Countdown to the Clásico

Iniesta/ PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
Get a detailed account of the hours leading up to this afternoon’s match at the Camp Nou against Real Madrid


15.50
: Kick off is four hours away, have you seen the photo gallery of this morning’s training session?

14.30: The traditional meal between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid directors begins at Gran Teatre Liceu. Presidents Sandro Rosell and Florentino Pérez are leading the delegations of their respective clubs.

14.00: If he plays, Alexis Sánchez will reach his 50th match for FC Barcelona.

13.14: The first team’s motor-coach departs from the Camp Nou for the team’s hotel.

13.00: After the session at the Camp Nou, the coaching staff will take the 17 available first team players and Barça B’s Tello and Sergi Roberto to the NH Constanza hotel. In the end, Piqué wasn’t named to the team.

11.45: The team begins its last training session at the stadium before the match against Real Madrid. All the available first team players are presents in addition to Barça B’s Tello, Sergi Roberto and Oier. Piqué is working out in the gym, apart from the group.

11.20: The team’s motor-coach arrives at the Camp Nou.

10.35: The players start to arrive for their last training session at the Camp Nou, a 11.30, ahead of this afternoon’s match against Real Madrid. Pedro and Villa are the first to arrive.

Piqué out of The Clásico

Una acció de l'entrenament d'aquest diumenge. FOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB.
Gerard Piqué trained alone in the gym this morning whilst the rest of the squad put in a final session ahead of the big game and the Catalan defender has not been named in Tito’s squad

Tito Vilanova calls up all 17 available squad players plus Tello and Sergi Roberto

Gerard Piqué trained alone in the gym this morning whilst the rest of the squad put in a final session at the Camp Nou ahead of the big game. The defender was finally ruled out of the game, although he had trained normally with the rest of the squad on Saturday morning. B team youngsters  Tello, Sergi Roberto and Oier joined the first team squad for this morning’s training.

19 man squad

Once the session was over, the first team players, plus Tello and Roberto went off to the NH Constanza hotel where they will lunch together and stay until leaving for the Camp Nou again ahead of the 19.50 kick off.

Azulgrana RoundUp: El Clásico edition

Alex Song at the Bernabéu / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
The Clásico at the Camp Nou kicks off at 19.50, but before that have a look at what the international press is saying about this evening’s match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid

Sid Lowe: “Madrid cannot afford many more mistakes. Lose to Barcelona, and an 11-point lead opens up. Too much. Even in October”
Rob Train: “With the fragility of [Barça’s] back line in mind, they will probably try to camp in Real’s half, leaving the back door open for lightening counter-attacks”
Graham Hunter: “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”

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.”

The Clásico of the opportunities

PHOTO: ARCHIVE FCB
19.50, GolT, Canal + Liga – Barca welcomes Real Madrid to the Camp Nou determined to open up an eleven-point lead and establish a new Club record ahead of the international break

This Sunday’s match will be the Clásico of the opportunities. FC Barcelona receives Real Madrid with an eight-point lead and a golden opportunity to make it eleven before the second international break of the season.  Eleven points wouldn’t be definitive, but it would be a considerable advantage with just seven games played.  And the players have the extra motivation that never before in the history of the Club has the team won the opening seven games of a league season.  It could be a great day.

Piqué a doubt

The main doubt for Barça is focused on the heart of the defence.  With Puyol out for some time due to the elbow injury he suffered against Benfica, Tito Vilanova will be keeping a close eye on the recovery of Gerard Piqué from the injury he sustained against Spartak Moscow.  If Piqué fails to recover in time, it seems likely that Vilanova will give the nod to the pairing of Mascherano and Song.

Real Madrid need the points

By contrast, Real Madrid will come to the Camp Nou with all their regulars fit and available.  However, after a poor start to the season which has seen them concede two defeats (Getafe and Sevilla) and a draw, against Valencia, José Mourinho’s team cannot afford to lose in the Camp Nou –last season they won- if they are not to lose sight of a Barça side that has started the campaign with all guns blazing under Tito Vilanova.

Clásico history. Did you know…

Xavi Hernández in the 2010/11 Clásico, when Barça won 5-0. PHOTO ARCHIVE FCB.
Barça and Madrid will face off this Sunday in a match that will surely add to the rich history between the two sides

– With the recent victory in the Spanish Super Cup, Madrid has now won 88 Clásicos to Barça’s 87. There have been 46 draws between the two sides.

– At the Camp Nou, in the Liga, the home team has won 47 times, the visitors 19 times and they’ve tied 18 times.

Xavi Hernández is the FC Barcelona player that has featured in the most Clásicos. He’s played in 34 official matches against Real Madrid and he’s scored 5 goals against Los Blancos.

Alex Song knows what it’s like to beat Real Madrid. He defeated Madrid while playing for Arsenal it in the 2005/06 edition Champions League in the quarter-finals (0-1). The 18-year-old came onto the pitch for Cesc in the dying minutes of the away game at the Bernabéu.

Jordi Alba scored against Real Madrid in the 2011/12 Liga in Mestalla. Madrid won that game by 3 to 6.

– Since the 1964/65 season, Madrid has not defeated Barça consecutively in the Liga at the Camp Nou.

Jose Mourinho has lost to FC Barcelona 10 times in his career, twice as much as any other team (he has lost to Liverpool five time).

– The 5-0 at the Camp Nou on November in of 2010 is the only time that a team led by Mourinho has lost by more than three goals (in official matches).

– Madrid, in the return leg of the Super Cup at the Bernabéu (2-1), is the only team that has defeated Tito Vilanova in an official match. Vilanova’s record in official matches stands at 9 victories from 10 games.

Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo

Leo Messi has played against Real Madrid 21 times, he’s won 11, tied 5 and lost 5. He’s scored 15 goals and assisted 10 in Barça’s 44 most recent goals against Madrid.

Cristian Ronaldo has played against Barça 15 times. His record against the Blaugrana is three wins, four draws and eight defeats. The Portuguese player has scored 8 of his team’s 17 goals against Barça, he has no assists to date against the Catalans.

– With his 15 goals against Madrid, Leo Messi is the second highest scorer in the history  of Clásicos, level with Raúl González. Only Alfredo Di Stéfano has scored more goals than Barça’s number 10 in Clásicos.

– Madrid is the team that’s conceded the second-most goals to Messi, Atlético Madrid are first with 18.

– Cristiano Ronaldo has scored in the last four Clásicos at the Camp Nou.