A must win game for Real Madrid and that too would be against Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu, where they are yet to beat the Catalans since 2014……

 

It would be one of those days when the tension would kill you each minute as soon as the day commences. You would not be able to concentrate a hundred percent on anything until the match starts at night. As soon as the match would start, the nerves would start to calm down, but deep down you would not be able to settle until you see your favourite team leaves the stadium with a winning note.

For the fans of Real Madrid and Barcelona, an El Clasico day is not just a football match, but more than that. For a while, the unrest and crisis situations of world and day life would be forgotten – Real Madrid and Barcelona would help to heal the pains and miseries of football fans all over the worldwide and that is why we love to say that football is the game of the people!

In the last decade, Barcelona had the edge over Real Madrid in the battle of El Clasico. On April 10, 2010, Real faced Barca for the first time in the last decade. Lionel Messi and Pedro gifted Santiago Bernabeu sadness, while in the following year on November 29, at Camp Nou, Real were thrashed by the Catalans. And before the decade started, the pain of 6-2 drubbing at Bernabeu on May 2, 2009, still haunted the Los Blancos throughout the decade. Real Madrid did have many unforgettable memories in the last decade, but in the El Clasico, Messi and co had the edge most of the time.

Tough challenge

Things were looking very comfortable for Real Madrid with the club on a 20-match unbeaten run and winning the Supercopa de Espana.  After smooth-sailing for a few months, the boys of Zinedine Zidane have discovered themselves in that position where they were found wanting since Ronaldo left in the eventful summer of 2018. The recent defeat against Manchester City in the Champions League in just five minutes have added more miseries to the previous ones – defensive fragility and the lack of a goal scorer have been creating a headache for Zidane.

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On Sunday, it would be Barcelona’s time to travel to Santiago Bernabeu. With the progression of time, many things have changed. Bernabeu would not witness the rivalry between Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and right now, Bernabeu is not the fort of Los Blancos anymore.

Zidane does not have a safety net!

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Zidane witnessed injuries ravage his squad and results have slipped of late, with Barcelona, despite their ongoing off-pitch crisis, sitting back at the top of the table. With 13 games remaining and Barcelona leading Real Madrid by 2 points, El Clasico at the Bernabeu could be pivotal in deciding the most compelling La Liga title race for years – Zidane knows very well that anything other than a victory would be a potentially damaging one.

Lack of goal scorers

Of late, Real Madrid’s biggest problem has been scoring goals. So far, Karim Benzema has been their potential goal scorer with others lending a helping hand at times if not regularly. Obviously, not in every match, Sergio Ramos or Casemiro would not score. Scoring goals is always the responsibility of the players upfront.

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At the start of the season, Benzema had been brilliant – scored13 goals in the first 16 league games, masking the team’s overall deficiencies inside the penalty area. But later on, Benzema could score only one league goal since Christmas – an important one, winning last month’s local derby against Atletico Madrid – and none of the team’s other forwards have been productive – excluding penalties no other Real player has scored more than three league goals. Sergio Ramos is the team’s second-highest scorer with 5, but 3 of those came from the spot.

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Moreover, the singings of players like Luka Jovic and Eden Hazard proved less productive. As a matter of fact, less productive signings and Real Madrid are not synonymous. But in the last two seasons, this has been the reality.

A strong backline

Without a doubt, Real Madrid’s backline has been more or less impressive than last season. The presence of Casemiro gives them the extra edge. Even though in the last couple of matches, during transitions, their defence looked vulnerable under counterattack, still they could be relied upon. The best thing would be to play Ferland Mendy instead of Marcelo. Marcelo’s experience has a huge value, but his over-attacking intent more often left spaces for the opposition to exploit.

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Real Madrid can no longer trust Dani Carvajal. In the last 3 matches now – all of which Carvajal has started in and played the full 90 minutes – Real Madrid has not won. Someone with pace can easily outclass him –Raheem Sterling did it the other day. Barcelona does have players to undermine him.

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Then, Carvajal struggled when marking Gabriel Jesus and could not keep hold of the ball with Pep’s side pressing relentlessly in the first half.

It would be better if they start with Eder Militao, Ramos, Raphael Varane and Mendy.

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Militao is a much better defender than Carvajal and can feature as a right-back as well.

Meanwhile, yet another challenge waiting for Thibaut Courtois to prove his worth.

After a rough start, he has delivered better.

The frontline must act

The key to success in high-voltage matches such as El Clasico, the best way to take the upper hand is by having an electrifying start and which can be achieved only by scoring goals as early as possible – because this would allow the opposition to attack and leaves, which could be exploited smartly by the midfield.

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Yet, again, Benzema needs to rediscover his lost mojo and he would need the support of others. In the match against City, Vinicius Junior played a crucial role upfront to create opportunities. It would be ideal to play him full 90 minutes as he strikes the right chord behind a striker. Also, he has the ability to dominate the flanks and outweighs the opposition wing-backs. Maybe he has not yet mastered the ability to score goals regularly, but that would come sooner – The El Clasico might be his match to relish.

Midfield – pass the ball fast and maintain compactness

In one of the most important matches of this season, Zidane decided to bench Toni Kroos, who has been the leader at the center of the park for more than five years now. Until City’s arrival at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, the No.8 hadn’t missed any Champions League game other than the rest he was afforded at Club Brugge, and he hadn’t missed a match of such importance since March 2018.

Back then, Kroos was left out against Paris Saint-Germain with Casemiro and Mateo Kovacic forming the axis in the middle, while Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez held down the flanks.

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It was a decision that very few people understood, while Zidane said, it was a ‘technical decision’. Also, his decision to exclude the in-form Rodrygo Goes more than once in the last six matchday squads remains quite surprising.

Zidane is experimenting with his rotation policies, but this plan seems rigid and what Real Madrid would require is flexibility and in the midfield, he would need it the most.

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The presence of Kroos in midfield is a must because he sets the tempo and dictates the term from the center of the park. His presence has proven essential to Madrid; his 5 goals have come from him being closer to the box. He had 21 shots so far this term, which he’s only managed in 2016/17 previously in a season that saw Los Blancos emerge as Spanish and European champions.

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Zidane might go with a diamond-shaped midfield with Isco playing at the top just behind the two forwards, and just behind him the combination of Kroos, Casemiro, and Fede Valverde would prove productive enough – their cocktail of compactness and smart-but-fast-passing would be the need of the day.

But whether Kroos would feature or not still remains a mystery and all of a sudden a lot of speculations are going on.

Zidane must end it!

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