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Barcelona vs Real Madrid: Three key duels to watch out for in this El Clasico

Barcelona vs Real Madrid: Three key duels to watch out for in this El Clasico

Barcelona welcome Real Madrid for the first El Clasico of the season this weekend in La Liga.

The first ELCLASICO of the 2023/24 season is just around the corner and the stakes could hardly be higher in this meeting between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, with the latter just one point ahead of the former in the LALIGA EA SPORTS table. As this heavyweight duel approaches, here comes a detailed look at three key duels which could determine whether it’s FC Barcelona or Real Madrid celebrating on Saturday evening.

João Cancelo vs Vini Jr.: The Brazilian faces the competition’s top defender

Over the past few years, Xavi has often put Ronald Araújo up against Vini Jr. in ELCLASICO, but João Cancelo’s excellent start to his FC Barcelona career has seen the Portuguese lock down the right-back spot. As such, it should be the 29-year-old who’ll go up against the player Carlo Ancelotti had repeatedly described as “the best winger in world football”.

Cancelo and Vini Jr. have only faced off once before in their careers, when Real Madrid produced an incredible comeback in the 2021/22 Champions League semi-final second leg against Manchester City. However, Cancelo played at left-back for the majority of that game, so there wasn’t a direct duel between these two talents.

On Saturday, we should finally get to see if Cancelo can handle Vini Jr.’s incredible pace and trickery. Although the Brazilian has missed time over the first few months of the season with injury, he has still been his usual electric self when he has played and is achieving 1.9 successful dribbles per game, with only 10 players in LALIGA EA SPORTS having more. On the other hand, Cancelo is the player with the most tackles per game in the entire competition, with 3.7 per 90 minutes. In other words, one of the best attackers is going up against one of the best defenders and that duel, on Real Madrid’s left and Barça’s right, could be key to deciding the entire contest.

Barça’s midfield vs Real Madrid’s midfield: ELCLASICO could be won in the centre of the pitch

Many ELCLASICO contests over the years have been won in the midfield, and that could be the case once more given the talent in both squads in the midfield position.

In the case of the midfield of Los Blaugrana, they are dominating possession as they typically do, with an average of 69.3% possession this season, which is over 10% more than the second-placed team in this ranking, UD Las Palmas. Gavi has been the main man in the middle for the Catalan side so far, and he’ll hope to be joined by Pedri and Frenkie de Jong, if those two can recover from injury in time for the big game. Even if they can’t, Xavi has veteran alternatives in the form of İlkay Gündoğan and Oriol Romeu, with the former offering an elite vision of the final third and with the latter providing defensive security in front of the back four.

Romeu could be a busy man, given the explosiveness of Real Madrid’s own midfield. The midfield that has started most frequently for Los Blancos this season, usually in a diamond shape, has been Aurélien Tchouaméni, Federico Valverde, Eduardo Camavinga and Jude Bellingham. Aged 23, 25, 20 and 20, respectively, this is a midfield packed with talent and energy, while Ancelotti can also turn to the experience of Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić if he requires something different. Real Madrid have won so many games thanks to their midfield this season, especially summer signing Bellingham and his league-leading eight LALIGA EA SPORTS goals, so this will be an area to watch on Saturday.

Barcelona vs Real Madrid - Vinicius Jr and Joao Cancelo to go head to head against each for the first time in awaited El Clasico this weekend

Xavi vs Ancelotti: The Barça coach just edges the head-to-head record

The other key duel that could decide ELCLASICO will be on the benches, where Xavi and Ancelotti will meet for the eighth time. Of their seven meetings so far, there haven’t been any draws, while the Catalan tactician has triumphed four times to the Italian’s three.

In those FC Barcelona wins, Xavi has often produced a trick from up his sleeve to overcome Ancelotti’s Real Madrid, such as moving Gavi into the attacking trident, putting Araújo on Vini Jr. or deploying Ferran Torres as a false nine. With Barça suffering a few injuries this week, the coach may be forced to experiment and come up with a special tactical wrinkle to win this next contest.

Meanwhile, Ancelotti will look to engineer a game plan as solid as the one that produced a 4-0 Copa del Rey victory in Catalonia last season. The 64-year-old is still capable of coming up with fresh ideas, as demonstrated by his switch to a 4-4-2 diamond system ahead of this season, and Ancelotti will be encouraged by the fact that he has won the first ELCLASICO of the season in each of the previous two campaigns.

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