Saturday, October 25, 2014

Clásico in Spain, Suarez bites back

It's that time again, Spanish heavyweights Barcelona and Real Madrid lock horns at 6pm local time in the first clásico of the season.

Estadio Bernabeu


"The best game in the world", proclaims soccer daily Marca without much irony. 400 million people will be watching, says rival AS, with the kick-off time primed for South American and Middle Eastern markets.

We all know La Liga is far from competitive, with two super-clubs dominating the rest of the field thanks to their ability to negotiate their own TV deals, so this really is the clash of the titans.

Brand Barça face brand Real twice in the league each season and often once in the Copa del Rey too, and these few meetings take on the importance of cup finals in Spanish football. It is so often assumed that the title will go to one or other of the giants that these games are seen as deciders.

Atletico Madrid won last season's championship, Sevilla are a point ahead of Real and Valencia and Atletico are only a point behind in the table but these salient facts have almost been forgotten in the hype approaching tonight's game at the Bernabeu.

With revenues comfortably outstripping their rivals, the twice-yearly extravaganza that is Real v Barça goes on, the two enterprises cherry-pick the brightest stars each summer for their particular galaxies, and press coverage of this clásico descends into another duel between famous individuals.

So once again it is Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo, the two finest footballers in the world. Then there is the sub-plot of Neymar, Andres Iniesta and the much-anticipated debut of Luis Suarez for the Blaugrana versus Karim Benzema, James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale for Real, although the Welsh wonder will miss out through injury.

Clásico in Spain, Suarez bites back.


The loss of Bale and the sale of Angel di Maria to Manchester United leaves Real without much pace to support Ronaldo, but arriving on the back of a 3-0 humbling of Liverpool at Anfield while Barça maintained their stuttering Champions League form, the home side should have the edge.

Suarez's return to competitive football after his flesh-eating fiasco in the World Cup could be the stuff of legend if the Uruguayan runs riot on an unprepared Real defence. Alternatively he may struggle for match sharpness in his first real run-out since June.

The former Liverpool man is set to start on the bench for Barça and come on as an impact sub, as is Real's Chicharito, who could just as well steal the headlines with a game-winning cameo.

While the outcome of today's clash is most likely to be decided by the relative brilliance of Messi or Ronaldo again, unsung heroes like attacker Pedro, or midfield anchor Sergio Busquets could hold the key for Barça. On the other side, the much-improved Benzema and Isco could be decisive for Real.

The 'return-leg' of this annual jamboree is on the 22nd of March 2015 at the Camp Nou.

Probable teams:

Real Madrid (4-4-2) - Casillas, Carvajal, Marcelo, Pepe, Ramos, Modric, Kroos, Rodriguez, Isco, Benzema, Ronaldo
Barcelona (4-3-3) - Bravo, Alves, Alba, Mathieu, Pique, Iniesta, Busquets, Xavi, Neymar, Messi, Pedro

-Sean O'Conor 

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