El Clasico key battles
We look at the key clashes set to determine the outcome of the clash between Real and Barcelona.
By Kristian Walsh
Last Updated: 09/12/11 3:20pm
We look at the key clashes set to determine the outcome of the Bernabeu clash between Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Ronaldo v Mascherano
These two are acquainted from their time in England, but they are both about to get a much closer look at each other. It's a battle between two players who have adapted themselves for their team's benefit.
Javier Mascherano has been deployed at centre-back for the majority of this season, starting 11 times, meaning worries over how to fit the former Liverpool midfielder into Barcelona's plans have been answered. The tenacious Argentine has done a sterling job in a deeper role - his reading of the game and impeccably-timed challenges compensating for his lack of height. It never stopped Carles Puyol, after all.
The imperious Cristiano Ronaldo, so often criticised for his selfishness, is one of the biggest reasons for Real Madrid's dominance in La Liga at this time - but not just because of what he does on the ball. Mourinho has worked on Ronaldo to make him become more of a team player; no longer the sole reference of attack, he has been given the chance to create as well as score. He already has six assists this season, the same as Lionel Messi, and can be credited for aiding the excellent performances of Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema this season.
Mascherano must be at his best in defence to stop the Portuguese superstar. His movement, power and trickery could prove too much for El Jefecito; if it does, expect Real to score aplenty.
Dani Alves v Di Maria
False nines, inside forwards, trequartistas and quarterback defensive midfielders - football has become a lot more complicated over the past decade. So it is exciting to see the best left-winger in the world up against the best-right back on the planet.
Few could argue against those monikers. In an era where out-and-out wingers are very much a dying breed, Angel Di Maria's pace, trickery and love for the byline is refreshing to watch. He has already registered 11 assists this season - just seven behind Messi's haul last season.
But up against him at the Bernabeu is a player who notched 15 assists himself in Barcelona's breathtaking season; this intriguing battle between the two could go a long way in deciding this game.
The defensive ability of Alves is quite underrated. It's true that Barcelona are never under enough pressure to fully test him, but his sheer athleticism ensures he's rarely caught out of position. Instead, it's the defensive ability of Di Maria that will be called into question. Can the Argentine winger pen Alves back in his own half? If he does, how does this work when Alves has the ball?
It's an interesting battle as both have to consider the side of their game rarely used - defending. Whoever does that best will come out on top.
Fabregas v Pepe
Good news for the Portuguese centre-back: Lionel Messi won't play as centrally this time. Bad news: Cesc Fabregas is your new adversary.
When Barcelona finally got their man this summer, questions as to where he would fit into Pep Guardiola's crushing machine arose.
His close control of the ball, coupled with short, sharp passing, would replace Iniesta aptly.
His ability to dictate the tempo of a game, vision and composure made him the natural successor to Xavi, who is nearer the latter part of his career.
Perhaps Guardiola could even see his defensive abilities; replacing Busquets deep in midfield would allow Busquets to replace Puyol when the time was right. Constant evolution: the Barcelona way.
Instead, Fabregas finds himself taking the place of the best player in the world.
Arguments can be forged as to whether Barcelona have been blunted somewhat by moving Messi slightly wider and Fabregas down the middle; it would in no way be a criticism for Fabregas, who has scored seven, set up five and been one of Barca's best players. It's just the fact he's not quite Lionel Messi.
There's no argument about the torrid time Pepe could be in for, however. Pepe is a brute of a defender and will look to use that against Fabregas; it is up to Fabregas to deal with that. The former Arsenal star is not alien to taking a kicking after his time in the Premier League, but he'll have to be brave to ensure brain beats brawn at the Bernabeu.
Xabi Alonso v Xavi
Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Look up. Long pass. Pass. Pass. Pass. Pass.
In this battle, there is just one winner - football.