Barcelona v Real Madrid: All is not well with Barcelona and Real Madrid, says Guillem Balague

27 October 2023 0 By Total Football News
Guillem Balague - BBC Sport column

Saturday's 189th La Liga Clasico comes with both Real Madrid and Barcelona way off their best form and, for the time being, papering over the cracks as they prepare for the first of this season's tussles for Spanish football's bragging rights.

Historically, victory in El Clasico frequently rubber stamped one club or another's supremacy as they strolled to a title triumph. These days, Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid would beg to differ although it is still beyond doubt one of the most watched games in the world.

Real may top the table, with Barca just one point behind, but all is not well at either club and here is why.

Real Madrid toothless without Bellingham

Jude Bellingham celebrates his goalJude Bellingham has scored 12 goals in 15 matches for Real Madrid and England this season

Rodrygo's goal against Braga in the Champions League on Tuesday was the Brazilian's first since he scored in the season opener. He has the dubious distinction of being the player with the poorest return for shots on goal in any of the five major European leagues.

Astonishingly, the problems have been masked by the stellar start that Jude Bellingham is enjoying to his career at Real - with another goal on Tuesday in Portugal his 11th in 12 games.

Real Madrid is the sort of place where reputations count for nothing and you have to prove yourself from the get-go. Just four months since putting pen to paper, he is already being touted as the leader of the side with comparisons being made between him and Zinedine Zidane.

There is total admiration for his ability, personality and application and the way he has settled seamlessly into the Spanish way of life.

That's the good news for Real. The not so good is that he picked up a knock in the win in Braga and has been a doubt for the game on Saturday, although he did return to training on Friday and is expected to feature.

Brazil forward Vinicius Jr is slowly going back to his best form and still produces moments of quality, but without the goals from Bellingham, this Real Madrid would be in a very different place.

Injuries hurting Barca

Marc Guiu: Barcelona coach Xavi told teenager to 'be ready' before debut

Barcelona have been hit by injuries, with several key players at risk of missing the big game.

Robert Lewandowski is one of those players who probably could have played in the Champions League win over Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday, although it was probably thought wiser to save him for the Clasico.

It remains to be seen whether Frenkie de Jong and Raphinha make it, although one player that Barca manager Xavi has said definitely will not play, despite being very close to a return, is Pedri.

Barcelona do have some very talented youngsters to call upon, though, such as the 17-year-old Marc Guiu, who scored within 30 seconds of making his La Liga debut, or Fermin Lopez, who was their best player in the Champions League this week, hitting the post twice and scoring once.

No-one is more surprised than the club by this emergence of young talent.

This is not an orchestrated, pre-planned golden generation but a set of individuals from different year groups who, until very recently with the first team, have not played together.

Gavi and Alejandro Balde were at La Masia at the same time but in different year groups.

Lamine Yamal is from a different generation, as is Fermin, whose time on loan at Linares last season helped him grow.

Neither Pedri nor Ronald Araujo are La Masia graduates.

But they were all there, available during a time of need.

The reality is that, despite what the club might like to proclaim about this being a world-class Barcelona side, this is a squad reduvthat has been regularly reduced in quality because of financial constraints.

Xavi woule like more competition for places, but is having to deal with a small squad. The return of injured players will certainly, at least, give him more options.

Xavi's Barca winning like Real

Barcelona manager Xavi watches his team play in the Champions LeagueXavi's Barcelona are unbeaten this season, recording 10 wins and three draws across all competitions

Barcelona's title triumph last season was built on good defence. This season, they have conceded 10 goals in 10 league games. Last season it wasn't until matchday 31 that they conceded their 10th goal of the campaign.

German goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was a massive factor last season but has not been as crucial this time around.

Much of the winning mentality currently in this Barcelona side comes from three players in particular.

Spain international Balde adds an awful lot, especially going forward, where he looks the successor to Jordi Alba at left-back.

Gavi, despite his chaotic way of playing and all too frequent displays of youthful indiscipline, is loved by everyone at Barcelona and is already a huge character in the dressing room.

Forward Ferran Torres, meanwhile, has graduated from having self-doubts to playing with a renewed confidence. The former Manchester City man has to be praised for admitting he needed help to address his mental health.

But Xavi realises that without De Jong, Lewandowski, Raphinha and especially Pedri, the Barcelona style will suffer.

Xavi is battling against the odds. The football is not always spectacular, and a lot of points have been secured by late goals. Of their seven victories, four have come thanks to goals scored after the 80th minute.

Ancelotti questioned by stars

Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti hugs Luka Modric after a Real Madrid matchCarlo Ancelotti has led Real Madrid to two Champions League titles

All is not well with Real manager Carlo Ancelotti, amid rumours that the Brazilian national side is his next port of call and fears the Italian might be showing the first signs of demob happiness as he begins to contemplate a life away from the Bernabeu.

International breaks are notorious for allowing players to return to their own countries and gripe to their local media about how they are not being played either as they wish, or often enough.

So we hear that: Rodrygo prefers to play on the right and is being played inside, Eduardo Camavinga prefers to play in central midfield although he is sometimes used as a full-back, Aurelien Tchouameni doesn't like being put at centre-back and would rather be in midfield while Luka Modric would simply just like to play more minutes.

Financial crisis not affecting the team

The Nou Camp under constructionBarcelona are playing their home matches at the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys while the Nou Camp is being redeveloped

These days some of the most boring things at Barcelona are happening on the pitch rather than off it, where things are never dull.

There are the corruption charges the club face over payments made to Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira - a former vice-president of Spain's referees' committee.

There's also Barca's colossal debt - 2.7bn euros (£2.35bn) if you include the costs of the new stadium - and a need to play their games at Montjuic, which despite being still in Barcelona, has been deemed too far for many of the club 'socios' to venture for home games.

Even if they all wanted to, the maximum attendance for home games has been capped at 49,472, around half of the capacity at the old Camp Nou. There were only 38,194 in attendance for their match against Athletic Bilbao last weekend.

Does it affect Barcelona on the pitch? Not really. It all comes down to Xavi, his eternal optimism and his ability to separate goings-on off the pitch from what needs to be done on it.

He's happy in the job although he never really realised just how demanding it would be. He has to be more than just a manager, and has to act as a club spokesman - he gets asked about absolutely everything even though it is not his domain.

There certainly won't be a spare seat in the house this weekend, where victory will make everyone believe that everything in Barcelona's garden is rosy. Crisis? What crisis?

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