Over the years, some of the greatest ever players had played in El Clasico. Despite tactics being at the forefront of every match, individual players’ quality often becomes a defining factor in such big games. In order to better predict the outcome of Saturday’s El Clasico match between Barcelona and Real Madrid, sporticos.com previews the key player matchups.
Football Today – La Liga 2020/21
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Barcelona – Real Madrid
Date: Saturday, 24 October 2020
Kick-Off: 15:00 UK time
Venue: Camp Nou, Barcelona
Goalkeepers: Neto (Barcelona) vs Courtois (Real Madrid)
We begin our key matchups’ comparison with the goalkeepers. Back in August, Barcelona revealed that their number one choice goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen will have to undergo a knee surgery, which, as it turned out, has ruled him out for up to three months. As a consequence, the Brazilian back-up shot-stopper Neto has replaced the 27-year-old German for a foreseeable future.
Despite lots of Barca fans fearing that the Brazilian might not be up to the task, Neto has successfully proved his doubters wrong. After the first four matches of the new La Liga season, the Brazilian has recorded a fantastic 87.5% save rate. So far, he has faced 8 shots on target of which two ended up in a back of the net. However, in order to truly assess whether Neto’s fantastic shot-stopping percentage is not an accident, it is vital to refer to the post-shot expected goals (PSxG) metric. PSxG tells us how difficult a shot was for the goalkeeper to save, or in other words, how likely was the shooter to score. So far, Neto has recorded a PSxG value of 2.1, which is 0.1 higher than the actual number of goals conceded. It means that the Brazilian has neither overperformed nor underperformed. The shots Neto has saved were the type of saves that he was expected to make, but he also did not manage to go above the expected saves mark and was unable to pull off some world-class saves when conceding the two goals.
On the opposite side, Thibaut Courtois has showcased an even better form in goal so far in this La Liga season. The 28-year-old Belgian has been an undisputed number one choice goalkeeper for Real Madrid and is worth keeping his place between the sticks, as according to data. In the first five La Liga matches, Courtois has conceded only 3 goals and saved 16 shots on target he had to face, making it an impressive 84.2% save rate. Additionally, his PSxG metric tells us that he has conceded one goal fewer than the quality of the opposition chances. Courtois’s PSxG currently stands at 3.8, which is 0.8 more than the three goals he has conceded. It implies that Courtois has certainly not underperformed but also managed to prevent another goal for his team.
As it stands, both goalkeepers are in great form and will be firing to keep a clean sheet.
Defenders: Pique & Lenglet (Barcelona) vs Varane & Ramos (Real Madrid)
Regardless of whether the goalkeepers are putting in solid performances or not, they can not be left exposed by their defenders. Barcelona have always had issues when it comes to defending and the fears have increased even more after Samuel Umtiti has been ruled out with an injury.
Nevertheless, the Catalans have been fairly solid defensively so far this season, with only a couple of worrying moments from the centre-backs Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet. Overall, the duo have been playing rather well as indicated by the match statistics. They have not made a single error leading to a shot or a goal and have won on average 58% of their duels in the La Liga this campaign. However, having said that, both Pique and Lenglet have already been sent off once this season (Lenglet in La Liga and Pique in Champions League), which will be a worrying sign for Ronald Koeman.
On the other side, Zinedine Zidane will be hoping that his defence can redeem themselves after a shocking display on Wednesday night against Shakhtar Donetsk. Raphael Varane scored an own goal and had a poor game overall, with Real’s captain Sergio Ramos not fit to play following a knock he suffered in the last La Liga match. However, Ramos is expected to be fit for Barcelona clash, which will be a huge boost for Los Blancos. Statistically speaking, the Frenchman and the Spaniard have been both relatively solid this La Liga season. They have made zero errors leading to a shot or a goal and won 67% of total duels combined.
Even though both teams’ centre-backs are yet to make individual mistakes in this La Liga season, El Clasico is one of those occasions when defenders have to be at their very best to stop each other’s attack.
Midfielders: Busquets & de Jong (Barcelona) vs Kroos & Modric (Real Madrid)
There is an old saying that games are won and lost in midfield. On Saturday, this can certainly be the case, with both teams having midfield players who can dictate and influence the game. Since the arrival of Koeman, Barca have been setting up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with a double pivot of Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong. Both of them are incredibly good on the ball and can dictate the tempo of the game. So far, this La Liga season, they have been averaging 89% passing accuracy also making 0.8 key passes per game. However, both of them are lacking a tangible contribution to Barca’s offensive play. Busquets and de Jong on average produce only 1.43 shot- creating actions per game, with the goal creating actions as low as 0.13 per game.
In contrast, their opponents Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are a far bigger threat when it comes to chances creation. Adding to their impressive passing statistics (90% passing accuracy combined), the German and the Croatian duo on average create 4.59 shot-creating actions per game and make 2.8 key passes per game. It shows that Real’s central midfielders are more progressive in their play and have the passing range to find their teammates in more advanced zones.
There is little doubt that Barca will have more ball possession than Real, with Busquets and de Jong at the centre of ball circulation. Nonetheless, Zidane’s midfield duo have the ability to make the most out of their passing range when on the ball despite potentially spending more time out of possession.
Forwards: Messi & Griezmann & Fati (Barcelona) vs Benzema & Vinicius Junior & Asensio
Forwards have always played a massive part in deciding the winner of El Clasico. There is a huge chance that it will not be any different this time as well. For Barca, Lionel Messi and the 17-year-old sensation Ansu Fati are the most likely to decide the outcome of the match. Fati has already scored three goals this season, having an expected goals (xG) value of 0.8. It shows that the 17-year-old teenager is not shy in front of goal and can convert chances that are deemed to have less probability to result in a goal. On the other hand, Messi has had a fairly quiet start to his La Liga campaign, having scored only one goal so far (penalty). However, the Argentine has been contributing to the creative side a lot, averaging 5.0 shot-creating and 0.5 goal- creating actions per game. It is the striker Antoine Griezmann who has been looking the weakest of the three so far in this La Liga season. The Frenchman is yet to open his goal-scoring account and has not had a single shot on target.
On the other side, Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior look the most dangerous for Real Madrid. The striker duo have scored three goals combined in the first five matches. However, the Frenchman has not been the most clinical in front of goal, having recorded an xG value of 2.6 but currently having only one goal to his name. Their shooting accuracy has not been impressive either, with only 25.7% of their total shots hitting the target. Out of the three, it is Marco Asensio who has been the least impressive. The Spaniard has not had a shot on target in the three matches he played and is yet to score this season.
It can be said that Barca’s front three look more up to speed compared to Real’s; however, they have more than enough quality to change the game in a split second.
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