There is a saying that a tree does not make a forest – in this case, three trees will make a forest. The 270th El Clasico on Saturday, December 23 at 1 pm is one of great consequence – lose, and Real Madrid will find themselves 14 points adrift of Barcelona; win, Barcelona will feel Real’s breath six points away.
The result on Saturday will hinge on the performance or non-performance of the following six players – so pay close attention!
Ronaldo further underlined his legendary status before the Santiago Bernabeu faithful with two goals at the Club World Cup to help Real Madrid keep the trophy – the first club to achieve the feat.
Even though he has scored just four league goals, the Portuguese has attempted 72 shots in 975 minutes of action. This stat points to the fact that someday, soon, one team will suffer the failed shots and what better team to suffer that fate than Barcelona.
Ronaldo has scored 17 goals against Barcelona in 28 matches. Remember, he is the only man that has scored against Barcelona in seven consecutive Clasicos and six at the Nou Camp! That bad slump in front of goal in La Liga could end on Saturday.
Opta Jose informs us that “Real Madrid have only lost one of their six Clasicos with Casemiro on the pitch”. They have won four, drawn one and lost one. The Brazilian has won 35 tackles this season but his effect is in moving his team into opposing territory with 422 forward passes.
The only snag is that he sometimes takes his job too seriously at times, which results in unnecessary tackles that could fetch him yellow cards or even red cards. For the season, he has already amassed five yellows even the one thing Zinedine Zidane would not want is Casemiro scoring. This is because the only encounter in which the Brazilian has been on the losing side in an El Clasico was the one in which he scored!
Has Bale’s signing been a success at Madrid? That is the main question on the minds of most of the fans but he could sway the answer to yes if he delivers on Saturday.
After making an umpteenth recovery from injury, Bale’s first touch led to the winning goal against Al Jazira in the semi-final of the FIFA Club World Cup last weekend and reports say he has trained well leading to this match.
If he gets the nod ahead of Isco, alongside Karim Benzema and Ronaldo, then either Sergi Roberto or Nelson Semedo would have to be cautious in helping Barcelona attack down the right flank because of the Welshman’s speed and crossing ability.
The ultimate Lion King – the key cog in the Barcelona attack – if he plays well, Barcelona will play well. He also has a good record against Los Blancos – winning 16 of 36 El Clasico encounters and scoring 24 times – 13 of them at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Going to Madrid and proving to Ronaldo and Real Madrid will be the motivation for the little Argentine, who has been bracketed by Ronaldo winning his fifth Ballon d’Or and FIFA Best awards for 2017. His 92nd-minute goal in the last league Clasico was the stuff of legends with a goal celebration that was truly iconic. Another iconic day beckons at the Bernabeu!
Standing in for the dependable but injured Samuel Umtiti, this former Arsenal captain must marshal the runs in from midfield by the likes of Isco and Tony Kroos. Nobody doubts Vermaelen’s ability as a defender, the question is – is he fit enough to concentrate for 90 minutes against Ronaldo and co?
The Belgian has a 93% pass completion rate and aids Barcelona’s passing out from the back but he has played less than 300 minutes of football this season. If he stands firm and coordinates well with Gerard Pique, Barcelona stand a good chance of beating Madrid on Saturday.
He is making a name for himself as king of the rebound – three of his six goals in La Liga have been from rebounds, which attest to his energy and opportunistic streak, which helps him arrive in the box with the goalkeeper at his mercy.
Paulinho just disclosed how powerful Messi is at Barcelona – the Argentine knew which players his club was pursuing and put in a good word. Paulinho has been putting in a good shift as his coming has again freed Andres Iniesta to create in forward areas while he and Sergio Busquets battle in the middle of the park added to his indefatigable energy – he will be a factor on Saturday.
This is not disparaging the skill or otherwise of the other 16 players that will take to the Bernabeu pitch on Saturday, but we all know that all fingers are not equal, even on the same hand.