For the second time in three days, Real Madrid and Barcelona will go head to head. Los Blancos came out 1-3 away victors on Sunday night in what proved to be a thrilling match with a thrilling second half.
The victory did come at a cost though, as Cristiano Ronaldo was controversially sent off. Following the red card, the Portuguese lost his cool and pushed the referee. A five match ban has ensued and the boys in white will be without their emblematic talisman for the start of the season. It’s a major blow. The best player in the world proved to be as much on Sunday night, and to lose him just as he regains match fitness will hurt both his and the team’s rhythm. Zidane will likely roll out the same eleven that started in the Camp Nou on Sunday. The only exception will be Modric, who will likely replace Kovacic. The latter Croatian is suffering from a muscle overload in his abductor, but may still make the squad list.
Zidane was certainly the happier of the two managers on Sunday, despite Cristiano’s red card. Along with the victory, he saw stellar performances from the likes of Varane, Isco, Kovacic, and Asensio. After a lackluster preseason, the squad has responded to the challenges of both Barcelona and Manchester United with controlled, composed, and assured victories. The midfield four, and in particular Isco’s influence in linking the attack and midfield, have been instrumental to said victories. As the players and Zidane say, the team “are all rowing in the same direction” — no matter who is called upon, the squad has the quality to respond.
Meanwhile, Barcelona have been left licking their wounds after Sunday night. They suffered a humiliating defeat to the 10-men of their eternal rival, in a stadium that was full of tourists rather than the usual Catalan die-hards. As predicted, there was a gaping whole left behind by Neymar. The left side of the Barcelona attack offered little-to-no threat. It would be surprising to see Deulofeu placed in the starting XI on Wednesday following his bland performance. In the 57th minute, Barcelona brought on Denis Suarez while Real Madrid brought on Cristiano Ronaldo—a symbolic moment of where the two teams stand right now with their squads.
Many senior players within the Barcelona locker room have pleaded, even publicly, with the board to reinvest in the squad. Sergio Busquets spoke with the media after the game and said they need rejuvenation through signings. Is Bartomeu and this Barcelona board really trusted to invest that €222M wisely? Paulinho has been the first recruit since the loss of Neymar and since the defeat on Sunday. A €40M signing that has left most Barcelona fans disillusioned as the player is 29 years old and was unable to make the grade at a club like Spurs. Will Paulinho get a run out on Wednesday, and will he make an impact? This Barcelona team will need further quality if they are to compete with Madrid on all fronts this season.
The job is far from complete for Madrid. A full game of 90 minutes still remains and within those minutes more refereeing controversy, Messi magic, or injuries could turn the game on its head. Wednesday night’s match will bring a Barcelona squad hungry for revenge. Zidane and his men will need to remain unruffled in the opening 15 minutes as the Blaugrana will look to come out and score an early goal to pile on the pressure. Madrid have one hand on the trophy, but securing it will take another assured team performance. The first official match of the 2017-2018 season awaits the Bernabeu, and with it we await another thrilling Clasico.
Real Madrid: Navas; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Isco; Benzema, Bale
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Vidal, Pique, Umtiti, Alba, Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta, Denis Suarez, Luis Suarez, Messi
Prediction: Real Madrid 2 (Isco, Ramos) - Barcelona 1 (Messi)