Tomorrow at noon, two of the biggest, most expensive, and most storied football clubs in the world, Real Madrid and Barçalona, will face off in Madrid. To most Americans, this likely won’t be the biggest game that day – with college football, the world series, and other events taking place state-side. That being said, I encourage everyone to tune in – and here are some things to watch for:
Luis Suarez. As I outlined here, the return of Luis Suarez is of interest because we just don’t know how such a historically prolific scorer will fit into one of the most motion-oriented possession-obsessed sides in history. Will he start? Will he come off the bench? What formation will Barça employ with him?
No Gareth Bale. Out with an injury, his absence opens the door for 22 year old Spanish youngster Isco to really shine on the big stage. Isco is in great form lately, having already received a Champions League “Man of the Match” award for his play against Lazgrad. He is especially dangerous when he slides inside (or is positioned there), but will likely start on the left in this game. Depending on the midfield configuration, he could be a deadly trailer in Madrid’s counter-attack.
Barça’s formation. While Barça tends to rely on a 4-3-3, games like this one present an interesting challenge. Often, Alba and Alves work as psudo-wing-backs and overlap into the play on the far left and right. However, we’ve also seen Barça utilize Matheiu on the left, an interesting change which could instead allow a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 approach, overloading the midfield and likely allowing Neymar and Suarez (and maybe Messi) to constantly make runs into the center for attack. Traditionally, Madrid has been good at stopping long Messi runs forward into the middle, so tactic this would effectively compress the midfield and allow for a more direct approach to attack.
James Rodriguez. The World Cup’s Golden Boot award winner, James has yet to REALLY impress for Madrid. With so much in-form talent around him (Ronaldo, Benzema, Bale, etc…) it takes a lot to really stand out in this crowd. James has the skills to do it, but this will likely be the biggest game of his career, and it will be important to see whether or not he cowers from the spotlight.
Barça’s defense. Traditionally shaky, this year has seen Barça not concede a single goal in league play. While they haven’t played the “top” talent in the league yet, it is still an impressive record, and shows that Luis Enrique is taking defense as seriously as he is taking possession and attack. Matheiu has proven to be world-class, Pique has returned to moderate form, and Bartra has shaken the demons of previous mistakes (so far). If Barça can minimize the blazing fast counter attacks of Madrid, they have a chance.
In the end, it’s a match filled with intrigue, and the five points above will be crucial to deciding the outcome.