There was a time when a Barça-Madrid rivalry paralyzed the sporting world. And more so if the match was decisive and had the air of a judge: if the winner could land a decisive blow or reopen and rejoin the fight. Days are less distinguished, more impure. In full Negreira case, football has it difficult. With Real Madrid posing as private prosecution in the court case. With the inscription of Gavi espetegant. While the VAR hits in San Mamés are being questioned. And right after the Champions League. But the classic exists.
Two recent gestures corroborate its proximity. On the one hand, Koundé taking out his chest after saving a ball from Yuri on the line that entered Athletic's final triple opportunity. On the other hand, the four changes that Ancelotti made from the 80th minute on against Liverpool: he withdrew Benzema, Modric, Vinícius and Kroos.
Sergi Roberto, Semedo, Dest and Dani Alves. All of them have passed through the right side of Barça and it has been their turn to dance with Vinícius, a winger as dangerous as he is volcanic. The Brazilian has dribbling, speed and bar and is a constant source of danger. That with the ball. Without the ball, he is also able to frustrate the opponent with underground play. This was also the case with Barcelona until Ronald Araújo joined them. Xavi decided to move the centre-back to the wing for the first time in March 2022 and the Blaugrana won 0-4 at the Bernabéu. Each time the Uruguayan has taken charge of Vini, the Brazilian has not shone and Barça have won (1-3 in Riyadh and 0-1 in the Cup). In the League, in the first round, he was injured and Madrid won clearly. In those three games, Araújo was dribbled only twice, while Vinícius' dribbling success dropped to 50% (7 of 15).
Barcelona's internal game decreases to an unsuspected minimum when Pedri is not there. It happened last season and it has happened again this season when the canary was injured in the first half of the first leg against United. Pedri has missed six and a half games since February 16. This week he has rejoined training and if nothing goes wrong he will be in the classic. Holder? It is never advisable to return to play 90 minutes after so much wear and tear, but the team needs him like the bread they eat. Without him, this month, Barcelona have only scored more than one goal in two games (United and Cadiz, both at home). Pedri orders the attack, directs it, gives it speed or breaks and is a threat when he steps into the area (7 goals this season).
This will be Xavi's sixth official classic as a coach. In the other five, there are only two field footballers who have never dropped out of the lineup: Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong. The two midfielders are indispensable for the coach and the style he wants to propose. Both are reliable even on the most hectic days. Against Madrid you have to have the ball, keep it and not lose it so as not to invite the whites to run. Busquets and De Jong, rarely in parallel and often one in front of the other, are safe whether playing in the first touch or driving. In Xavi's five classics, both have had a 90% pass success rate. The captain bowled 102 good deliveries in Riyadh. On the day of the 0-4 at the Bernabéu, the Dutchman only failed 3 passes of 56 that he gave. In addition, for Busquets it will be classic number 47, two more than Messi and Sergio Ramos. For his part, De Jong still does not know what it is to beat the whites at Camp Nou.
Between the two, they add up to 1,300 matches in the elite. They have been in the fields of Europe for half their lives. Robert Lewandowski, 34, changed gears in the summer to lead Barça's attack after 12 years in the Bundesliga. And the Pole has not disappointed even though he has gone from more to less. With 25 goals, he is Barcelona's top scorer and Xavi compares him to Ronaldinho for the change in mentality he has helped to promote in a young dressing room. When Lewandowski landed in Germany, it had already been a year since Karim Benzema (35) had arrived in Madrid. It's already 14 seasons and 341 clean sheets. The Camp Nou, where many consider him to have fit in perfectly, is not working very well for him: three goals, the last in 2016.
Is it necessary to dominate possession to win? Barcelona, in spite of themselves, showed in the last classic that they are not indispensable. The Blaugrana won with 35% of the ball, a very low percentage. In fact, this season, only in the Super Cup did the one who had the ball the longest win. Madrid, with 680 passes, were unable to beat Ter Stegen in the Cup.
It may seem like a paradox, but Madrid are not at all uncomfortable at the Camp Nou, where they have not lost since October 2018. Yes, they took a hand that day (5-1, without Messi), but it is the only defeat in the last nine visits to the Barcelona feud, with four wins and four draws. Yes, but in this league classic he only needs victory.