Barcelona host Real Madrid in Copa Clasico first leg

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 28: Players of Barcelona and of Real Madrid line up prior the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou on October 28, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 28: Players of Barcelona and of Real Madrid line up prior the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou on October 28, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images) /

The latest instalment of El Clasico is almost upon us in what could be a seismic clash between the two heavyweights.

Barcelona were drawn with Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey in a clash that neutrals and fans of the two clubs alike were hoping for due to it adding two more instalments of the heated rivalry to the fixture schedule. The two sides have had contrasting seasons up until this point so the overall result could be key in boosting Real’s morale ahead of the crucial Champions League knockout stages or continuing Barcelona’s momentum into the latter stages of the season.

The Catalans come into this match with only two losses in the last 17 matches and both of those didn’t matter in the long run as they were to overcome the deficit in the second leg of those Copa del Rey ties. Six goals have been conceded in the last five matches, though, so the defence needs to start tightening up. Against Valencia, Barca looked particularly vulnerable in central areas to organised counter-attacks from the opposition, which is a worry.

Real have finally started to hit form under Santiago Solari with five consecutive wins in all competitions. However, they did concede five goals during that period so they haven’t been able to address the defensive leakiness that has been a constant issue during Solari and his predecessor Julen Lopetegui’s tenure. They are still eight points behind Barcelona in the league so they have a tough task on their hands to overcome that.

Recent history has been mixed with Barcelona winning five and Real victorious three times out of the last 10 matches. The home team has only won three times during those matches so the atmosphere doesn’t usually play a significant part in the outcome of the result, which is probably due to the experience and talent of the players. Barca have had some stunning results during this period as they have won 4-0 and 3-0 at the Bernabeu as well as 5-1 at Camp Nou in the last encounter.

Ernesto Valverde has largely stuck with the traditional 4-3-3 formation this season, although he has made occasional tweaks to address specific areas and negate certain player’s weaknesses such as making Ivan Rakitic play deeper than Sergio Busquets would in the defensive midfield role due to his weak press resistance.

The priority will be to dominate possession and maintain pressure on a back line that has looked weak this season. Sergio Reguilon is likely to start over Marcelo in the left-back position so they can target that area and take advantage of his inexperience. Lionel Messi is a doubt for this match, but in Ousmane Dembele, who has just returned from injury, they have the perfect player to exploit this.

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Solari also favours the 4-3-3 formation which has been Real’s usual system in recent seasons. His style is closer to Zinedine Zidane’s side than Lopetegui due to the focus on exploiting the wings by creating overloads and packing the box. His faith in youth has paid off as players such as Vinicius Junior, Reguilon and Federico Valverde have thrived in the opportunities they have been given. A counter-attacking set-up could be dangerous due to how high up the pitch Barcelona’s full-backs play and space they leave behind them.

The Copa del Rey is the least of Barcelona’s priorities this season, however, the nature of this rivalry means that the strongest XI has to be played as bragging rights and pride are also at stake. Los Blancos will be desperate to avenge the humiliating loss earlier in the season, so they will certainly be up for this match.

Barca are set to be without Rafinha, Samuel Umtiti and Jasper Cillessen due to injury, while Messi is a doubt. Valverde does have the option of playing Philippe Coutinho, Luis Suarez and Dembele as a front three which should pose plenty of problems for Real’s back line. Solari has a strong squad available as they will only be without Luca Zidane and Jesus Vallejo. Toni Kroos has recently returned from injury which is a huge boost.

Next. Thomas Vermaelen has turned out to be a reliable defender. dark

Whether Messi is involved is the key factor for this match, but without him, this is likely to be a close, tightly contested clash. Valverde will have to be wary of the threat Real pose down the wings and Nelson Semedo would be much more suitable for this match than Sergi Roberto as he can help nullify Vinicius Junior. Arthur will be another key player due to how he can help Sergio Busquets retain possession and set the tempo of the match.