It's sure to be a Clasico at the Bernabeu
Real Madrid Vs. Barcelona Preview by Mark Young (Twitter: @markyoung1988)
This Saturday night is the moment where the whole world will stop for 90 minutes. The talk will be over and battle will commence. Star performers will take centre stage and the onlookers will be judgemental of every movement. No, it is not the X Factor final, it is el Clasico!
Real Madrid host Barcelona in what over recent seasons has proved a fiery encounter. Passions flare up on and off the pitch. It is Mourinho vs Guardiola, Ronaldo vs Messi, Alonso vs Xavi. World-class match ups all over the pitch and for what seems to be the first time in a long time, Real Madrid go into the contest as favourites. Barcelona have not lost to their rivals in the league for over three years now but Mourinho may feel he finally has the beating of the Catalan giants. Real are 13/10 compared to Barcelona's 2/1.
Real are a much more solid unit to what they were last season and to what they were to start the season to an extent. Since Ricardo Carvalho has been injured Sergio Ramos has moved to the centre of defence and ha looked formidable in the position that he has always been tipped to play at long term. Pepe has been equally as good next to the Spaniard and Casillas has a pairing in front of him that he can trust. Marcelo has been outstanding at left back of late and Angel di Maria has been earning rave reviews for his performances too.
Maybe the greatest success of this season is that he has turned Cristiano Ronaldo into a team player whilst he still grabs a bucket load of goals. He might still be scoring but he is adding just as many assists to Real's cause. It is a dream for Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema who are also scoring for fun whenever they play in the lone striker position. That will be one of the major decisions Mourinho will have.
Real's line up should be pretty straightforward. Ramos, Carvalho and Marcelo will all keep their places with Arbeloa expected to take the right back shirt. Coentrao could stake a claim having played at right back recently. The midfield three of Khedira, Lassana Diarra and Xabi Alonso has been great of late and it will stay the same for this. Mesut Ozil looks like he will miss out on a place in the starting line up as Di Maria and Ronaldo will play supporting attacking roles behind Higuain. IF the Higuain choice doesn't work they have an in form Frenchman on the bench in Benzema but the Argentine looks the best bet for a start as he will play off the shoulder of the Barcelona back line. His price of 11/2 to score first looks full of value, as does his 7/1 to bag two or more.
Barcelona on the other hand have come up a little short of late. They are three points behind Madrid having played one more game than their rivals. They lost to Getafe two weeks ago and another loss at the Bernabeu on Saturday night would be disastrous with a potential nine-point gap separating Real and themselves going into the new year.
Guardiola's men have been playing a different formation of late with three centre backs. Guardiola has recently come out and called Javier Macherano his best centre back. Puyol should play alongside him with either Abidal or Pique with the latter being the most likely regardless of recent concerns. Dani Alves has played right wing with three central midfielders in Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta next to him. They should line up the same. Messi and Alexis Sanchez are playing well up top and Cesc Fabregas has been playing a phantom number nine role and scoring plenty of goals. He is 8/1 to score first at the Bernabeu. This would mean no room for Villa, Pedro or the impressive Cuenca who has played well recently since being drafted into the first eleven. It might just be a little too early to play such a raw talent in game of such magnitude.
It usually takes a special player to win games like the Clasico. Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Zidane, Rivaldo, Figo, they have all lined up in these fixtures. Lionel Messi has lit up this stage before and the Match Winner special for Messi to score anytime and Barcelona to win is priced at 11/4. Madrid's second Ronaldo to score anytime and Real to win is 5/2. If you fancy either of these teams it is likely their star men will score, so these are very interesting bets.
Both Teams to score at 8/15 must almost be a certainty if recent history is to go by. There should also be plenty of fouls if recent history is to go by hence why Over six cards s priced at 2/5 but again it should be buying money in a sense. Real are 3/4 to be carded first and with players like Marcelo, Pepe and Ramos in the side it is no surprise. Barcelona are 21/20. Sergio Busquets likes a foul or two. With plenty of goals expected it is very tough to pick a score line but 4-2 to Real Madrid at 50/1 jumps off the page.
It looks like it is going to be a classic on Saturday evening, as Real Madrid will want some retribution for the league and Champions League disappointments of recent years at the hands of Barcelona. There is not too much to say about games like this is to sit back, relax and enjoy the two greatest teams on the planet strut their stuff.