Three Barcelona players Real Madrid must look out for ahead of El Clasico
It’s that time of the year when the entire footballing world stops to watch arguably the biggest clash in the game. The first El Clasico of the season is just a day away as Real Madrid host Barcelona in what could turn out to be an important clash for so many reasons.
Barcelona come to Santiago Bernabeau as league leaders tied on points with Real Madrid after having played eight games. Both the La Liga giants are unbeaten in the league with seven wins and a draw a piece and will look to inflict the first loss of the season in the competition on one another.
Barcelona come into this game with a point to prove. They are on the brink of group-stage elimination from the Champions League for a second season in a row following their 3-3 draw against Inter Milan and no longer have their fate in their own hands.
It has been a disappointing few days for a team from whom much was expected at the beginning of the season. And Real Madrid have the chance to inflict more pain on Barça and will be looking to end the Catalan club’s unbeaten run in the league and reclaim their spot as the La Liga leaders.
Real Madrid are also coming into this game on the back of a draw against Shakhtar Donetsk with a late, bloody Antonio Rudiger goal helping the Spanish club salvage a point. However, Carlo Ancelotti’s men are better placed in the Champions League, having qualified to the next round.
Irrespective of what has happened in the Champions League, both teams have been excellent in the league so far. Barcelona are on a seven-match winning run in La Liga and have scored the most goals (20) and conceded the least (1) so far. Real Madrid have four wins from their last five games in the league with their only draw of the season coming against Osasuna.
All this sets us up for an enthralling clash on Sunday when the two clubs face off. Xavi’s men emerged as 4-0 winners the last time Barcelona faced Real Madrid in the league and they also emerged as 1-0 winners in the pre-season friendly thanks to a Raphinha winner.
The Catalans have a squad packed with top stars across the pitch who can cause problems for Real Madrid. In particular, Carlo Ancelotti will have to be wary of these three Barcelona players for the game on Sunday.
The leading goal scorer in La Liga this season, Robert Lewandowski has picked up from where he left off in the Bundesliga. The Polish superstar’s six-match goal-scoring streak came to an end against Celta Vigo against whom he could not find the back of the net but he was one of Barcelona’s better performers in the Inter Milan draw midweek, scoring a brace.
The 34-year-old striker, who seems to be showing absolutely no signs of slowing down, has scored nine goals and provided two assists in eight league games. Lewandowski will be crucial to Barcelona’s chances on Sunday and Real Madrid will need to shut him out of the game and minimalize his influence.
Even though Antonio Rudiger has recovered from the injury he sustained against Shakhtar, Ancelotti is likely to line up with a centre-back pairing of Eder Militao and David Alaba and the duo will have to be at their absolute best to stop the Polish marksman. With Thibaut Courtois also ruled out, Lewandowski will be fancying his chances against Andriy Lunin.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen
Arguably Barcelona’s best player this season, the German shot-stopper seems to be back to his very best. Ter Stegen has made save after save to bail the league leaders out on a number of occasions this campaign and it is largely down to him that Xavi’s men have conceded just a single goal in the league so far.
The 30-year-old shot-stopper has seven clean sheets so far and is leading the Zamora Trophy charts. Ter Stegen was an absolute wall against Celta Viga last weekend and was the main reason why the Catalan club emerged out of the game with three points against their name.
However, the shot-stopper who is usually very good with the ball at his feet, misplaced quite a few passes against Celta last weekend when pressed high. And Karim Benzema & co. might look to take advantage of this fact and try and pressurize the German into making rash decisions.
Frenkie de Jong
A player who has been having a curious season with Barcelona, Frenkie de Jong seems to have lost his starting berth to Gavi in Xavi’s team. However, the Dutch midfield maestro made a sensational return from injury against the Nerazzurri and was one of Barcelona’s best players during his time on the pitch.
There is a high chance that Xavi chooses to start the 25-year-old in the holding midfield role in place of Sergio Busquets and Frenkie will have a point to prove. He has been impressive in the limited opportunities he has received this season and a good showing against Real Madrid will go a long way in him gaining Xavi’s trust.
Everyone knows about the Dutchman’s exceptional ball-carrying abilities and the Los Blancos midfield and defence will need to be wary of the dangerous runs that he makes, both with and without the ball.
However, if Barcelona indeed play Frenkie as a six, there will be space for Real Madrid to attack every time the Dutchman goes forward and Ancelotti’s men could look to exploit this. The midfield could be the area where this match is won or lost and how Real Madrid handle de Jong could go a long way in influencing the result.
Goals, energy, leadership: Three things Bellingham can offer to Real Madrid
Real Madrid have been notoriously heavy spenders in the summer transfer market in the past but have not spent an awful lot over the last few seasons due to financial restrictions and their team finding its peak at the right time.
Real Madrid did shell out close to €100 million for Aurelien Tchouameni last year, and got Eduardo Camavinga in the summer of 2021 for around €400 million, too.
It does seem like they have a huge summer planned ahead of them, though. The club plans to splash some cash on multiple positions, including centre-forward, right-wing, central midfield, and across the defence.
Some targets are laid out for these positions, with Kylian Mbappe naturally being on the list.
However, one definite target for Madrid that’s been well-established already is Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham. His price tag is set at around €100-140 million, and Los Blancos are among the teams leading the race for his signature, alongside Manchester City and Liverpool.
The Englishman has an obviously high ceiling and is already among the best players in his position in Europe. Moreover, he adds depth across various skillsets and attributes that Real Madrid currently lack or will lack as the clock marches on.
Madrid Universal explores three different things Bellingham can bring to the table for an already talented Galacticos side.
Goals from midfield
Despite not playing an advanced role, Bellingham is a rather experienced poacher in the box. This comes with his thorough understanding of offensive routines, and timing his runs to perfection in the box.
Being 6’1″ and physically gifted, the teenager can attack crosses and passes into the box with ease. He boasts of a rather impressive leap as well, which was more than visible during the World Cup, when he opened the scoring against Iran.
Goal – JUDE BELLINGHAM— masih miness (@WorldCup__id) November 21, 2022
England 1-0 Iran (34 mins) pic.twitter.com/CkCxl45mU1
The English midfielder has scored four goals in the league for Dortmund, and has accumulated an xG of 5.25 across the season. That is nearly two more than Madrid’s highest scoring midfielder – Luka Modric.
Currently, Madrid’s goals are rather lopsidedly dependent on the forward line, with Toni Kroos and Modric just chipping in with a combined six goals in the league out of a possible 51.
While both players, and Camavinga, are adept at shooting from range, neither quite provide the box threat or the third-man runs Madrid are currently craving for.
Once Karim Benzema or Vinicius Jr are boxed out of the game, Carlo Ancelotti’s side struggle with ideas, and are often stuck in a pattern of crossing and hoping for the best.
And even with that, Bellingham could prove to be an excellent solution to their problems, coming up with late runs into the box and attacking crosses and loose balls.
Far too many times this season, Ancelotti has been criticised for using Modric and Kroos in the same midfield. Especially when their bench holds the likes of Camavinga, Dani Ceballos, and sometimes even Federico Valverde.
However, it is clear that these players have been delegated to certain roles in midfield. Camavinga and Tchouameni shuffle as pivot options, while Ceballos is called upon add more creativity in the centre of the park.
Bellingham, while far from the best ball retainer, certainly has energy and lungs for days. He can run from box to box, receive and turn in a crowded midfield, and chase the ball till the 90.
While they have Valverde in a similar mould, the Uruguayan has been tasked with running the right-wing more often than not, at least under Ancelotti. It will be interesting to see how another coach would utilise both players to their respective strengths should the transfer go through.
Long-term captaincy candidate
At 19, Bellingham has already shown signs of becoming a captain for any side he plays for, for years to come. He has donned the armband for Dortmund several times this season already, and was first awarded with it in October, becoming the youngest captain in Bundesliga history.
Currently, he holds the position of third captain for Dortmund, behind Marco Reus and Mats Hummels, but has already held the armband multiple times, including twice in the UEFA Champions League.
While Madrid have a fair few leaders in their ranks, including and not limited to the likes of Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, and David Alaba, Bellingham has clearly proved that he is not only capable of taking on a leadership role, but also spearheading any side for years to come.
If all works out, the price tag of €120+ million will soon start to pale in comparison to the attributes he brings to the table alongside his unbelievably high ceiling and longevity.