The Greatest Game on Earth: Barça – Real Madrid

El Clásico Preview: FC Barcelona – Real Madrid, Sunday 1pmEST, GolTV and ESPN Deportes Xavi Celebration

I’m not good at this part: previewing El Clásico. I get so riled up, so intensely partisan that it’s hard to write coherent sentences that make big net fill. See? But I’m here to work past my personal failings, to try to give you the preview you deserve. This is, after all, the one game worth previewing every year. So here goes: El clàssic, in Ultra High Definition, Isaiah Style. There are battles and then there is Verdun. There are wars and then there’s the Crusades. There are tumultuous times of social upheaval and then there are the 1960s. Combine all three of those and you have the slightest understanding of what it means for me to merely think the words El Clásico. This is the greatest game of the year, hands down. I’m more nervous and excited about this match three months beforehand than I was for the Champions League final. Seriously.

It is ninety-eight thousand screaming fans, clad head-to-toe in the beloved blaugrana, in the largest stadium in Europe, looking at an immaculate field. It is two hours of morbo, a word so awesome it doesn’t even have a translation into English. It is the passion, terror, hatred, and love all mixed into one super feeling, one undeniably fierce and burning emotion that defies logic and forces the most rational of people to do things they would never otherwise consider. It is what drives small children to flip opponents the bird, it is what drives old men to curse like wounded pirates over the smallest of insults. It is what causes someone to throw a severed animal head from the stands towards Scumbag Jerkwad Luis Figo. It is what causes me to write three posts a day with virtually no self-censorship or coherence. It is morbo and it is beautiful.


Normally I try to infuse previews with a sense of fairness towards the other team–a sense of objectivity, if you will–but it’s hard with this match. It’s hard to be non-partisan when we’re discussing Team Evil, after all. Fortunately, I don’t think any of you are expecting me to be anything other than a cheerleader for my team. Yay Barça! Still, I’m going to do my level best to get you your regular dose of preview-ness so that you’re 1) distracted for a bit from the butterflies in your stomach and 2) fully versed in what to expect out of this one. First, a stats comparison: It’s not a particularly important stat, but here’s the overall records between the two teams, from RM’s official site:

Real Madrid 158 68 30 60 262 243
Barcelona 158 60 30 68 243 262

For some reason that I cannot fathom, the site didn’t include the exact numbers for how RM has done in the Camp Nou, despite mentioning “Real Madrid aren’t very lucky at Camp Nou…” Imagine that. Fortunately Wikipedia is here to save the day: Barça is 38W-12D-12L against RM at home, which is great. And a quick note: it should be called el clàssic for this one because it’s in Catalunya. And remember: Catalonia is not Spain (it says so in English in the picture above, after all, and it’s illegal to lie in pictures, right?)

What’s bad, though, is that Barça has only won one of those 38 in the last four years and only two in the last eight years. RM has won two as well and the rest, obviously, have been draws. We’re assured of goals: there have only been five scoreless draws in the history of el clàssic, four of which came in the Camp Nou and the latest of which was during the 2002-2003 season. Barça has won two straight against RM, of course, with an aggregate scoreline of 8-2. Not that last year has a particular bearing on what’s going to happen in this match, but it’s fun to mention those things from time to time.

League stats:
Barça: 8W-3D-0L (29GF, 8GA)
RM: 9W-1D-1L (27GF, 8GA)

Home-vs-Away stats:
5W-0D-0L (19GF, 5GA)
3W-1D-1L (9GF, 4GA)

Obviously Madrid has problems performing away from the Deathstar, for whatever reason. They don’t allow many goals, though, at 0.80 goals per away match. In fact they’ve conceded in just 2 of the 5 away matches they’ve played (2 in the loss to Sevilla and 2 in the win at Atleti), but they’re not massive scorers either, putting away only 1.80 goals per match. Not that we’re particularly more goal-scory (new word!) at 29 goals for, but at home we score 3.80 goals per match, which is fairly significant. So, if we do some fake math we see that 3.80 (our GF at home) * 0.80 (their GA away) is 3.04, meaning we will score 3 goals during the match! Rock! And obviously we allow 1 goal per match so the final score will be 3-1! Yay winning! Holes in logic? Oh no, none of that here. Next paragraph!

Okay, back to reality: Adam Bader of RealMadridTalk suggested in his interview with me that their lineup will be Casillas, Ramos, Pepe, Metzelder, Arbeloa, Lass, Alonso, Kaka, Ronaldo, Higuain, Benzema. That would mean two canteranos on the field for them. Not that we’re counting. EMD ran a little infographic (what up with Jorquera being listed?) that shows you the cost of the two squads, a little thing several Barça-based news outlets like to do now and then for reasons I cannot possibly understand. Let’s assume going forward that Adam’s predicted lineup is spot on or at least tactically correct (I don’t think Metzelder will start over Albiol, but we’ll have to see and I don’t think such a substitution would change the tactical approach much).

Here’s my predicted lineup for Barça: Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Pique, Abidal, The Yaya, Xavi, Iniesta, Henry, Ibra, Messi. You can’t get much awesomer than that, though it does leave Keita on the bench, which Guardiola might not be willing to do. If Messi isn’t 100%, I imagine that we’ll see Keita in for Iniesta in the midfield and Iniesta pushed up onto the right. However, I’ve been reading that Messi will more than likely have the green light for tomorrow and I can’t imagine that if he feels he’s ready to play Guardiola will keep him out. This ain’t your average day at the office, after all. If they start Arbeloa on the left and Messi is 100%, I think he torches them a significant number of times. Marcelo too if he gets a start because I don’t think Marcelo is as disciplined as Arbeloa in the defensive third. If Pellegrini does start Adam’s proposed lineup, it will be what Hector referred to as a 4-2-2-2 “magic square”, a lineup that I don’t think has enough solidity in midfield (Kaka and Crynaldo) to retain much possession against our team. Given that Iniesta and Xavi will be occupying midfield fulcrum roles, we’ll simply be able to pass around their DMs (Xabi Alonso and Lass) who are sitting back in front of the defensive line.

Another big if is if Pellegrini comes to play and puts out only one DM (Xabi Alonso) and switches Lass out for Granero, they might have a better chance of stifling our midfield, but Xabi Alonso would then have to have one hell of a game. While he’s certainly capable of that, I’m not sure Metzelder is capable of containing anyone at any time. If he starts, he’ll be crushed to death by the giant boulder that is Ibra.

Call me cynical, but I’m expecting them to come kick us like the Juande Ramos-led side last year in the Camp Nou. The Madrid fans demand an open game where they beat us man-vs-man, but I just don’t see that happening in our house. Som un, after all and they’re eleven individuals that will get their asses handed to them.

Okay, here are the game details:
: 7pm local/Barcelona, 1pmEST/New York (check your local time here)
: Watch it on GolTV or ESPN Deportes. GolTV is running an hour long preview/lead-up to the match.
: 40F (4C) with showers expected.
: Not sure what to drink for the game? Like strong beer? Tactical Nuclear Penguin has you covered. Yeah, you read that name right. Go to your favorite bar (check the Where to Watch page) and get your freakin’ war on. Also watch this:

Are you ready for this holy crap it’s finally here. We are going to rock this house out.

Official Prediction: 2-0 Barcelona wins, goals by Messi and Ibra. HOT DAMN BRING IT ON.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in Germany with his wife and daughter.


  1. November 28, 2009

    Time for some tiki-taka.

    May Barca thrash some Real ass.


    Visca Barca.

  2. Nice preview, Isaiah.

    I know Metzelder isn’t match fit, but I had to choose him because Albiol is still doubtful (although included in the squad list), and Garay can’t handle Ibrahimvoic.

    Metzelder is good in the air and is physically strong, plus he is experienced so that’s another reason I picked him over Garay. If Albiol is delcared fit, he will feature then.

    In the midfield, I’m very very sure that Lass will play. He is our most consistent player and is someone Pellegrini can’t bench. He’ll surely help us to make sure that Xavi and Iniesta don’t play comfortably.

    Should be a thrilling contest!

  3. John
    November 28, 2009

    Just added espn deportes to my cable package, the customer service rep asked if it was because of el Classico, then said visca barca. I am soooooo pumped.

  4. OhYes
    November 28, 2009

    Yay! Can’t wait to have Lass out on the field with Xavi again. Hehehe

    It’s gonna be a great game and I can’t wait. 😀

  5. cliveee
    November 28, 2009

    el clàssic! thanks for educating!

    Pellegrini says they will attack, i thought the same as you coz if they are not controlling the ball much, they can only attack our legs. I only hope we won’t suffer from injuries after this. But we will win it. I predict Messi, Henry and Ibra will score 1 goal each. We have a complete squad for this game.

    • miz
      November 28, 2009

      as far as i remembered, only two teams that really came to us and attacked us…only man u (Final CL) and Real Madrid (@ bernebau) and u can see what had happened, rite? i love to see our opponents open up their game………..yeah, man vs man..:) come on madrid…….show me how to attack and we’ll show u how to score….

  6. Eduard
    November 28, 2009

    I always get butterflies days before this game. Pumps me up!

  7. cliveee
    November 28, 2009

    My line-up prediction:
    A – Pique – Puyol – Abidal
    L – The Yaya
    V – Xavi – Iniesta
    E – Messi- Ibra- Henry
    S ——– himo
    ———- vic

  8. John
    November 28, 2009

    If everyone is healthy, I guess pep will start titi and maybe sub in P! At the hour mark. If we take control of the game early we could always move to a 4-4-2 (a la the inter game) and sub kieta for titi.

  9. November 28, 2009

    I think it’s time for Don Andres to score. He’s finally back in form. Goals by Iniesta, Ibrahimovic (2) and Benzema, 3-1 Blaugrana.

    I’m curious to see how CR plays. Coming off injury, his fitness has to be a bit suspect and chasing around a ball but never catching it can’t be good for his ankle. With the formation Madrid plays, he’ll have to do a lot of pinching into the middle of the field on defense with runs out wide to support the attack. That would take a toll on a healthy footballer, and very well may do so on Kaka as well. 4-2-2-2s require high defensive pressure. If you have players like Iniesta and Xavi that can handle that pressure, and good wing players in Messi/Alves/Henry, you’re asking a lot from those front four if you’re going to make a reasonable attempt at wrestling away possession. It’s a great formation if you’re better at possessing than the other team. But seriously, who are we kidding here. I’m seeing a lot of tika-taka with long balls to Ibra the first half, with devastating central-control play after RM tires. Of course, Pelligrini does have one of the better benches in the world, so wise substitutions will be key for RM.

    Now that I think about it, I can honestly see a draw coming. However, there is one X-Factor here. Ibrahimovic. His style of play as a striker complements our midfield game so well that you just cannot defend against it if everyone is on the same page. You’re chasing these tiny Spaniards around all game and then BAM, suddenly you’re marking a 6’5″ Swede with the body control of a 5’1″ gymnast and the ball skills of Brazilian. He will generate chances. If he can put them away, or distribute to someone who can, we will win.

    And as an aside, I’d really like to see Pedro! start for Messi, with our little argy-bargy coming in at half if Pedro! seems ineffective. One thing I’ve always felt about football is you cannot say enough about a player’s form when they are coming into a game. Why risk Messi when one of our youngsters is making one of the best sides in Italy wish they paid for him and not Samuel Eto’o???? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say if Pedro gets significant minutes, he will score. So in that case, 4-1 Barca.

    Visca el Barça!

  10. Xu
    November 28, 2009

    It Would Be A Surprise If Barcelona Were To Thrash Real Madrid Again – Gerard Pique

    “Those who think we are going to score a lot of goals can forget it – it won’t happen unless there is a surprise,” he declared to Marca.


  11. Annie
    November 28, 2009

    That video gave me goosebumps/heart attack…
    Talk about a great preview Isaiah! Bravo!
    Visca Barca!

  12. Andrew M.
    November 28, 2009


  13. November 28, 2009

    I like your math Isaiah.

    Here’s how a four-year-old-in-soccer-years dreams:

    Same line up as the Italian Job.
    Goals by Pedro, Pique and Keita.
    17 (near and actual) assists by the Hounds of Hell.
    No EE goals.
    …then Messi and Ibra come in as second half subs.

  14. stowe
    November 28, 2009

    I really wonder what’s going through cronaldo’s mind (i almost called him ronaldo, but that would be disrespecting the legend). I think he’s thinking “crap, my first game back and i got face these guys again? that last game in rome sucked after the first 10 minutes! and now they have a giant playing at striker! what!? they have someone better than busquets in midfield? and this brazilian guy runs….a lot…. my ankle hurts”

  15. Abhinav
    November 28, 2009

    How can i watch this match in India?
    I looking for some livestream.. paid or free…
    Thanks in advance for helping ….
    Oh boy…. i am boiling up for this day for the whole month…

  16. y2k156
    November 28, 2009

    nice preview. lets kick some butt. am not sure how i will pass the day. am in india on holiday. is there any way…ANY way…through which we can see the match today? this is killing me.

    • November 29, 2009

      If u’re in Bombay (Mumbai) there are some bars showing the match livestream on giant screens through high speed broadband connections.

      Anywhere else, there’s little hope besides your personal internet.

  17. poipoi
    November 28, 2009

    it’s friday I got home a little drunk and just ended up thinking about tomorrow’s game… the fuckin’ greatest game on earth indeed. I’ll be in a bar but even if I was home there is no way I can manage to chat on the liveblog this game, it’s too much.

    brazil argentina comes close but I’m no brazilian or angentinian so BARÇA-JUST-CRUSH-THEM-PLEASE. if xavi iniesta AND KEITA play we can’t loose 😀

    iniesta and messi (xavi just has to keep it constant) are gonna kick some white ass

  18. poipoi
    November 28, 2009

    AND btw… we should trade titi for van nistelrooy this winter 😉

    • Blow-Granite
      November 29, 2009

      No way man!!! I love Titi way too much compared to Nistelrooy. I think Nistelrooy’s playing days are over as a forward. He is 33 and has been injured for over a year and a half just like Gaby Milito.

  19. poipoi
    November 28, 2009

    Now that I read your post, first I have to say it was great and that I’m also nervous as hell. I think that if pellegrini sees what is coming EE has to play with a “doble pivote” system with lass and xabi alonso. Maybe one of them a little further away from the defensive line.

  20. Ace
    November 29, 2009

    It’s HERE!

    November 29, 2009

    Nice Preview
    My blood pressure its all fucked up now.
    U know this shit crazy when ESPN shared the rights with GolTV and tomorrow they’ll be throwing 6 SIX hours dedicated to El Clasic.

    Damn I need an oxygen tank . VISCA EL BARCA. (I hope I can sleep)

  22. John
    November 29, 2009

    I wish the game was on espn or espn 2 here in America. I think we only get it on espn deportes. And to further my rant I wish there was a t.v provider, either cable or satelite would step up an have contracts with the epl, la liga, serie A and the champions league.

    • Cam
      November 29, 2009

      It is ridiculous that ESPN was able to leverage rights at a discount from a struggling Gol TV and are not putting El Classico on ESPN or ESPN2 in HD to promote their package. During the match ESPN HD is showing bowling and ESPN 2 HD is showing timber sports. Unbelievable. To make things worse, ESPN is following by showing Atletico Madrid and ESpanol in HD this afternoon. Who in the hell would want to watch that?

  23. Vj
    November 29, 2009

    For some reason, the nightmares have stopped, I’m not nervous, I’m calm, but the bad feeling remains.. Quick someone, shoot me!

    Oh and nice preview.. Should be a good one..

  24. November 29, 2009

    Though it is predictable, but the worst thing to do is to keep your best performer so far this season on the bench for the most important game. Keeping Keita on the bench is a “Sold gamble” Either it click or it collapse dramatically through getting exposed by RM counters. I will feel 100X more secure with him on the field, and Henry as a second half game changer.

    Regarding the magical square, it’s Barcelona who applied it not Madrid. Even though their tactics on paper looks like a 4-2-2-2, but in practice they have never played with two AM, Xavi-Iniesta/Zico-Socrates way.

  25. Khairallah
    November 29, 2009

    well; i was, as usual, opening every link provided in these posts when i noticed that one of them is the EE official website.. I can’t be opening that kind of shit on my computer, no no, so please give us some warning when there are mines in the post 😛

    and about that wiki link..
    Barca Wins: 38(Home)+ 10(Away) = 60
    EE Wins: 39(Home)+ 12 (Away)= 68
    Draws: 12(Camp Nou)+ 12(San. B)= 33
    Is there something i’m missing or is this just bad maths? I guess my professors are right when they say Wikipedia is not a reference.

    and finally, the one good thing about having an injury in the midfield and ahead is that it directly means Keita will be stepping up.. and Iniesta has been just damned brilliant the last 2 matches, Henry has a hobby of scoring against those bastards.. So what to do?!

  26. Helge
    November 29, 2009

    Tactical Nuclear Penguin? LOL
    Where do you find all this crazy stuff, Isaiah? 🙂

    Great preview, I’m so pumped right now! Only thing that worries me a bit is that we are SO confident of winning. And even most of the rational RM supporters say that they don’t have the strength to compete with us. So maybe they’ll kick us. But then again…

    In Pep we trust! Visca el Barça!

  27. Jim
    November 29, 2009

    What a day. I’ll have bed sores by the end of it. I’m watching Liverpool /Everton atm, then Arsenal /Chelsea then us. I need to get a life !

    Feeling quite calm about the match. You have to , knowing we’re at home, we’ll have most of the possession and if our defense aren’t daft they’ll have to go some to score. You also have to figure they’re gonna pick up a swatch of yellows today as they have something to prove.

    Btw, Kxevin. Where are you? I was looking forward to cultural updates and suggestions for new places for me to visit in the summer.

  28. Corrine
    November 29, 2009

    dammit i was so tranquil until i read this preview now im soiling my panties thanks a lot isaiah u owe me a new pair

  29. November 29, 2009

    Isaiah, it is on ESPN 360 as well as Deportes….and archived so we can watch it again and again! Great preview!

  30. Nick
    November 29, 2009

    Just as Isaiah, I’m more pumped for this than for the CL final!

  31. Miguel
    November 29, 2009

    i gotta try that tactical penguin…
    “A warning on the label states: ‘This is an extremely strong beer; it should be enjoyed in small servings and with an air of aristocratic nonchalance. In exactly the same manner that you would enjoy a fine whisky, a Frank Zappa album or a visit from a friendly yet anxious ghost.'”

    love me some frank zappa.

    and a shaolin soccer reference? genius i do declare, genius!

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