Here they are...
Dani Alves vs Marcelo
Lionel Messi against Cristiano Ronaldo is the headline clash in tomorrow’s Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid, but where the match will really be won and lost depends on this pair of Brazilian full-backs. Los Blancos struggled in the early part of the season when Fabio Coentrao was filling in at left-back, but now Marcelo is back from injury for Carlo Ancelotti’s men, their attacking options have been boosted ten-fold. The Selecao international offers a noticeable threat going forward, but most importantly, offers the requisite width to allow Cristano Ronaldo to come inside and be at his most dangerous. With Dani Alves attacking him tomorrow however, it will be interesting to see how far forward the 25-year-old can realistically get without being caught out by his countryman.
Messi vs his marker
The Argentine record-breaker is undoubtedly Barca’s main man tomorrow, and has a habit of producing his best for the Clasicos. 18 goals in 25 matches against Real Madrid is a record held jointly with the great Alfredo Di Stefano, and it will be Carlo Ancelotti’s job to nullify the threat posed by Leo. In previous encounters, Jose Mourinho opted to push Pepe out of defence and into the holding midfield role to try and pick up the deep runs made by the 26-year-old. With Raphael Varane fit again, that is an option for the Italian tactician. But the more likely option will be to keep Sami Khedira as the deep-lying man, and order the German to follow Messi at all costs. The ace up Los Blancos’ sleeve though, could be the inclusion of Xabi Alonso. The former Liverpool man has been out since the summer recovering from groin surgery, but having returned to training recently, the Santiago Bernabeu team may take a gamble and opt to field arguably their most influential player – even if he’s not 100 per cent fit.
Bale vs Adriano
Fans of the Premier League will know what Gareth Bale does best: running from deep with the ball and firing from distance. At Real Madrid, when you are a cup final for 18 teams in the League, that can be a challenge. Against Barcelona though, the former Tottenham Hotspur man could really shine. When the opposition are controlling 60-65 per cent of the possession, quick counter-attacks are the key, and in Bale and Ronaldo, Los Blancos have, perhaps, the best two players on the planet at that particular job. It will be up to left-back Adriano then, to stop the flying Welshman at Camp Nou tomorrow. Playing only because of Jordi Alba’s injury, it will be a huge ask for the Brazilian to get the best of the world’s most expensive player. If he’s allowed the space and time to exploit his pace, Bale could become a match-winner and Madrid hero forever. If Adriano gets the upper-hand however, the Blaugrana could be laughing all the way to another League title.
image: © Oh Barcelona