basically, these kids are gamechangers. And while all three are likely to start on the bench in the Clásico, don’t be surprised to see them come off the bench to dramatically swing the tide of the match towards their team for however brief a period. They will change the game.
5. Griezmann will be key to a historic Barcelona victory
A win for Barcelona (or a draw) would see the Catalans equal the longest-ever unbeaten streak in La Liga Clásico history; the record currently stands at seven games and is shared by Real Madrid from the 1930s and Barcelona for the first three years of Pep Guardiola’s reign. Could Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona (with an assist from Luis Enrique) join these illustrious ranks? They have the forwards to do it.
Obviously Messi is unreal, but Luis Suárez is one of the greatest strikers in Barcelona’s history. He also loves to show up against Real Madrid. The Uruguayan has 11 goals in El Clásico and had turned the tide of more than one game against Los Blancos.
In this upcoming Clásico, you can expect Suárez to fight like hell against Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane. However as the Madrid men know so much about him, and as Suárez is declining physically, they will be better placed to stop him than they ever have been.
However, with Suárez being an elite link man, this will only open up the chance for Antoine Griezmann to truly make his mark at Barcelona. The Frenchman has endured a quiet start to life in Catalunya, scoring just seven times and assisting an additional four. But he is a fiend for big games, especially against Real Madrid.
The Frenchman has scored eight career goals against Los Blancos, making them his second favourite opponent behind just Rayo and Celta Vigo. And with Suárez drawing all of Varane and Ramos’ attention, you can bet Griezmann will be the one to sneak in on the blindside, land the decisive blow in this most epic of matches and finally begin forging his Barcelona legend.