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Three talking points ahead of Barcelona vs Real Madrid



Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images

Real Madrid travel to Barcelona to play at Spotify Camp Nou for the first time in close to 14 months on Sunday night. While the stadium has been a Catalan fortress for a long time, the Merengues have sweet memories of recent games.

Los Blancos‘ have won their last three Clasicos at the venue and are unbeaten in five appearances. Their last defeat at Camp Nou came in 2018 in a 5-1 humbling involving a Luis Suarez hat-trick.

Ancelotti has lost his last two El Clasicos, going down 3-1 in the Spanish Supercup before narrowly missing out 1-0 in the first leg of the Copa Del Rey semifinal. Sunday’s clash thus becomes crucial when seen from a psychological standpoint.

Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Barcelona vs Real Madrid.

1. Anti-Araujo plan

Ronald Araujo is considered one of the best defenders on the planet currently. The Urugayan’s combination of pace, physique and technique makes him a special player, and he is one who has tormented Real Madrid in recent games.

While the defender has usually operated as a centre-half for Barcelona, his role in Clasicos has been different. Xavi Hernandez tasks the youngster with stopping Vinicius Jr at right-back, a task that even the best in the business tremble before. Yet, Araujo has done so effectively.

Speaking ahead of his team’s trip to Catalonia, Carlo Ancelotti addressed his men’s struggles against Araujo and revealed that he had a plan in mind to combat his presence.

The anti-Araujo formula will thus be critical on the night. Vinicius Jr is the Merengues‘ most important player in the final third, and it will be crucial to increase his involvement on the night if the visitors are to take all three points.

2. The midfield muddle

Who to start, who to bench? (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images)

The midfield question is a repeated theme in every Clasico. Barcelona’s transition to a younger and more dynamic midfield in recent seasons has often posed a steep challenge to Real Madrid’s ageing core, and it thus becomes vital to strike the balance.

The dilemma in the middle of the park begins at the pivot position where both Eduardo Camavinga and Auerlien Tchouameni demand the starting place.

The former Rennes player has been spectacular in recent games and even dominated the proceedings against Liverpool earlier this week. Tchouameni, on the other hand, has done little wrong and will be itching to start after spending most of the last game on the bench.

There might be a remote possibility for Ancelotti to deploy both French youngsters together, although it is a combination that has not featured much so far.

The question of the veterans forms the next crux point. Starting both Luka Modric and Toni Kroos against Barcelona’s young legs might not prove to be a wise idea. In such a situation, it remains to be seen as to which player starts on the bench and whether the likes of Dani Ceballos come in to fill the third place in midfield.

3. A Clasico with consequences

Barcelona host Real Madrid on Sunday with two of their biggest stars, Pedri and Ousmane Dembele, both absent.

The dynamic duo was expected to return in time to play the weekend’s clash but both suffered relapses, keeping them out of action. Considering the latest development, Los Blancos have the upper hand on the night.

Sunday’s clash is more than a normal game of football for the result it harbours can have massive implications. A win for Barcelona will make them the runaway leaders with 12 points while a victory for Ancelotti’s men will take them within six points of their rivals.

It thus becomes crucial for Real Madrid to turn up on the night if there is to be any hope left in the league race. A dominant win at Spotify Camp Nou could virtually halt Barcelona’s winning momentum and put pressure on them to force slip-ups.

The defending champions are on a good run of form, knocking Liverpool out of the UCL and recording a strong win over Espanyol in the league. Having lost their last two encounters against Barcelona, the drive to succeed on Sunday will be at an all-time high.

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Goals, energy, leadership: Three things Bellingham can offer to Real Madrid



Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

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.

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.

Goal machine. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

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.

Youthful energy

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.

Captain material. (Photo by INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images)

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.

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