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Three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Athletic Club

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Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images

The month of April looks daunting for Real Madrid in both competitions that they are competing in. They face Manchester City twice in the month in the UCL while also taking on Barcelona and Real Sociedad in La Liga.

Tomorrow’s clash, which serves as the gateway to the decisive month, is a game no less in stature. After all, it sees the Merengues take on Athletic Club at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Carlo Ancelotti’s men have regrouped after the two-week international break and are raring to go for the final stretch of the season.

However, the coach has some big decisions to take ahead of the team’s upcoming clash, especially considering the additions and subtractions from the squad.

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

A key player missing

Placed closely behind Girona on the points table, Athletic Club are no pushovers. The Basque side have been in fine form this season and are in the finals of the Copa del Rey, to be played next week.

Carlo Ancelotti thus stares a big challenge in the eye, one that is further complicated when the absence of Vinicius Jr. is accounted for.

The 23-year-old has not had the best of relationships with match officials over the years. The period just before the international break was perhaps his worst record on that front.

Vinicius was booked in four straight games before the start of the international break. Three of the aforementioned bookings came in La Liga, and he is now set to miss tomorrow’s clash through suspension.

The Brazilian has carried Real Madrid’s attack in recent games, and largely, throughout the campaign. Vinicius has scored a stunning six goals in the team’s last four appearances alone, proving that he is their most potent force in attack.

To play Athletic Club without his magic on the field, needless to say, will be a challenge for Carlo Ancelotti’s side. The plan appears to be to field Brahim Diaz in his place tomorrow, and it remains to be seen if the Moroccan star can recreate the same threat in the final third.

Cleared the suspension

Bellingham returns after suspension. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images)

If Vinicius Jr misses tomorrow’s game through suspension, Los Blancos have an equally vital hero returning from the same abyss.

Jude Bellingham, who should have been Real Madrid’s hero at Mestalla for scoring a last-gasp winner, was unfairly sent off for protesting against the referee’s blatant error.

The price he paid for an honest argument was 180 minutes on the sidelines. The English phenom was suspended for two games and thus sat out the Galacticos’ clashes against Osasuna and Celta Vigo.

Tomorrow, he will return to the field in La Liga for the first time since the debacle in Valencia and will look to do so with a bang.

Returning to his role in the attacking midfield, Bellingham will pull the strings in the final third for Los Blancos tomorrow. With Vinicius out through injury, he will have an added responsibility on his shoulders to pull the team through.

All eyes, thus, will be on Real Madrid’s most in-form player this season and his ability to come back stronger after two games on the sidelines. After all, Manchester City is lurking right around the corner.

Eyeing the big fish

Of all the opponents Real Madrid could have conjured from the UEFA Champions League draw, Manchester City was the last name the dressing room would have hoped for.

Pep Guardiola’s side, after all, are one of the biggest favourites to take home the European title after Los Blancos. The quarterfinal will thus eliminate the favourites in what is a difficult situation for both teams.

The first leg against the Premier League giants will be played at the Bernabeu in just over a week after tomorrow’s game. Considering that the clash against Valverde’s side is the team’s final game before the big face-off, a lot rides on tomorrow’s result.

Real Madrid have not been impressive on the field in 2024 despite the results suggesting otherwise. Ancelotti’s men have scraped past the finish lines more often than not, and it is only in the last two games that they have begun showing dominance.

It is thus critical that the men in white deliver against Athletic Club. Not only the result but the manner in which they dismantle one of Spain’s best sides will go a long way in boosting the dressing room’s morale ahead of what is the team’s biggest game of the season.

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Features

Real Madrid 3-2 FC Barcelona – Player Ratings

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Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images

Still fatigued from their weary 120 minutes midweek against Manchester City, Real Madrid took on Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu earlier today in a fascinating clash.

Unlike the two previous games between the two sides this season, tonight’s Clasico was a very tight affair with both teams having their chances to steal the show. 

Andreas Christensen opened the scoring for Barcelona early in the night, giving the visitors the lead. A clean penalty conversion from Vinicius Jr, however, soon pulled one back for Los Blancos.

Fermin Lopez’s goal gave the Catalans the lead once more in the second period but the advantage was short-lived as Lucas Vazquez cut the deficit once more.

In the end, Jude Bellingham scored an injury-time winner for the men in white and Real Madrid got the result they required. The league title now appears written in their name.

Madrid Universal brings you the player ratings from El Clasico.

Andriy Lunin: 5

A relatively shaky night for the Ukrainian shot-stopper who never really looked confident with his saves. Was very poor in Andreas Christensen’s opener with his decision-making and came very close to conceding to a Lamine Yamal flick in the first half. 

Was directly at fault for the Blaugranas’ second goal of the night as he pushed the ball straight into the path of Fermin Lopez.

Lucas Vazquez: 10

A strong display from the Spanish full-back who once again showed that he is a potent force in the final third. Won the penalty for Real Madrid after some masterful trickery on the flank, setting up the team’s equaliser.

Found a stunning half-volley to stun Barcelona minutes after their second goal, levelling the scores once more. Was vital in the buildup for the team’s winner as well.

Sensational. (Photo by THOMAS COEX/AFP via Getty Images)

Aurelien Tchouameni: 6.5

The French centre-back was presumably chosen for his prowess in the air but was nowhere to be seen when Christensen netted Barcelona’s opener. Was regularly poor in defending against set pieces, especially at the far post.

Antonio Rudiger: 7

The German centre-back led the team’s defensive unit but was also far from his best on the night. Did not make any glaring mistakes, but fatigue is likely to have impacted his influence.

Eduardo Camavinga: 6

The young phenom started the game well and was a lively presence in the final third. However, he soon began to struggle to keep up with Barcelona’s Lamine Yamal who began running havoc down the flank.

Was caught napping for Yamal’s cross that set up Barcelona’s second goal of the night and was dribbled past twice. Replaced by Fran Garcia at the 70-minute mark.

Federico Valverde: 7

Real Madrid’s midfield machine was undoubtedly fatigued on the night, yet came out at the team’s most valuable asset off the ball.

Completed seven defensive actions and 92% of his passes, executing his duties well.

Toni Kroos: 8

Sitting deep in the defensive midfield, Kroos was instrumental in holding the fortress for Real Madrid on the break. Silky smooth as ever with his distribution and creativity, combined with some no-nonsense defending.

Luka Modric: 8

Showing his quality. (Photo by Florencia Tan Jun/Getty Images)

A good showing from the Croatian talisman who controlled the midfield alongside Kroos and Valverde throughout the first half. 

Jude Bellingham: 9

A much-improved performance from the Golden Boy who has been under scrutiny in recent weeks for his dip in form.

Bellingham was vital on the break for Real Madrid, dictating the attacking play of the team. He was immaculate with his passing range and completed 100% of his attempted dribbles.

Of all the Real Madrid players, Bellingham was likely the one who put in the biggest defensive shift when out of possession. Found the back of the net in emphatic fashion in the final minutes of the game to give his side the win.

Vinicius Jr: 8

Another Clasico goal. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP via Getty Images)

Not the Brazilian phenom’s best night on the grasses of the Santiago Bernabeu as he struggled to conjure up much on the counters. Regardless, he scored a vital penalty and even came close to assisting Rodrygo twice in the first half.

Laid the ball on a platter for Lucas Vazquez, setting up the team’s second goal.

Rodrygo Goes: 7

While Rodrygo did not enjoy too much freedom in the final third either, his runs between the lines often created problems for the visitors. Yet, one felt Real Madrid should have capitalised more on the 23-year-old’s presence in the final third.

SUBSTITUTES

Brahim Diaz: 7

Brought life to Real Madrid’s counterattacks after coming on, although he did not really get into the game considering Los Blancos’ defence-heavy strategy.

Fran Garcia: 7

Did relatively well to defend against Yamal, and demonstrated more defensive awareness than Camavinga.

Eder Militao: NA

Came on too late to make a tangible impact.

Joselu: NA

Came on too late to make a tangible impact.

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