The build-up to the Clásico would not be complete without a view from the other side. We caught up with totalBarça writer Youssef Awwad to chat about form, Clásico memories, and just who Barcelona would like from Madrid in their team.
Give totalBarça a browse for all the latest content from Catalonia ahead of Sunday’s big match. Thanks for Youssef for helping out, and good luck on Sunday night (we mean it, honest!)…
1) Barça must fancy their chances of three points given their current form?
I would be lying if I said I don’t expect a win on Sunday. The team is playing great football and is frankly looking unstoppable. Nevertheless, Clásicos remain unpredictable. The current situation is very similar to last year’s league encounter at the Santiago. Barcelona were going through a rough spell and a win was crucial to keep the title hopes going, and even though Madrid seemed then like clear favorites, Barcelona walked away victorious that night. This year, the scenario is reversed. A win would put Madrid back on top and that’s all the motivation you need to get your players fired up. In other words, Barcelona may be the safer bet but viewing Madrid’s recent form as an indication of what is to come is dangerous. I do, however, have complete faith in the team.
2) Would you say this match is a title decider?
Absolutely not. Looking at the remaining league fixtures you can see that there are still several obstacles in the way. Games against Sevilla, Valencia, and in Barcelona’s case, Atletico, will all prove vital especially since the point gap isn’t that significant.
You also cannot underestimate the effect the Champions League matchups will have on the players’ fitness with such challenging ties to come. The reason why this match is so important though is because whichever club is in second later that night will no longer have control over its fate. And that’s when the fans start praying once again for their rivals to slip up.
3) Do you think there is too much pressure put on one-off matches such as this or do you think the pressure is justified?
From a fan’s perspective, this is the most important game of the season. Reaching the end of the season without defeating Madrid won’t feel right, even if the team eventually wins the league. There’s so much history between the two sides and it is basically a matter of pride. I usually require a couple of days to recover from a loss against Madrid simply because I can’t the stand the idea of our rivals being superior to us. But then again, like I said this isn’t a title decider. So from the coaches and players’ perspective it’s without a doubt an important game, but it’s only useful if the results that follow are positive.
4) What has been the difference in Lionel Messi before Christmas and after?
It is certainly looking like Messi is more motivated than ever at the moment, and it arguably all started following Ronaldo’s Ballon d’Or win. It just seems like Messi decided that he’d had enough of the criticism, the rumours, and the accusations and thought that it’s time to remind the world of the player he is. I’m not saying that Messi was struggling before Christmas; he wasn’t. But he is definitely looking hungrier now, and an ambitious Messi is lethal.
5) Luis Enrique – right man for the job?
Yes. I can see a difference in the players’ spirits and their desire to win again, and one can only assume that Luis Enrique’s competitive, demanding personality is playing a huge role here. This fighting spirit is being reflected on the pitch; a more dynamic, solid Barcelona.
The team was also accused in recent years of playing one dimensional, “boring” football, and Lucho is without a doubt building a much less predictable Barcelona. In terms of results, Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino’s team was in the same position as Lucho’s in all three competitions at this point of the season, but didn’t end well for Tata. I do believe though that even if Luis Enrique fails to win a trophy this season, most fans including myself would want the Asturian to continue. This Barcelona side is exciting.
6) As a Barça fan, who do you fear most from Madrid? Which one Madrid player would you have in the Barça team?
It has to be Cristiano Ronaldo. Love him or hate him, Ronaldo is a magnificent player. He is where he is now for a reason and he’ll be looking to reignite his season against us. As long as he’s near our penalty area I’ll be worried. I can only hope that he stays off-form for a few more days until the game is over.
As for those I’d like to have in Barcelona, I’m personally a fan of both Benzema and Isco. Before Luis Suarez’s arrival, I would have loved for Benzema to join the Catalan side although I always knew it’s simply impossible. And while several fans often criticize the club for not signing Toni Kroos, I see allowing Isco to slip from our hands as a much, much bigger mistake. Isco is a delight to watch and at such a young age is displaying the signs that indicate he has what it takes to be among the very best in the world.
7) Where are Barça’s weak links?
The right-back position. It’s just that Dani Alves has been inconsistent so far. There are games like the most recent against Manchester City where you’d see a focused, disciplined Alves who is a pleasure to watch and have in your team, and there are other games when you’re reminded that maybe the Brazilian is nearing the end of his career. Yet having said all that, Sunday’s game is possibly Alves’ last Clásico ever so don’t expect him to be a weak link. He has something to prove one last time.
8) What’s your best memory of a Clásico contest?
2010’s manita, surely. What makes that win so sweet is that it was Mourinho’s first ever Clásico, and we were still thinking about that defeat against Inter Milan in the Champions League with the Portuguese in charge of the Italian side. Barcelona played the perfect game and the club was avenged. How can you ever forget a 5-0 win against Real Madrid? (Sorry guys.)
9) Finally, can you give us a predicted Barça XI and a score prediction?
We got a clear picture of Lucho’s favorite XI back in January when we first faced Atletico Madrid. So with Sergio Busquets injured, Javier Mascherano will move up to the midfield and Mathieu will fill in for the Argentine at the back.: Bravo, Alves, Pique, Mathieu, Alba; Mascherano, Rakitic, Iniesta; Messi, Neymar, Suarez.
I see a Barcelona win, and hopefully with as many goals as possible.