Has the euphoria of Tuesday's 3-1 victory against Barcelona teetered off yet? Hardly. Real Madrid played arguably one of its finest matches under manager Jose Mourinho this past Tuesday, rendering Barcelona's current legends Xavi, Iniesta and Messi completely impotent. The Whites put in a complete team performance, leading to a brace by Cristiano Ronaldo and a headed goal by 19-year-old prodigy Raphael Varane.
This Saturday, the Catalans will once again face off against los Vikingos with three goals in mind: recover their pride and status as one of football's elite sides, implement tactical adjustments to impose their will on the match, and, more pragmatically, protect their 16-point lead over Real Madrid in La Liga.
With two consecutive losses in critical games weighing heavily on their minds, Roura's men will certainly use Saturday's match as an opportunity to show the world why they're frequently referred to as one of the best sides in football history. After losing to AC Milan in the UCL and Real in the CDR, the Catalans' ego has taken a hit, but so has their aura of invincibility. A convincing victory at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday could afford Barcelona the stage it needs to once again intimidate the rest of the footballing world; however, that depends mightily on the players Jose Mourinho chooses to employ against the Catalan team.
While Barcelona has no need to rotate their first team players since their next match isn't until March 9th, Madrid will undoubtedly preserve some of its starters for Tuesday's must-win game against Manchester United. We may see Barcelona incorporate players like David Villa, Adriano and Javier Mascherano into their starting XI, while Mourinho fields an XI comprised mostly of reserve players. It will be interesting to see whether Barcelona tries to employ its usual tiki-taka playing style with a greater degree of effectiveness, or whether Tuesday's loss will entice them to try different tactics against the Madrid reserves.
While Cristiano Ronaldo will almost certainly feature for part of Saturday's Clásico, it'll be up to Jose Mourinho to determine how many minutes the Portuguese captain enjoys and whether he starts the game or comes off the bench as he did against Rayo. Diego Lopez will likely start in goal to maintain his sharpness ahead of Tuesday's clash with the Red Devils, and the back-line could see the return of Marcelo at left-back, Albiol, Carvalho or Pepe at centre-back, and perhaps Michael Essien or Nacho at right-back. Pepe could use some minutes to regain his fitness and rhythm, but it's unlikely that Mourinho will risk him for the full 90 minutes. Additionally, Mourinho might choose to play Essien in his natural position: centre midfield.
Luka Modric is practically a lock in midfield, and this match will present him with a great opportunity to test his skills against a quality opponent. Many Madridistas (myself included) have been critical of Modric's output this season, but hopefully he'll find his best form in the "business end" of the season. Kaka will likely start in the hole with Callejon on the right and Cristiano on the left, but the starting striker position is certainly a puzzle. If Benzema is fit, he could possibly see a run-out to get some minutes under his belt before heading to Old Trafford; however, Higuain and Alvaro Morata are both starving for minutes and the chance to show Mister that they're worthy starters if and when Benzema is suffering from poor form.
All in all, Saturday's game won't enjoy the high-stakes billing of Tuesday's CDR clash, but a Clásico is a Clásico, and Barcelona will definitely come out of the gate guns blazing in the hopes of rekindling their pride and protecting their advantage in La Liga. Thankfully for Mourinho, the "Only Special One" (credit to Carlos) can field reserve players looking to prove a point and show the world that they're worthy of wearing the royal crest over their hearts.