Content Editor at Free Super Tips, Alex was born in the shadow of Old Trafford and is an avid Man Utd fan. After graduating from university he combined his love of football, writing and betting to join FST and now closely follows goings-on in all of the top European leagues.
The biggest game in world football takes place on Sunday as Barcelona take on Real Madrid at Camp Nou. Much of the talk surrounding the build-up to the game has been about who won’t be playing rather than who will. For the first time since Julio Baptista fired Los Blancos to a 1-0 win over their great rivals in 2007, the clasico takes place without either Leo Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, while it’s also the first in the era post Andres Iniesta and Xavi, two players who inspired Barca to many a victory in the fixture.
However there are still some fantastic players on show and there is a real chance for somebody to step up and be a hero. Clasico contributions, for better or worse, are rarely forgotten in a hurry and this weekend’s match may be in part decided by some key duels across the pitch. There will still be many clasico veterans on display but the likes of Arthur and Clement Lenglet are set to make their debuts in the fixture and there will certainly be a few nerves come kick-off on Sunday.
Here are five key duels to look out for in the first clasico of the season:
Read more – Barcelona vs Real Madrid predictions
Luis Suarez vs Sergio Ramos
The most entertaining duel to watch should be the one between Luis Suarez and Sergio Ramos. Both players have an eye for the theatrical and somewhat similar personalities which often only serves to wind the other up. Luis Suarez has largely managed to keep his emotions better in control since joining Barcelona but if any fixture and any opponent is going to make him lose his cool, it’s surely the clasico against Real Madrid and their skipper Sergio Ramos.
Over the course of Luis Suarez’s time in Barcelona, he has scored more clasico goals than any other player, which is some record given the illustrious company. That suggests he has had the better of his duels with Ramos but Los Blancos will need a big performance from their skipper if they are going to get a result on Sunday. The Spaniard hasn’t been great this season but he does have a real tendency to rise to the big occasion with significant contributions at both ends of the pitch during the recent history of this fixture.
Arthur vs Luka Modric
Don Arthur Melo, el nuevo Xavi. Con el en el campo se juega mucho mejor. También es mucho mejor que Luka Modric pero como no tiene marketing no es reconocido. pic.twitter.com/kkAnhZ1xT5
— Arde Mandriles (@Arde_Mandriles) October 4, 2018
This is another battle that should be fascinating to watch out for this weekend. Luka Modric hasn’t made a totally convincing start to the season and he’s by no means the only one in a Madrid shirt. However it has been a dream 2018 for the Croatian overall with a Champions League crown and a World Cup Final appearance already behind him. A big performance in the clasico would cement his status as a worthy Ballon d’Or winner.
He’s set to be in direct competition with Arthur, a player of similar qualities. The Brazilian has already drawn comparisons to Modric and Xavi thanks to a series of impressive displays but at 22 this will be by far his biggest test yet. How he handles the occasion will tell us a lot about his character but many in Barcelona already have no doubt that he is a player destined for the very top. If he can come out of this game having outshined Modric, then he will largely have ended any doubts that still remain. He is arguably the player with most to gain this weekend and if he can replicate his recent form, Barcelona stand a good chance of gaining control in midfield which should provide them with a platform to go on and win the game.
Jordi Alba vs Gareth Bale
Real Madrid really need their ‘galacticos’ to stand up and be counted as they aim to end this miserable run of form. One of those is certainly Gareth Bale, the man most capable of filling Cristiano Ronaldo’s boots. He made a bright start to the season but the inevitable injury niggles have returned since. He was not at his best in midweek but he would have benefited from getting some minutes under his belt and he could be Real’s biggest attacking weapon here.
His battle with Jordi Alba is a familiar one although they’ve not always been direct competitors with Bale used on the left more frequently when he first arrived. Both players are very attack-minded and Alba was on the scoresheet in midweek despite the absence of Messi, who he tends to combine brilliantly with. Gareth Bale will have a lot more tracking back to do than normal here and he will have to be willing to do that but the Welshman will be a huge threat on the break should a Barcelona attack break down with Alba in an attacking position.
Clement Lenglet vs Karim Benzema
Unpopular opinion: Benzema our most important player on Sunday
Had at least 3 10/10 Clasico performances in the past few years, when he’s on form our attack is much more dynamic, puts himself and others into scoring positions
With Ronaldo not there, this is much needed on Sunday. pic.twitter.com/2UiS5qIMjI
— BigCasi14 (@BigCasi14) October 26, 2018
Another match-up to look out for is that of fellow Frenchmen Clement Lenglet and Karim Benzema. Neither played any part in the World Cup for different reasons but that in theory should only aid their ability to make a big impact this season. Lenglet has seen more action than he would have expected following his move from Sevilla this summer. The rumour mill continues to swirl that Samuel Umtiti could end up missing the whole season if the club decides to go ahead with surgery to fix a long-standing issue. Lenglet hasn’t fully convinced so far and has already seen red in Barcelona colours. Real Madrid may look to target him as one area of potential weakness.
Karim Benzema was perhaps Real Madrid’s standout player in an otherwise uninspired display in the Champions League on Tuesday night. He got on the scoresheet against Plzen and is another veteran of this fixture. There is much more onus on him to vastly increase his goals tally this year with him occupying the central striker role following Ronaldo’s departure. He remains a slightly divisive figure amongst Los Blancos fans but he still has plenty of qualities that could cause problems for the Barcelona defence and particularly their inexperienced centre-back.
Philippe Coutinho vs Nacho/Alvaro Odriozola
There are a few selection mysteries heading into this clasico and one of them concerns who will start at right-back for Real Madrid. It has become a bit of a problem position following Dani Carvajal’s injury with Lucas Vazquez used there in midweek, a move that was largely deemed to fail. The versatile Nacho is the man most likely to play there on Sunday although that is dependent on Marcelo shaking off a knock which could see him switch to left-back with youngster Alvaro Odriozola coming into the side.
Either way they are likely to be really tested by Philippe Coutinho. The former Liverpool man has made an impressive start to his Barcelona career but a match-winning display in this game could really propel him to be a real favourite at Camp Nou. He was largely assumed to have been signed as a replacement for Andres Iniesta but he has more often than not been used in a wide role. With Messi out and Ousmane Dembélé still struggling to convince, Coutinho is likely to be Barcelona’s main threat from out wide in this game and he could be their biggest attacking weapon.
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