Geraldo ‘TATA’ Martino cannot believe his eyes. The Newell’s Old boys all-time great was chosen to replace the ailing Tito Vilanova in August and he has settled in well to be honest. Like fellow Argentine, Cesar Luis Menotti aka ‘El Flaco’, the man who led Paraguay to the Copa America Final in 2011 as well as the quarter-final of the World Cup a year earlier, has brought his own ideas and style to Catalunya. His tinkering of the squad has been hailed by many as a master stroke and up till now, it working like magic. Only four draws in all competitions while other matches have been won convincingly is an absolutely superb record. He would never have dreamt of this kind of start. The Catalans had won all their games until the stalemate in Pamplona last weekend put an end to their perfect record. Atletico Madrid also lost to Espanyol immediately after. Real Madrid defeated Malaga and cut the deficit on both sides to three and two respectively. Two of the greatest teams in history go head to head in the first Clasico of the season with both having managers who have never been involved in this kind of game. Tata Martino and Carlo Ancelotti may have overseen many derbies in their careers to date, but they are aware that none has been/can be as big as EL CLASICO. The Argie and Italian tacticians have enjoyed a great deal of success with teams they have handle in the past. Nevertheless, they are where they have always dreamed of since they were kids. To manage Barcelona and Real Madrid is the pinnacle of anyone’s career. The best thing that can happen in the life of an human being whose desire is to manage, career is coaching and ambition is to be the greatest of all time. Last season, Real Madrid had the better of Barcelona in all competitions. But the Blaugrana won the league which is the most important thing. In Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Barca and Real boast the two best players in the WORLD. Both geniuses have 30 Clasico goals between them and they have decided many a Clasico with the Argentine most decisive in past contests between the giants. Just like Manchester United v Liverpool, Boca v River Plate, Milan V Juventus, Chiefs v Pirates, etc, this is the most anticipated game in La Liga every season and one of the most awaited all over the globe. Since 2008, No other player has scooped the WPOTY award asides CR7 and Messi, with the latter taking the last four. It is without doubt that Messi is the best player in the world. Ronaldo is the most complete footballer in the world without argument. His industry, hardwork, goals and everything he puts in just makes him a marvel anytime he comes out on the pitch. Messi on the other hand, is a wonderful sight to behold. He has turned enemies into admirers and haters into passionate fans. Being voted the best footballer in the world for four years running is something that was unthinkable until the diminutive goal machine achieved it last year. He has been a contender for the World’s biggest individual football honour since 2007. No one can boast of such a feat. He always shows up in every big game and today will not be an exception. If he scores today, he will stand alone as the highest goal scorer (19) in Clasico affairs – one ahead of the inimitable ALFREDO DI STEFANO (18). CR7 is not far behind on 12 and he has scored in RM’s last six visits to Camp Nou. A ground he has come to love after that unforgettable demolition in 2010. He silenced the Camp Nou crowd last year with a fantastic winner that sealed Real’s 32nd League title in style. Even though the press have Neymar and Bale as possible game changers today, Leo and CR7 have no equal and are the prime suspects anytime an offence is committed in a bionic manner. Xavi and Iker Casillas have played 50 La Liga Clasicos between them…25 apiece. Times have changed nowadays. San Iker is now a bench warmer and if not for respect, he would have found it hard to play any game in any competition. He has been relegated to the bench by the ever impressive Diego Lopez who has merited his place in the starting eleven. Xavi is no longer a certainty in the Barca first eleven with TATA choosing to rest him on occasions and make switches when he deems fit. He will likely feature today. What is unclear is whether he will start or come on as a sub. While the likes of Xavi, Iker, Ramos, Valdes, Iniesta, Messi, CR7. etc can boast of appearing in a lot of Clasicos, the same cannot be said of Gareth Bale and Neymar. Two of the most promising footballers of the last couple of years will play in their first ever Real-Barca duel this evening. While Neymar has settled in well, Bale has struggled for form and fitness and Angel Di Maria is keeping him out of the starting line up at the moment. Carlo has hinted that he will start the game. Who he will replace is what the Italian has kept to himself. He surely knows better than to keep ADM on the bench as he is one of the most in-form players in the world at the moment. Neymar scored loads and loads of goals for Pele’s Santos and he has done very well since his arrival, although only three goals have come from his boots until now. He has made lots of goals and it was his header at the Calderon that ensured Barca won the Super Coppa Espana on away goals. If Messi and CR7 choose to be quiet which is a rarity, then Neymar and Bale can take over the talismanic duties of the pair and steer their teams to victory in a match neither wants to lose. The likes of Batra, Casemiro, Carvajal, Jo Dos Santos, Isco, Illarramendi, and Nacho might also get a first taste of EL CLASICO today. The game could be won in Midfield, in attack or in defence. Barcelona have obvious weaknesses at the rear and Real Madrid are not better in that regard. In midfield, Barca have Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Alex Song and Fabregas. Real have got Alonso, Khedira, ILLARRA, Isco, Casemiro and Luka Modric. Balanced. We all know what both teams have in attack. While Barcelona will feel very confident with the form of Pedro, Alexis, Messi, Neymar and Tello, Real Madrid cannot say the same about Kartim Benzema who is supposed to be the major marksman. The Frenchman has not been at this best this season and Alvaro Morata is threatening to take his place in the team. One would have thought that the departure of Pipita Higuain and the coaching of Zizou may have galavanized him to greater heights. That hasn’t been the case. Save for some good games under his belt, all in all, he hasn’t been the marksman Real Madrid thought they had when he arrived from the Stade de Gerland. If he continues like this, Perez and co will spend. Falcao and Lewandowski have been linked and they score for fun. The return of Xabi Alonso is good news for everyone with close alliances with the capital club. One of the best deep lying playmakers in the World has been out of action for several months. This game might be too early for him to return as a starter. Having him on the bench will be excellent for Carlo and Zizou. Tata may not want to play the trio of XAVI-INIESTA-FABREGAS which means one must make do with a place among the subs. At the back, the question will be Pique and who? Puyol?, Batra?, Mascherano?. In attack, Messi, Neymar and……………..Pedro? Alexis? Tello? Those are his headache(s) at the moment.
Sergio Busquets can sleep well knowing fully well that he is certain to start for sure. This Clasico might be the best in recent memory if things go as expected
BARCELONA: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Adriano, Busquets, Xavi, Fabregas, Neymar, Messi, Alexis REAL MADRID: Lopez, Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Marcelo, Khedira, Modric, ILLARRA, CR7, Bale, ADM. Jordi Alba is still out of action meaning Adriano continues to deputise at left back. He might be the weak link but he is a useful outlet and a very good footballer who can score out of nothing. Messi will lead the line in an all South American frontline. Carlo Ancelotti might start CR7 as the main striker (even though we know he won’t stay there) with Bale on the right and Di Maria on the left. The Argentine prefers being on the right but will be happy just to start. The Italian might leave out ISCO again and continue with the Modric-ILLARRA-KHEDIRA trident.
Varane should start ahead of Pepe as the Portuguese is erratic at times. Ramos has deteriorated in recent times. He captains the team in Casillas’ continued absence. Marcelo is Real’s best left back and Carvajal may replace Arbeloa.
Written by Ohireime Eboreime
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