Thirteen months have passed since the last Clasico held in Madrid, and Saturday’s game between Real Madrid and Barcelona at Valdebebas will be very different to the one played at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
Beyond the obvious differences of having 80,000 fans a year ago at one of the world’s best stadiums, to this being played at an empty training ground, there have been a lot of changes, particularly at Barcelona.
Joan Laporta is back at Barcelona Josep Maria Bartomeu is gone. Back as president, Laporta returns to Madrid, but not to the Bernabeu where he won on four of his seven visits.
He’ll be reunited with Florentino Perez, against whom he has a 5-2 lead, and he’ll want to get Barcelona back to winning ways in the Clasico.
Zinedine Zidane is still on the Real Madrid bench, but there’s a new man up against him. Ronald Koeman has come in to replace Quique Setien and has the Catalans challenging for the title again.
As a player, Koeman won just one Clasico in the capital and will want a better record as a coach.
Setien and his team, notably Eder Sarabia, caused controversy in the Clasico last season as the players were far from happy with how harshly he had been criticising them.
Without Sergio Ramos, but with Lionel Messi
Real Madrid won’t have their captain with them, but Barcelona’s leader is coming into the game in his best form this season. It would have been Sergio Ramos‘ 46th Clasico, but instead Messi will draw level with his 45th.
They might never meet in a Clasico again, with both facing uncertain futures at their respective clubs.
Messi has scored 26 goals against Real Madrid, but hasn’t done so since the 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou in May 2018, going six Clasicos without a goal.
Modric, Marcelo, Isco
Last year, Luka Modric was on the bench, which was strange for a game of such importance. Things have reverted to normal though and the Croatian is as important as he’s ever been to Zidane’s plans.
Isco and Marcelo played last season, but likely won’t this time around. The Brazilian was in and out of the team last year, but his role is more of a backup one this term.
Semedo, Arthur, Vidal, Rakitic
A lot of players have left Barcelona. Semedo, Arthur and Vidal have all moved on. Both Rakitic and Luis Suarez have as well, though the No.9 was injured last year and the Croatian started on the bench.
This year, Sergino Dest, Ronald Araujo, Oscar Mingueza and Pedri are likely to play important roles. Ousmane Dembele, also, will be back in the XI and has been enjoying his best form as a Barcelona player in 2021.
Ansu Fati also featured as a substitute last year but will miss out through injury.
Nacho Fernandez, from forgotten to essential
His situation is a far cry to that of a year ago. Then, he was a peripheral player and now he’s key for Zidane in the absence of Ramos and Raphael Varane.
Real Madrid have had injury problems all season and the Spaniard has played a huge role, playing in each of their recent wins and making the defence his own, leading with his experience.
Dani Carvajal‘s place will also be occupied by Lucas Vazquez.