Steven Cohen: ‘Tis the season for El Clasico
The pressure is squarely on Barcelona in this Clasico, as it can’t afford to fall farther behind table-topping Madrid.
This Saturday, we as football fans will be able to feast our eyes on what can only be described as a football festival with the resumption of El Clasico.
It is not just that this is the biggest rivalry in world football despite what Celtic and Rangers fans might think, or what Boca Juniors and River Plate fans might think. It is the biggest rivalry for many reasons, but even more so because at this very moment, it is between the two best teams in the world.
Take the two best managers in the world under the age of 50 (Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho). Take the two single-best football players on planet earth who scored over a combined 100 goals last season (Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo).
Take the player who I believe has been the most important player in world football for both club and country the last four years (Xavi). Add water and stir and let’s see what happens.
El Clasico is upon us. Whether you are a fan of the Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga or even MLS, you should carve out two hours of this weekend and watch what should be a football fireworks festival.
This season, the ill-tempered rivalry got off to a fast start when the two teams played a two-legged Spanish Super Cup that ended in a tackle by Marcelo on Cesc Fabregas that should have seen the Real Madrid player go to prison, not just an early shower. The benches emptied and Mourinho saw fit to poke Barcelona assistant coach Tito Vilanova in the eye in the melee that ensued.
These clubs do not like each other and it has even been feared that the Spanish national side, made up of so many Real Madrid and Barcelona players, has been affected by the animosity between the clubs. In fact, Xavi and Iker Casillas had to have their own private summit to try and cool the tempers between the two clubs for the sake of the nation.
While Barcelona had the upper hand last year, this season is a little bit different. Real Madrid currently sits three points clear of Barcelona with a game in hand as Barcelona is set to miss some domestic action as the club heads to Japan for the Club World Cup.
Los Blancos are playing a brand of football that I believe is going to be tough for Barcelona to contain and it is doing it very much in a way that suggests once again that if you give Mourinho that second season, he can work magic as he did at Inter Milan.
At this point of the season I could see Real Madrid doing its own treble. Real Madrid is the favorite for this Clasico, and rightfully so. The numbers don’t lie and neither does the table.
It was clear that even last season, Real Madrid was the second-best team in the world and I am quite sure it would have beaten Manchester United in the Champions League final had it gotten past Barcelona.
Both clubs are coming off of impressive wins over the weekend; Real Madrid beating Sporting Gijon 3-0 on the road and Barcelona following up its mid-week 4-0 win over Rayo Vallecano with a 5-0 home win over Levante.
Still, there seems to be something just a little off with Barcelona, and it does not seem quite as fluid as it was last season.
Maybe it is introduction of Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez, or maybe it’s because Guardiola does not seem to be able stick with one lineup. But it seems to me that Xavi is not as involved as he was last year. He is not having a bad season, but he just does not seem to be as dominant in his position as he was last year.
Real Madrid has scored three or more goals in 11 of its 14 La Liga games this season. Cristiano Ronaldo has 17 of the 49 goals it has scored as a team, and both Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema are contributing mightily.
But Barcelona is going to have to contain Angel Di Maria and his 11 assists to have a chance of winning this week. The Blaugrana’s backline is going to have to be exceptional and its art of possession and ticky-tack passing is going to be twice as crucial in this game.
Barcelona is obliged to go and get these three points. A draw does not help it very much and it is going to need to win at both Clasico fixtures if it’s going to win a fourth consecutive La Liga title.
The pressure is squarely on the shoulders of the boys from Catalonia and Real Madrid is just waiting for them with a few scores to settle.
Should Barcelona lose on Saturday and fall six points back having played a game more, I think it will be safe to say that the La Liga title is heading to the capital.
It is El Clasico. It is the best rivalry in the world and it is the best two teams, the best two young managers under 50 and best two players in the world. Miss it at your peril.
Xavi, the best of 2011
Ronaldo, Messi and Xavi are the three shortlisted players for this years Ballon d’Or. While I think that Messi will win it for his 52 goals last season and La Liga and Champions League titles, I would just be so pleased if this year it went to Xavi.
I think the midfielder has deserved it on more than one occasion and specifically last year when he was the maestro of the World Cup winners. His genius needs to be rewarded win the Ballon d’Or just once.