As the footballing world prepares for the first Clásico of the season, fans of Barcelona will undoubtedly be brimming with confidence. Despite Los Blancos last losing a game on October 19th, Barcelona’s front three appears to be acclimatising and clicking at just the right moment. A circumstance that may not bode well for the club from the Spanish capital.
In the last six games in which they have played together, at least one member of the Messi- Suárez-Griezmann triumvirate has scored. All three have found the scoresheet on two occasions, and they have scored 15 of Barcelona’s last 17 goals, again in games which they have featured simultaneously. Those are staggering statistics across a six-match period, and with Lionel Messi at the heart of it, things may only get better for the Catalans.
— Express Sport (@DExpress_Sport) December 12, 2019
Of these aforementioned 15 goals, the Argentine has scored eight of them. Despite passing his 32nd birthday in June, he is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down. Having been kept out of action at the start of the season thanks to a recurring injury, he has since hit tremendous form, playing arguably his best and most complete football to date.
He is tied neck and neck with opposition talisman Karim Benzema atop the Pachichi chart, despite playing fewer games. His goals-to-game ratio reads one every 75 minutes as opposed to Benzema’s one every 109, and fresh from winning his sixth Balon D’or, the Argentine is sure to be eager to distance himself from the chasing pack. Scoreless in his last three Clásico appearances, Messi has never gone four without finding the net. Watch this space.
While the front three have been firing with impressive regularity in recent weeks, Barcelona’s midfield may also play a pivotal part in the meeting. An injury to key midfielder Arthur means he will miss out on the remaining two fixtures this year, so the final midfield slot alongside Sergio Busquets and Frenkie De Jong will go to Croatian Ivan Rakitić. Although surely not ideal for coach Ernesto Valverde following his eagerness to sell the midfielder, he has a decent goalscoring record in this fixture recently, netting twice in his last six, and will add something more dynamic and direct as opposed to Arthur.
Arturo Vidal is also a possibility, but Valverde seems happier placing more trust in the hands of Rakitić at this point in time, so the Chilean will again be forced to settle for a place on the bench. And to those clamouring for La Masia starlet Carles Aleñá to be handed a start, he seems closer to a potential switch to Real Betis as opposed to a starting spot in a match of this calibre, much to the dismay of the most ardent Cruyffistas at Camp Nou.
However, despite all of this attacking prowess, there may be a hint of hope for Real Madrid. In between this streak of irresistible goalscoring, there remains more than a touch of doubt around Barça’s defensive capabilities. While it was once one of Valverde’s strongest assets, the team have gone from having the second best defence is Spain in his first season to struggling to keep a clean sheet this campaign.
— Real Madrid C.F.⚽ (@realmadrid) December 15, 2019
The friendly against Cartagena aside, two shutouts in their last 11 games is sure to give Madrid some forward thinking ambition, despite their injury issues up front. Eden Hazard was ruled out of the clash two weeks ago, while Marco Asensio picked up a nasty injury which will likely sideline him for the remainder of the season. Adding the Gareth Bale conundrum to the equation, there is plenty of doubt as to who will partner Karim Benzema up front in this fixture.
Gerard Piqué and Clément Lenglet have not been at their best to date, far from it in fact, but minus the threat that Benzema in such form in front of goal carries, it is difficult to envisage where Madrid’s serious goal threat will come from. Even more so when acknowledging that either one of Toni Kroos or Luka Modrić will likely be on defensive duty.
Several weeks ago and the result of this one would arguably be up in the air. However, this Barcelona front three really seems to be finding its groove. This, coupled with Madrid’s defensive frailties and their lack of true goal scorers – Benzema on 12 is nine ahead of his nearest challenger, who worryingly is Sergio Ramos – and it is tough to foresee anything but a Barcelona victory.