With the World Cup now underway, what does a current form guide look like? Who are some players to watch out for as well as those who have failed to live up to expectations.
The “crix” is a website that provides a list of players to watch, predicted XIs for the week, and form guide.
El Clasico, the unending rivalry between LaLiga powers Barcelona and Real Madrid, will be played for the 247th time on Sunday (10:15 a.m. ET; watch LIVE on ESPN+). Though it’s still too early to consider single games in the context of the overall championship competition (each team has 30 league games after this weekend), it’s never too early for these two to strike back and generate some pleasure despite a rough start to the season.
– LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, FA Cup, and more on ESPN+ – Watch ESPN FC every day on ESPN+ (U.S. only) – If you don’t have ESPN, you’re out of luck. Get immediate access
Will Barcelona score a morale-boosting win at home, or will Real Madrid add to Ronald Koeman’s woes, who are still coming to terms with Lionel Messi’s summer departure? Barcelona’s Sam Marsden and Real Madrid’s Alex Kirkland analyze through the game from a tactical standpoint, looking at their form, important players, critical skirmishes across the field, and intangibles that might make the difference.
Tactical battles | Players to watch | X-Factors | Predictions | Form guide | Team/injury news | Predicted XIs | Tactical battles | Players to watch
Marsden: Coming into the Clasico, Barcelona has won back-to-back games for the first time this season, but it hasn’t helped to boost the atmosphere around Camp Nou. On Wednesday, there was a sense of lethargy in the stadium, which was barely half-full, as Barcelona followed up a 3-1 victory over Valencia with a 1-0 triumph against Dynamo Kiev to earn their first points in the Champions League this season. As the game versus Kiev came to a conclusion, several fans booed the players.
The anxiety around the club has lessened a bit with president Joan Laporta’s decision to openly support coach Koeman, but the Catalan club is always one loss away from another crisis.
– El Clasico on ESPN+: How to Watch (U.S.)
Kirkland: Real Madrid’s 5-0 Champions League victory against Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday changed the atmosphere surrounding the club. It was a comprehensive victory, although against weak competition, and a significant confidence boost ahead of Sunday’s showdown. Prior to that, we’d seen some premature excitement caused by strong early victories — defeating Celta Vigo 5-2 and Real Mallorca 6-1, respectively — that quickly faded with three games without a win before the international break. The 0-0 draw with Villarreal was fine, but the 2-1 home loss to Sheriff Tiraspol was not, and the squad’s 2-1 loss to Barcelona’s other team, Espanyol, was much more troubling.
It’s been a mixed bag, with some grounds to be optimistic and others to be pessimistic, depending on your perspective.
WHO’S FIT, WHO’S HURTING IN THE TEAM?
Marsden: Ansu Fati’s recent return to health has relieved Memphis Depay of the offensive strain. After a 10-month layoff due to a knee injury, he scored off the bench against Levante in September and again in last week’s triumph over Valencia, in his first start since November. Against Kiev, he returned to the bench, but he will be ready for Madrid.
Sergio Aguero has made two substitute appearances in the previous two games, and the striker might make an impact this weekend off the bench. For Pedri and Ronald Araujo, though, it seems that the game will come too soon. Pedri has a thigh injury, while Araujo hurt his hamstring last week while playing for Uruguay. After injuring his foot on Wednesday, Jordi Alba is also a slight doubt. Also unavailable are Martin Braithwaite and Ousmane Dembele.
Kirkland: Ferland Mendy made his first appearance since May in this week’s game against Shakhtar. After rotating between Nacho, David Alaba, and youngster Miguel Gutierrez thus far this season, Carlo Ancelotti can finally deploy an experienced, devoted left-back. Toni Kroos has played three games after returning from a groin injury. When he’s on the team, you don’t always appreciate him, but you miss him terribly when he’s not.
The most major worry is right-back Dani Carvajal, who has only returned to full training after a calf injury that is the latest in a long line of injuries for him. Isco and Luka Jovic are sidelined for the time being due to injuries, while Gareth Bale and Dani Ceballos will not return until next month. Eden Hazard is also a doubt due to injury, but isn’t he always?
HOW SHOULD EACH TEAM LINE UP?
Marsden: Unless he opts for the 3-5-2 system, which has drawn a lot of criticism for how much it deviates from the club’s ideology, Koeman is expected to use the same lineup that defeated Valencia 3-1 last Sunday. Sergi Roberto would play right back, with Sergino Dest playing wide right with Ansu and Memphis in attack.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Gerard Pique, Eric Garcia, Alba, Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong, and Gavi complete the lineup. Barca will want to keep possession of the ball and play in Madrid’s half, but they’ll have to defend against Vinicius’ speed on the break.
The possibly greatest rivalry in world soccer, FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, returns on Sunday, Oct. 24, at 10:15 a.m. ET. Sign up for ESPN+ today to watch ElClásico.
Kirkland: This week, Ancelotti was categorical. On Monday, he observed, “This squad needs to play [in a] 4-3-3.” “There isn’t any other option.” He went on to say that this season’s 4-4-2 trials had failed to impress him because the players were uncomfortable, and there was no time to rectify that at this point in the season.
The majority of the starting XI is self-evident: Thibaut Courtois in goal; Alaba and Eder Militao at centre-back, with Mendy and Nacho at full-back; Casemiro, Kroos, and Luka Modric in the traditional midfield; and Vinicius Junior and Karim Benzema, the team’s two finest players this season. The main question is whether Ancelotti will play Rodrygo Goes on the right or Fede Valverde on the left. Valverde, who prefers to play conservatively, sat on the bench against Shakhtar, while Rodrygo dazzled and scored.
He’d performed so brilliantly, according to Ancelotti, that he’d be impossible to leave out. If the coach believes Barca can be defeated, he will target the Brazilian.
Barca’s main danger will come from the left flank, according to Marsden. Alba was excellent against Kiev in midweek, assisting on the goal, while Ansu, who is positioned front of him, has come back to life after almost a year on the sidelines. Memphis, on the other hand, has a tendency to wander to the left, where he is a good fit with Ansu.
With Carvajal out, Barcelona may sense a vulnerability on Madrid’s right flank, particularly if Ancelotti opts for Rodrygo over Valverde, leaving Nacho vulnerable.
Dan Thomas is joined by Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop, and others to discuss the most recent news and debate the most important topics. ESPN+ has a live stream available (U.S. only).
Barca will want to get the ball to him in the final third, and he will attack Madrid’s defense from there. Early indications imply that he and Ansu are on the same page.
Benzema, Kirkland. True, the Ballon d’Or PR effort has been massive recently, but it isn’t all talk. Benzema’s argument is strong: he is currently by far the finest player in LaLiga, and one of the best in the world. Memphis, Ansu, De Jong, Aguero, and Braithwaite have combined for as many league goals as Barcelona’s whole front line (Memphis, Ansu, De Jong, Aguero, and Braithwaite). He’s also the leading assist provider in LaLiga. He’s a commander, and the assault in Madrid centers around him. He’s capable of scoring a wide range of goals, and his game is more varied than it’s ever been.
At the age of 33, a player who used to avoid the limelight suddenly looks to be loving it.
El Clasico is the finest match in club football, according to Karim Benzema.
Marsden: If Koeman remains with the same lineup as in the last two games, Dest might provide the element of surprise. He’s quick, has a lot of tricks, and is confident, so he’ll give Mendy something to think about. His long-term position may be right-back, but he’s now providing balance on the flank for Barcelona, who only need him to find an end product. He squandered two opportunities against Kiev, but as supporters of the US men’s national team know, he’s more than capable of delivering when it counts.
Vinicius, Kirkland. He isn’t a hidden weapon — his metamorphosis this season has everyone talking — but he is a complete wild card. You have no idea what he’ll do next, and he has no idea what he’ll do next. However, the component of his game that once made him a laughingstock, his wildly erratic finishing, has significantly improved.
A perfect example was Tuesday’s double against Shakhtar Donetsk. His second goal placed him in a similar scenario to the one that had previously vexed him, but this time, instead of a mishit shot, a slaloming run through the defense was followed by an exquisite finish. The next phase will be to provide consistently over a season.
Marsden: Neither team is as good as it was five years ago, but Madrid has the upper hand heading into the Clasico. Not only has Barcelona struggled this season, but since Koeman took over, they haven’t defeated Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid in LaLiga. Barcelona drew 2-2 with Real Madrid.
Kirkland: El Clasico is a tremendous game that almost never disappoints, with just two 0-0 draws in the last century. This one should include goals on both ends. I’m going with a 2-2 draw to keep things interesting.