We have you covered, on multiple levels, heading into El Clasico. So rather than get too heavy analytically or re-hash what you’re already read - or heard on our podcasts - I want to offer you a different perspective.
Renato Gonçalves of SB Nation’s Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes answered some questions and provided some insight on what this game looks like from a Barcelona perspective.
Now, these pieces are a regular thing on Managing Madrid, and as you should know by now, they’re usually entitled ‘Q&A With the Enemy’. There’s one thing we always knew - the headline has always been tongue in cheek. None of these journalists who agree to answer these questions are actually our enemy. It goes without saying, but we all have tremendous respect for one another, and that’s something that’s important to note. Moving forward, the headlines for these pieces will go back to what they were, but for this one I made an exception, mostly because it didn’t feel right, and it’s important to really emphasize what our relationships with Cules is, like on a very human level.
Renato leaves us with a very important message at the end of this Q&A, and it’s something we should all take to heart.
Kiyan: Renato, this is strange, but, you're underdogs for this match - even despite the fact that Real Madrid are missing Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos, and Alvaro Morata. Is this a trap for Zidane's men?
Renato: Every Clásico is a trap for the favorites. Barça could have won the league in the last Clásico and were the clear favorites -- they were coming off a 39-game unbeaten streak, they destroyed Real at the Bernabéu and it seemed like the league was over already, and that game was just the confirmation. Madrid went on to win, Barça melted down and nearly lost everything if it wasn't for Suárez scoring about 482 goals in the final 5 games to win the title by himself. Right now, Madrid are clear favorites and should win this game, even at Camp Nou. That's why the game will be so fun -- they might not win even though they should. That's why I love El Clásico so much.
Kiyan: Going into this season, I thought you had one of the best off-season windows in Europe. You strengthened the back-up to Luis Suarez with one of the most promising Spanish forwards in the game, and even though I'm not a huge Andre Gomes fan, it was apparent he would add some quality depth in a thinning position. Add in Umtiti, Digne, etc, and the squad on paper looked quite respectable. What's happened? Is that depth just not as good as initially perceived?
Renato: I think it's really hard to analyze the squad with so many injuries. Every single important player has been hurt so far, and it's impossible to integrate the new signings without having continuity with the experienced players. Lucho was fantastic in his first two seasons because the squad was basically healthy all season long, and he was able to rotate the squad in lesser matches with reserves and big stars playing together and getting to know each other. The thing this season is that the reserves are new people that the big stars don't know, and if the big stars get hurt all the time, they can't play with the new people and it just looks like the new people can't play. As soon as the squad has a good 2-3 months with little to no injuries and Enrique can implement his rotations again in a smart way, we'll see the new signings playing well. They're still learning a very complex system, and if Enrique has time and health on his side, then everyone will benefit. Enrique has sucked for most of the season, but sometimes he's having to make lemonades out of apples with all the injuries, and we all know that's impossible, and it looks bad on the coach.
Kiyan: How much of a problem is it that Enrique seems to suck the life out of Paco Alcacer? He's barely given a run, and when he has to go, he's cold and lacks confidence.
Renato: Paco is a mess, and it's not his fault. It's not Lucho's fault, either. I really do think Alcácer's problems come down to bad luck, seriously. The guy should have scored at least six goals right now, and there's always an opponent's leg, a poor pass, or the ball hitting the post and going out. The second one balll goes in, we'll see the Paco we all expect to see. I guarantee you that. He's doing everything Lucho asks of him, and he does work as much as Suárez does. He's not nearly as talented as Luisito, but his workrate and finishing ability are there. Once the first goal comes, the luck will be good again, and things will look bright for him. I really think it's that simple. As crazy as that sounds.
Kiyan: Would you say that Enrique's trust in Ivan Rakitic is waning somehow?
Renato: No, Rakitic is just exhausted. Nobody runs more and puts in more effort than Ivan, and your body just asks for a break sometimes. Rakitic is tired, and that obviously affects the rest of his game. He was replaced at halftime against Real Sociedad, and something tells me Lucho wanted to give him an extra rest for the Clásico. Rakitic will help mark Ronaldo and Marcelo, and you can't do that with tired legs, so expect Ivan to start and work his butt off. That's what Lucho expects from him, and that's what he delivers when he's got the energy to do so.
Kiyan: Talk about the dominoes of Iniesta's injury - the lack of outlets for Sergio Busquets, the burden on Rakitic's shoulders, and the lack of transition from midfield to the MSN. Just how vital is he? To me he's the x-factor for this team. I said it in this week's mailbag too - a walking Iniesta is more conducive to Barca winning the Clasico over a healthy Andre Gomes.
Renato: Oh, absolutely. Iniesta is the greatest midfielder in Barça history, and Xavi wouldn't have been Xavi without Don Andrés. He's magical, and yet he knows when to leave the magic to the side and just get in there and fight. He's just three steps ahead of everybody on the pitch, and as good as André Gomes has been this season, he can't come close to Andrés. As you said, Busquets suffers too, because the responsibility to be the creative force in midfield is on him, since Rakitic/Gomes/Denis/Rafinha are the workhorses. Only Iniesta and Busquets, on a lesser level, can really create from their positions, and if Andrés is not playing, then it's easy to stop Busi. I do think Iniesta will play, all the news point to that, and if he's healthy just enough to play 40-60 minutes, he might decide the game. He's that damn good.
Kiyan: If Iniesta can't play, would you consider dropping Messi into the midfield to regain some control? Arda started the season on fire in an advanced role, so perhaps that's a solution.
Renato: No, I don't like Messi in midfield yet. A Luis Enrique midfielder works his tail off, and Leo doesn't track back enough to do that. Plus, he does what he wants on the pitch, and if he feels like he needs to be a fourth midfielder with Busquets, Rakitic and Gomes/Iniesta, he will be. But he can't start as one of the three, especially because Arda is in poor form, as is the team. Keep the formation simple, maybe with Mascherano at right-back, and let Messi be Messi. It usually works.
Kiyan: You're wounded, but few are talking about Real Madrid's woes. How do you think it will effect them not having Gareth Bale or Toni Kroos?
Renato: Both were doing so well this season, and they're actually my favorite Madrid players along with Modric. Kroos is just amazing and he'd be perfect for Barça, and Bale is the left footed Ronaldo, which is just scary. Kovacic and Vázquez are very good, but they're not Kroos and Bale. That's a big difference, no question.
Kiyan: What are you most worried about in this match?
Renato: Barcelona themselves. It's just not a good moment for us and Zidane had a great gameplan in that 2-1 win a few months ago. I think he'll do it again, and if Lucho can't come up with something really smart, we might get outclassed at home, and that would be nightmare.
Renato: 2-2 draw. Probably one or two Ronaldo Calmas, but Neymar will make a difference in this game. Not enough to earn a victory, but just enough to not let the league slip away.
I just wanted to make one final point: I lost two friends in the Chapeocense tragedy, and I've had the most terrible week, even though it's Clásico week. This week has taught me one thing: life is short, and we can't waste it being idiots to one another. Sports are fun and rivalries make sports even better, but we don't need to offend each other. Barça Blaugranes and Managing Madrid are blogs from the same network, SB Nation, the writers and editors from both sites are friends who help each other all the time, and it hurts all of us to see the fans from both teams and both sites just go after each other with offensive words and things like that. Let's try not to do that this time around, please. Let's be good rivals, not enemies. A little banter never hurts, but offensive words do, even if you're just fueled by the rivalry and you don't really mean them.
I ask fans from BOTH sites: please be civil, be fans, be human. Thank you