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Three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Barcelona



Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Over the years, El Clasico has seen a serious fluctuation in its importance and brand value. Once considered the biggest game in world football featuring the two best players in the world going head to head, it lost its charm towards the end of the last decade.

Now, the rivalry seems set to begin again as both Barcelona and Real Madrid phase into their next generation. Both teams have some of the brightest young talents alongside a solid veteran core, and the clash on Sunday night will be nothing less than a feast for the eyes.

Both teams are coming off draws in the Champions League, yet their situation is far from the same. Barcelona’s draw came with serious implications, while that of the hosts was a result bearing no weight.

Both teams will be gunning for a three-point lead over their arch-rivals at the Bernabeu. Yet, it is Real Madrid who will have the slight edge, given the game is at their den.

Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of El Clasico.

1. A vulnerable prey

It is commonly said that the form of a team is never a decisive factor in El Clasico. History has seen numerous occasions when a struggling side has stepped out on the night and produced fireworks, and Barcelona’s 4-0 win at the Bernabeu last season is an example of the same.

Yet, one cannot help but notice the poor form, awful run of results and desolate mentality that Barcelona are in. Having lost back-to-back Champions League fixtures against Inter Milan in the last two weeks, the Catalans are virtually eliminated from the competition they aimed to win.

Further, their last two league games have also been far from convincing. In their last outing against Celta Vigo, Xavi’s side were lucky to get away with a win, for it was the Galician side that dominated and created more chances in a one-sided second half.

The Clasico will undoubtedly be evenly balanced, as has always been the case. However, if Los Blancos can push and score the opening goal quickly, one can expect the Blaugrana side to collapse completely, given their fragile mental state.

2. Crucial night for the defence

Carlo Ancelotti has a squad close to full strength for the game against Barcelona but is missing one key player in Thibaut Courtois. The Belgian has always stepped up on the big nights and has come particularly good in every recent Clasico he has played.

With the former Chelsea man unavailable on the night, there will be pressure on Real Madrid’s defence to step up and cover the void.

The forward line of Robert Lewandowski, Ousmane Dembele and Raphinha will quite clearly be the toughest opposition Los Blancos have faced this season.

If one considers that Xavi has the likes of Ferran Torres and Ansu Fati on the bench in addition to his gala forward line, it becomes clear as to why the Clasico is the biggest test so far for Real Madrid’s defence.

Ancelotti hinted in his press conference that Eder Militao, David Alaba and Antonio Rudiger would all play on the night. The spotlight will be on the trio to see if they can contain the ruthless Barcelona forwards.

3. A chance worth its weight in gold

The domestic league has always been a waiting game between the two or three main contenders. As every week passes, all a team can do is win their match and hope for their rivals to drop points.

It is only twice in the season that Real Madrid have it in their hands to take points away from Barcelona and assure a three-point advantage. Tomorrow is the first such night of the season.

Barcelona currently sit in first place on the league standings, only above Real Madrid on goal difference. Both teams are unbeaten domestically and have won seven of their eight games.

At the Santiago Bernabeu, Carlo Ancelotti’s side can take a solid three-point lead over their arch-rivals with a solid and clinical performance. However, any other result would see them stuck in second place.

Given the strong squads both teams possess, it would be unrealistic is expect either to drop points. Thus, the result of the two Clasico’s this season could be decisive in crowning La Liga’s champions for 2022-23.

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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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