It’s Clasico coupon time. Pete Jenson looks at Saturday’s big game between Barcelona and Real Madrid and sees how the teams match up.
Real Madrid could close the gap on Barcelona to seven points or see the Catalans go 13 clear of their great rivals – ending their flagging title bid for good.
But heading into the match at Camp Nou, which team has the best line-up?
In keeping with Spanish coupon tradition, we’re awarding a 1 for hosts Barcelona, a 2 for Real Madrid and an X when the players are evenly matched.
Claudio Bravo X Keylor Navas
Bravo is the more complete of the two but Navas’ shot-stopping has been excellent this season – and he’s had plenty to stop because Real Madrid’s defence has not always been great. Bravo’s brilliance is his consistence. He very rarely makes a mistake.
Dani Alves 1 Danilo
Alves wins hands down. Despite various attempts to topple him he remains first choice at Barca; he scored in midweek for Brazil and he’ll be ready for the challenge. Danilo looks a huge overspend at €30 million. Not bad going forward but not great defensively. Made the 12,000-mile round trip for internationals last week but did not play.
Gerard Pique 1 Sergio Ramos
Pique, like Alves, has bounced back after some questioned how much longer he had at Barca and he has looked like Europe’s best central defender this season. Ramos has not had his greatest season with a shoulder problem troubling him to the point where he has needed pain-killing injections to get through some games. Still up for the battle and Luis Suarez has already said he is his toughest opponent.
Javier Mascherano 2 Pepe
No one does the game-saving heroic last-ditch tackle better than Mascherano but Pepe, even in the autumn of his career, is the better all-round defender. With the pace to recover from high up the pitch and the ability to bring the ball out he could even have been an option for Barca had he not gone to Madrid. He has been in too many Clasico wars since for it to be an option now.
Jordi Alba 2 Marcelo
The weakest link at the back for Barcelona this season has been Alba, although his pace still gets them out of trouble. After an injury to Jeremy Mathieu he is pretty much their only option at left-back. Marcelo has improved defensively and going forward is often Real Madrid’s most potent weapon.
Sergio Busquets 1 Casemiro
Busquets, like Pique, is not just the best in Spain, he’s the best in his position in the world. Casemiro is still learning. He may never have Xabi Alonso’s brain but he has a physical presence in front of the defence that Real have missed since they sold the Basque to Bayern. He’s no match for Busquets though.
Ivan Rakitic X Luka Modric
Team-mates for Croatia, there is nothing to separate them. Modric is the better passer but Rakitic is stronger defensively and scores more goals.
Andres Iniesta 1 Toni Kroos
Nicely rested in midweek because he was not involved in either of Spain’s friendlies, Iniesta could be a key man. He has become more influential sinceXavi retired. Kroos has gone backwards at Real since arriving from Munich but at least he is now playing in a more advanced position where he can show everyone the ability that meant Pep Guardiola was disappointed to lose him after his first season in charge.
Lionel Messi 1 Gareth Bale
Bale is potentially coming into his best form and fitness (and the two things always go together for the Welshman) at just the right time. He ought to enjoy playing against Barcelona. They will allow him space to exploit. He still comes an obvious second to Messi though.
Luis Suarez 1 Karim Benzema
Almost called this one a tie because Benzema is crucial to the way Real Madrid play and he has scored 20 goals in just 21 games this season. But Suarez has emerged over the last year as the best centre-forward in the world. A team player and a selfish finisher when he has to be.
Neymar X Cristiano Ronaldo
The young pretender against the established champion. Ronaldo has a good scoring record at the Camp Nou where he has scored nine of this 15 Clasico goals. Neymar loves the big occasion too however and comes into this one after the frustration of being suspended and criticised in Brazil. He could take that out on Madrid.
Barca 2 Madrid
Real have the far better bench with Jese, Lucas Vazquez, James Rodriguez and Isco all able to change a game and Raphael Varane a safe defensive option.