With eight months to go until the end of the Spanish season, it is perhaps premature to describe this weekend’s derby between Real Madrid and Barcelona as decisive. However, with both sides shrouded in doubt, the potential confidence boost that victory will bring adds an extra dimension to the match beyond the usual socio-political significance.
Real Madrid must win if they are to silence their critics in the media and the growing dissatisfaction amongst the fans at Capello’s dour pragmatism. It would also be a disaster for Real Madrid if they were to fall 8 points behind Barcelona at such an early stage in the season.
Barcelona, on the other hand, must put their midweek defeat to Chelsea behind them and prove to a critical Spanish audience that they are not in decline following the feats of the last two seasons.
Individually, Raul is keen to prove to the world that he has a part to play in the future of both Real Madrid and the national team, whilst Ronaldinho will be desperate to put an end to the speculation that his indifferent start to the season is outward sign of some deeper malaise.
An increasingly frustrated Ronaldinho, without the trademark grin, said yesterday “When I scored twice against Sevilla, everyone said that I was back to my best – yet three days later, the same people claim that I am useless”
Such is the fickle nature of the Spanish sports press. On Monday this was the worst Real Madrid side in living memory, yet by Wednesday morning we were witnessing a side on its way to a record breaking 10th Champions league trophy.
Ronaldinho has a point; it is better to ignore the collective scribbling of the media, but at times the personal and intrusive nature of some of the criticism can infuriate the most experienced star. “I don’t get angry at the criticism but why do they keep saying that I have stopped smiling. It’s very strange because I haven’t changed. I’m the same as always and I will go on being the same” said Ronaldinho.
The truth is, most of those who have noted that the famous smile is missing are not critics or opponents but fans of the player who are desperate to witness a return to form.
The absence of Samuel Eto’o has surely been a contributory factor in the lack of mirth at the Camp Nou of late and the Cameroonian will be missed at the Bernabeu tomorrow, “We’ll miss him because of what he can do on the pitch” said Ronaldinho “and because of the understanding that I have with him”.
Eto’o is guaranteed to the miss the match but Carle Puyol who has struggled with a shoulder injury, should be fit and is the only doubt for Barcelona at the moment. Rijkaard may made changes to his starting eleven, however, and Rafa Marquez may be moved into midfield in place of Motta or Edmilson – with Thuram taking his place at the heart of the defence.
Guti and Beckham have recovered from their respective knocks but Madrid will be unable to count on the services of Ronaldo who misses the game through suspension. The player made his first appearance for the club against Getafe but failed to see the end of the match after receiving a red card for dissent. Sergio Ramos returns to the side and will provide a decent protection from Ronaldinho on the right of the Madrid defence.
In fact, it is the Madrid defence that looks stronger than the one that folded against a free flowing Barcelona in last season’s 0-3 defeat in the corresponding fixture ; “There was only one team in that game “ Said Raul “But this year it will be different and Barcelona will not find it quite so easy”.
The addition of Cannavaro to the Real Madrid defence must count for something, but it is in the centre of midfield where Real Madrid must seek to stop Barcelona’s attacking play. Diarra and Emerson would do well to emulate Diarra of Chelsea. Capello is aware of this and the Chelsea game will provide inspiration for his side, as Raul states “There are many ways to beat Barcelona, and one way is to do what Chelsea did”
Chelsea may have stopped Barcelona from scoring, but they also manager to store a goal themselves – something that Real Madrid struggle to do when they stick rigidly to Capello’s defensive formation. A draw may spare either side any embarrassment, but failure to win will be more costly for Real Madrid than it will be for Barcelona.