The second Clasico always seems to creep up during the climax of the season, sandwiched in-between Champions League clashes and serving up as a tasty side-dish to the main event.
It’s nice, to be sure, to be on the end of the stick that looks at this game as the annoying hurdle that needs to be overcome when greater things lay on the horizon. Barcelona have undoubtedly more to play for. They have to win, no excuses. That’s not to say Real Madrid won’t take this seriously, though, or that they won’t come out guns blazing against a wounded side. But, life will go on for them if they drop a couple points, knowing that they have a legitimate chance as being the first team since Milan to repeat as European Champions, while still having the fate of La Liga in their hands.
To help set the stage for you, we reached out to Renato Gonçalves of Barca Blaugranes, which, is not a controversial decision at all, given your extreme fondness of that site.
Kiyan: Renato, you and I have kept in touch throughout the season, and it seems like everything just comes back full circle to this question: um, what is wrong with Barça?
Renato: Our coach is bad, our sporting director is bad, the squad doesn't have depth even though we spent a lot of money and now the players don't seem too eager to play for the coach anymore, which was my fear all season. It seems like everyone related to Barça (players, coaches, directors, fans) just want this season to end. But of course, it's the Clásico, and maybe that's enough to motivate the team one last time.
Kiyan: Yeah, I mean, despite all of that noise, it is still Barca — a team with a historically good front line. They have some other-worldly talent there, and when their strongest XI plays, they're capable of pinning you and ripping you apart. What's the key for them in this game?
Renato: Control. Control, control and control. We need the ball, because we can't defend an attacking force like Real Madrid's, or any decent attacking force for that matter. If we control and get Messi in dangerous areas, we have a shot.
Kiyan: Let's flip this: What's the key for Real Madrid to exploit Barca's weaknesses?
Renato: Casemiro to dominate Messi like he has for the last few Clásicos. He's been absurd marking Leo, and if he pulls it off again, you'll always get a chance to score goals against us. My favourite Clásico of recent years was the 4-3 at the Bernabéu in 2014, and Messi clearly wasn't contained in that game. It took a while for Casemiro to get into the team, but it isn't a coincidence that Messi hasn't scored or assisted with Casemiro on the pitch yet.
Kiyan: Is there anyone in this Barça side you'd like to see get more playing time?
Renato: The two players I actually want, Aleix Vidal and Rafinha, are out for the season, so out of the healthy ones I like Denis Suárez. He's versatile, technical, fast, intelligent, dynamic and overall really good. He's not big enough for the Bernabéu, though. Maybe next season.
Kiyan: Let's fast forward to the end of the season. Two things: Who do you want to see replace Lucho; and what reinforcements would you like to see come into the roster?
Renato: I love Unzué, who seems to be the number one choice right now. Sampaoli has been my dream, but he's coaching Messi in Argentina, not at Camp Nou, so the next best choice is the current assistant coach. He's smart and not as stubborn as Lucho, and he's worked with Pep and Tito Vilanova, and both taught him a lot. Not bad teachers.
As for reinforcements, we need to rebuild the whole bench. The current starting XI is good enough for another 2-3 years, but we need more reliable pieces from 12-20. Our only reliable bench players are injured (Arda, Aleix, Rafinha), and out of all the summer signings only Samuel Umtiti has worked. André Gomes is a disappointment, and since he's still worth a lot in the market, we could get a good deal for him. The loaned players and some Barça B people will be back, and I would much rather trust the Academy products than spend a lot of money on players like Digne, Gomes, and Paco Alcácer and be disappointed.
Kiyan: How many goals will Hernandez Hernandez disallow because Bale is too athletic?
Renato: Probably just the one. Can't be THAT clear that he's helping us.
Kiyan: Call it.
Have fun lifting La Liga after half-a-decade. 3-1 Real. Seriously.