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Alex Song at the Bernabéu / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB

Predictions...

“Of the last 17 Clasicos (2008-now), at either stadium, Barcelona have won 10 and only lost three,” writes Graham Hunter in his preview of the Clásico at the Camp Nou. “That’s a remarkable statistic which might point to pundits and punters alike backing the home side on Sunday – particularly given that a victory would put Barça a massive 11 points clear of, traditionally, their most dedicated rival for the Spanish title.”  Mr. Graham concludes by saying “I’d pick CR7 to score again, for there to be at least one red card, Barcelona not to lose and the league to go to them if they win.”

... and more predictions

It’s not as clear cut for ESPN’s Steve Nicol, who says Barça’s injury-riddled defence will probably make it easier for Madrid to claim this evening’s three points. “The way both teams are playing, certainly how Real Madrid are playing, I think they should go there [Camp Nou] with no pressure on them. What I can’t get my head around is that Barcelona back four, and all I can see Benzema, Di María, Özil, Ronaldo running at that back four and causing all kinds of problems,” notes Mr. Nicol. Janusz Michallik views it differently, “that back four hasn’t been in tact for a long, long time for Barcelona, it almost doesn’t have to be depending on how they play the ball. If they are at their best in possession of the ball they’re alright. If not, teams like Real Madrid, especially Real Madrid, are going to cause them problems.” Mr. Michallik adds that “for me, it’s more interesting to see how Barcelona play going forward – who’s going to be the make-up of that team  – than who’s playing at the back.”

Much is at stake for two teams yet to hit their full potential

Sid Lowe, in his Sports Illustrated column, writes that Barça’s defensive woes could leave the Blaugrana vulnerable at the back, but he points out that “neither side has played at their best yet. Where Madrid got away with that last season, so far this season they have not.” He adds that “Barcelona has demonstrated drive and determination -- it has come back to win four times already -- but the very fact that it has had to is striking. Barcelona has not yet had the flow of previous campaigns. Madrid has, by Mourinho's own admission, played poorly.” Mr. Lowe closes his analysis by saying that Madrid “cannot afford many more mistakes. Lose to Barcelona, and an 11-point lead opens up. Too much. Even in October.”

Point and counterpoint

Rob Train, writing for ESPN’s Real Madrid blog, says that Real Madrid could capitalise on “Dani Alves' and Jordi Alba's instinct for bombing up the flanks.” He adds, “there is going to be a lot of space for Real to exploit. For that reason Mourinho would be wise to start with Benzema, a player who not only scores goals and links play, but that delights in pulling defenders left, right and centre.”

Mr. Train also notes that Real Madrid “with Di Maria and Ronaldo marauding inside from the wings and one of Modric, Ozil or Kaka pulling the strings, Barca will have to try to keep possession even more greedily than usual. With the fragility of the back line in mind, they will probably try to camp in Real's half, leaving the back door open for lightening counter-attacks.”

Offering a counterpoint, Francesc Tomás, writing for the ESPN FC Barcelona blog, notes that Barça’s “best option is trusting the partnership between Alex Song and Javier Mascherano.” Mr. Tomás believes that midfielder-now-defender duo have matured enough in the center of the defence and that they’re ready “to step up to the challenge, as they have shared that central defense spot for a couple of games now.”

In addition, Mr. Tomás also notes that “Barcelona have a golden chance of pulling away from our main competitors but a defeat would not be a disaster.”


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