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Not a Messi affair

Guillem Balague - Guillem Balague Posted 20th December 2007 view comments

Our Spanish football expert Guillem Balague looks ahead to the biggest game of the Spanish season so far as Real Madrid travel to the Camp Nou to face Barcelona.

'El Classico' will be broadcast live on Sky Sports on Sunday and Guillem reckons six key elements will determine where the game will be won and lost.

1. The absence of Lionel Messi

Barcelona will miss the injured Lionel Messi, but not so much for his goalscoring form, despite the fact he has scored 12 goals in his last 20 games.

Eto'o: plays, but Messi is out

Eto'o: plays, but Messi is out

The biggest loss to Barcelona is that, despite his age, his team-mates have become accustomed to giving him the ball when they don't know how to open up defences.

Everybody else will have to raise their game because he is one of those players that can create something out of nothing. Even Real Madrid's players were saying it is a shame he won't be involved because the spectacle may suffer a little bit.

Even Real Madrid's players were saying it is a shame Lionel Messi won't be involved because the spectacle may suffer a little bit.

Guillem Balague
Quotes of the week

Barcelona v Real Madrid
One of four La Liga games
live on Sky Sports this weekend.
Click here for details.

2. The return of Samuel Eto'o

Samuel Eto'o has scored three goals in his last three matches, but he brings more to the Barca team than just goals.

Barcelona are difficult to beat because of the pressure they put on other teams when they lose the ball. Eto'o's attitude and commitment puts the defences of rival teams in trouble.

If Barcelona steal the ball in midfield, they have plenty of pace and with the likes of Ronaldinho, Eto'o, Andres Iniesta, Deco and Xavi involved, it is always going to be easy for them to score.

That is what made them so strong two seasons ago, but it has been missing for the last year. Eto'o has brought that back.

3. Barcelona's defence

Barcelona have got the strongest back four they have had for ages. They have Carles Puyol on the right, while Rafael Marquez is playing really well with plenty of aggression and confidence. Gabriel Milito is probably the best centre-back in La Liga and Eric Abidal is also a very solid left-back.

I don't think we will see a repeat of last year's 3-3 at the Camp Nou. I can see Barcelona keeping Real Madrid at bay defensively, though I think they will still concede because Barcelona are the sort of team that give you chances.

4. Real's forward line

Real Madrid are very, very effective up front. They don't play football, they simply score goals. It sounds a bit harsh to say that, but Real don't dominate games. They lose control of matches at times, but because they are so good up front, they always have an advantage.

Raul, Robinho and Ruud van Nistelrooy have been key to their season - especially Robinho, who has been the man of the season alongside Messi. He has given their attack an extra edge.

The fact that Pepe and Fabio Cannavaro are so good at the back makes them one of the toughest defences to beat as well. With Iker Casillas in goal I don't see another 3-3 and I don't think we will see the free-flowing football of previous years in this encounter.

5. The future of Frank Rijkaard

There have been lots of stories about Frank Rijkaard being under pressure - and he was under pressure. There was a Plan B in place, which involved Josep Guardiola, who is the head coach of the B-team.

But I think that situation is over now and Rijkaard is there to stay until the end of the season at least.

He has managed to turn things around since the defeat to Getafe and he has picked up five wins and two draws from seven games since then.

There has been a change of attitude in the team. Ronaldinho has been on the bench for three consecutive away games, but he has never been on the bench at home.

However, we all assume that Ronaldinho will play on Sunday, especially with the injury to Messi.

6. Eidur Gudjohnsen and Julio Baptista

These are two players that nobody was paying much attention to at the start of the season, but they have become crucial to both Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Real play with a 4-3-3 formation that includes Julio Baptista in the midfield with Wesley Sneijder and Mahamadou Diarra. That gives Real a directness that they were missing and provides a physical presence as well.

Baptista can score from the midfield coming from deep. He waited for his chance, got it and has taken advantage of it so well that he is currently keeping Guti on the bench.

Eidur Gudjohnsen is the same because he has added something different to the Barcelona midfield. He brings a directness that they didn't have before. With Gudjohnsen you don't need to pass the ball 20 times to get to goal. He keeps things simple with one-touch passes to the forwards.

That gives Barca a different option and while I'm not sure if he will play, it would be good to see him because he has started six out of the last seven games.

Do you agree with Guillem? Let us know what you think by using the feedback form below and continue to email him your questionshere

Now to your e-mail...

I've been following Spanish football for some time now and I've noticed that the goalkeepers don't get the recognition they deserve. For the last couple of years Casillas and Valdes haven't got as many plaudits as say the goalkeepers in England or Italy. For the last two seasons they have been outstanding, maybe the No 1 shirt in Spain isn't as important as the No 9 shirt!! What do you think? David Spence (Barcelona fan)

GUILLEM SAYS: I kind of disagree with you. Not only have Liverpool got a Spanish goalie, but the quality of our goalies means Victor Valdes doesn't even get into the reckoning for the national side. There are no English goalies abroad either and I haven't heard many people talking nicely about English goalies lately. People talk about Ben Foster, who I hope doesn't become another Chris Kirkland - that is someone whose legend grew while he was out injured. Italian goalies are different, they travel well and tend to be more technically adept than the Spanish and English ones. The main problem with Spanish goalies is that they are not in fashion and they live in a comfort zone in Spain, so prefer not to travel abroad. In my eyes, and in the eyes of goalkeeping coaches I have spoken to, they are as good as any in the world. Let's see if Santiago Cañizares, now that he has been asked to find himself a team, feels strong enough to test himself abroad

Buenos Dias Don Guillem! First, let me thank you for the brilliant work that you do. You are the best football expert we see on TV in India. I have a question for you. I am a huge Liverpool and "El Maestro" Rafa Benitez fan and El Maestro has said that we are looking for a centre-back. We already have Carra and Agger who are at their prime but I think there is room for a good young centre-back. I know Garay is very good but who do you think can fit the bill? And once again, thanks for the great work you are doing. Muchas gracias, Saurabh Singh, Bangalore, India.

GUILLEM SAYS: Thank you very much for your kind words Saurabh! Now Rafa has got money to buy a couple of players, one will certainly be a centre back. Keep an eye on the ones playing for Paris teams... From Spain, Ezequiel Marcelo Garay (Racing) would definitely be useful, as would Raul Albiol (Valenica) or Fernando Amorebieta (Bilbao).

Hi Guillem, I'm a Newcastle fan first and foremost but I'm a massive fan of la Liga and I support Valencia in Spain. I know it was right to sack Quique Flores but I was sad to see him leave like that because I felt he did a great job in the two or three years he was there. But appointing Ronald Koeman, who doesn't play a very different style to Quique was an awful decision for the club because I don't think he is a good manager at all, but my question to you is, and I know this will upset you a bit, why didn't Valencia appoint Ernesto Valverde as manager? I think he is a great manager and he has done a fantastic job at Espanyol with small resources and a small squad, Uefa cup runners up, Copa del Rey winners and currently 5th with wins over Valencia away, Seville away, Real Madrid and should have won in Zaragoza at the weekend. Also if he was offered the job do you think he would have taken it? Thanks. Tariq from Sheffield

GUILLEM SAYS: Ernesto Valverde is doing a great job in a club that is working at all levels from top to bottom. He is benefiting from the signings made by Paco Herrera and he has been brave enough to play very offensive football which makes Espanyol fans so proud. But I'm not sure he is ready yet to jump to the next level. I think he is still learning to counterbalance that offensive approach with a better defensive system, and has not been able to teach his pupils to control matches better. But he is one that Johan Cruyff has tipped as a potential Barcelona coach, so keep your eye on him. As for Valencia and Koeman - you have finally seen the Dutchman taking decisions and that can only be good for a team that needed a shock to the system. Daniel Albelda and Canizares can start looking for a new team, and the next ones to be put in doubt are Vicente, Ruben Baraja and Miguel Angulo. Koeman has started using a 4-3-3 system that will separate him from Quique, but I'm not sure he has the players to make it work. It is time for big storms at Valencia

Hi Guillem! Love your column, I was just wondering, you touched on the skills of Kun Aguero and how Atletico are building around him, but what is it going to take for him to be acknowledged as world class, because like you say he isn't playing in the Champions League and these days that's everything? I watch him week in week out and just wish that he got the recognition of the likes of Messi, Wayne Rooney etc. What is it that Aguero has to do to show the world that he is world class without having to move to a Manchester United or AC Milan? Matthew Rigby.

GUILLEM SAYS: Aguero has got the intention to stay at Atletico de Madrid for a long time. The team is growing around him and he feels important. Coach Javier Aguirre gave him one season to settle and now he is demanding more of him and Kun is loving the challenge. He is a little Romario, short, stocky and dangerous in small spaces inside the box, but he intervenes more in Atletico's football which suggests to me, if he continues this progression, that he will be one of the top three players in the world in less than two years. Especially if Atletico start visiting the Champions League regularly.

Do you agree with Guillem? Let us know what you think by using the feedback form below and continue to email him your questionshere

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