El Clasico is always such a tight contest and this weekend’s encounter could come down to a single individual battle on the chess board that is the football pitch. Ahead of the meeting between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Camp Nou on Monday (AEDT), here comes a look at six duels that could prove decisive.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen v Karim Benzema
Benzema is in career-best form and comes into El Clasico with nine goals from his eight LaLiga appearances so far this season. After helping France to a Nations League triumph with his excellent performances in the Final Four, Real Madrid’s main man in attack is in irresistible form, but ter Stegen has managed to keep Benzema at bay over the years. In fact, the Frenchman has scored just twice across the 1,075 minutes they’ve shared on the pitch in previous El Clasico meetings. The number nine scored in their last encounter - Los Blancos’ 2-1 win at Valdebebas.
Vinicius Jr v Gerard Piqué
Benzema might be the primary goal-scorer in this Real Madrid squad, but the player who seems to creates out of nothing is Vinícius and he’ll look to use his pace and trickery to get the better of Gerard Piqué. The Brazilian and the Spaniard are at opposite ends of their careers, so we’ll see youthful confidence going up against veteran experience and this could be key to the game’s outcome.
Frenkie de Jong vs Casemiro
As is so often the case in football, the key battles could be in the midfield - and keep a particular eye on the individual duel between Frenkie de Jong and Casemiro. These two players bring the energy to their respective midfields and are capable of playing their best football on the biggest occasions. Key to protecting their defences at the same time as getting forward to contribute to attack, de Jong and Casemiro are undoubtedly two of this fixture’s most important players.
Gavi v Eduardo Camavinga
We might witness a glimpse into the future when 17 year-old Gavi and 18 year-old rival Camavinga hit the pitch at Camp Nou. Both these players have caught the eye to start the campaign, with Gavi making an impact after emerging through Barça’s La Masia academy and Camavinga forcing his way into the stacked Madrid first team after his summer transfer from Rennes. If these two players do feature in this game - likely off the bench - their fresh legs in the final stages could prove decisive.
Ansu Fati v David Alaba
There is great excitement at Barcelona at Ansu Fati’s comeback, after he returned from a 10-month injury layoff by scoring a goal against Levante on his first match back. The 18-year-old has inherited Lionel Messi’s iconic number ten shirt at Camp Nou and will be looking to score against Real Madrid, just as he did in this same fixture last year before his knee injury. Out to prevent the teenager from repeating last year’s heroics is summer signing David Alaba, the experienced centre-back who has seamlessly slotted into Real Madrid’s backline. While Los Blancos’ defence has been leakier than a colander at times throughout the fledgling season, the Austrian will be determined to earn a clean sheet in his first El Clasico.
Memphis Depay v Thibaut Courtois
While Ter Stegen vs Benzema is a duel we’ve enjoyed many times before, the upcoming battle between Thibaut Courtois and Memphis is a relatively novel one. They have only shared the pitch for 17 minutes in their careers - in 2015-2016 when they both played in English football, so this should be a special face-off between the goalkeeper and the forward at Camp Nou. Both players have started 2021-2022 in good form and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the result of this El Clasico comes down to a one-on-one chance between the Dutchman and Belgian.