Luis Mazariegos, staff writer for Barça Blaugranes, had the idea of creating another collaboration between Managing Madrid and SB Nation's Barcelona Blog to preview El Clásico. Check Managing Madrid's anwers to these questions on Barça Blaugranes.
1. Who will win?
I think it will be a draw. Neither team is in great form, and like most Clasicos, it could go either way. Last year, Real Madrid improved when facing Barcelona compared to the year before, but actually regressed as a whole (not winning any competitions). If the pattern holds, both teams can be satisfied by a draw, Barcelona thinking Madrud will drop points elsewhere, Real happy not to lose at the Camp Nou. Both can afford to be cautious.
2. Who is Barcelona's key player, aside from Messi?
Alexis Sanchez or Pedro, whoever starts (and smart money is on Alexis). Madrid commit a lot of players to stop the Andres Iniesta - Lionel Messi combination, many times successfully so. Pedro or Alexis often are the men given more space as a result, but their record is mixed. They've scored big goals but also wasted chances. But with Neymar on the left a near-guarantee, one of the two has to start on the right. Madrid often attacks on the left, because of Cristiano Ronaldo's position. That means that the right-winger has to be able to provide defensive support, but it also means he will have chances to score if he's brave - and intelligent - enough.
3. What is Real Madrid's weakest point that Barcelona will exploit?
Real Madrid have struggled breaking down packed defenses in the past, but Barca will not defend this way. You could argue Madrid have been set up almost specifically to beat Barcelona, maybe to the detriment of them beating the majority of other teams who don't hold nearly the same possession. In a way, that erases one of their biggest weaknesses. So, moving on, the uncertainty at the centerforward position, with Gonzalo Higuain sold and Karim Benzema struggling, could give Barcelona's struggling centerbacks a break. Meanwhile, tricky players on the flanks could potentially give Real Madrid fullbacks a headache.
4. Strongest point Barcelona will use?
For Barcelona, it's the ability to make deadly passes to create chances. The question is, will Real Madrid be organized and disciplined enough to shut that down? Last year, under Jose Mourinho, they seemed to have great focus for El Clasico, much more than in other games, in which they played well below their potential. Will Ancelotti be able to inspire the same fervor? So far, Madrid have yet to hit 100%.
5. Neymar or Gareth Bale - who will shine more?
This is the rivalry many fans have been looking forward to. Neymar should do better having had more time to acclimate himself, but at some point you'd expect Bale to start performing as normal. Bale's pace gives him a strategic advantage for the way Real Madrid want to play, with transitions at breakneck speed. In a way, he could be decisive in one key moment, even if in the grand scheme of things he could be more lost. The expectation is on Neymar to make a big step career-wise in terms of succeeding against Europe's elite teams. He did well against Atletico Madrid, so I expect him to do well again.
6. Key Matchups:
Going from the previous question here, Neymar vs. Arbeloa will be a big one. Arbeloa has done a solid job defensively in most Clasicos, but he was pretty terrible for Spain against Brazil in the Confederations Cup final, a match in which Neymar made him look slow and unskilled. Will it be a repeat? Probably not quite, but Neymar should still be a danger. Obviously, Barcelona RW (Alexis) vs. Madrid LB (Coentrao) will be a key matchup like I said before. Finally, this is not an individual matchup, but Gerardo Martino's mixed zone/man-to-man marking system at set pieces vs. Ronaldo, Ramos, Varane, and Madrid's aerial threats. Real Madrid are a much taller team than Barcelona and have lots of formidable aerial attacking options, which has resulted in many goals from corners and other set-piece situations. Martino has changed the defensive system in dead ball situations and Barcelona are still adjusting to it. This will be a big test to see if the new system is an improvement (or at least, if it's been practiced enough so that the team is better at it than at the beginning of the season.)
Thanks for the insight, Luis. Remember to check Managing Madrid's answers in Barça Blaugranes and follow them on Twitter. If you want to get Luis' insight on Barcelona, check out his Twitter account as well @luism8989.
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