Three’s CompanyBy: Alfonso Duro
This week’s Clásico in Spain is too close to call. Both teams have started La Liga in great form, and although it took Real Madrid three games to find the right gear, both Merengues and Cules reach the most awaited game of the season close to 100% of their potential. However, for the first time ever, both teams will be able to match up their multimillion dollar attacking trios: Bale, Benzema, Cristiano playing at home; Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar visiting Bernabéu Stadium. Which one will top its rival? The one that does will likely get the three in the bag. But that’s not what this is all about, is it?
THE VARIABLE IN THE EQUATION. Uruguayan Luis Suárez will likely make his debut against Real Madrid after being away from the pitches for four months—such a long sanction and we’re not sure if anyone still remembers what he did to deserve it, except for Giorgio Chiellini. But once the ban is over, and “the Gunman” is ready to help his new team, Luis Enrique will hope he becomes the differing factor in the match. Suárez was the chosen asset to complete a fearsome trio of attackers, alongside Messi and Neymar, and Culé fans have had to wait until now to see the three together in action. Barça made quite a lot of changes to their squad this past summer, but by far the biggest variable in their schemes is the Uruguayan. Let’s hope the chemical reaction is a positive one.
BRITISH BROADCASTING CORPORATION VS MICROSOFT? And speaking of great attacking trios: guess which other team has a comparable pick of forwards to match up against Messi, Suarez and Neymar? Since the arrival of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid, someone thought it would be clever to nickname Real Madrid’s attacking line the “BBC,” as an acronym for Bale, Benzema and Cristiano. The nickname caught on, as Za-Sa or Ro-Ro did in the late ’90s, and it quickly became a household name in Spain as the trio scored nearly 100 goals in their first season together. Of course when Barcelona signed Luis Suárez this summer, the Catalan press was quick to dub their very own trio of attackers “MSN,” also the same name as a famous news outlet—although perhaps less reputable and attached to a soon-to-be-defunct tech icon of the 2000s. But which one will come out on top in El Clásico? The old news dinosaur or the new digital-age Web portal? Well, we may still have to wait for the latter to catch on completely before comparing the two, as some may have missed the memo.
ANCELOTTI’S DOUBTS. With both teams ready to give it their all at Santiago Bernabéu during Clásico, it seems Real Madrid’s manager is having a bit more trouble finding his perfect starting lineup than Luis Enrique over at Culé’s headquarters. In this case, however, it’s a great problem to have, as Ancelotti harbors serious doubts about whether he should start Isco Alarcon or Gareth Bale against Barcelona. The Spaniard has had an impressive month after a dim start to the season, while Bale—who was a top performer in preseason—has been slowing down a bit lately. The option of playing with a four-man midfield gives Isco a hand up in the duel, although last year against Bayern Munich in Germany, the Welsh played as a right midfielder next to Modrić, Xabi Alonso and Di María and probably had the best game of his still short career at Real Madrid. Ancelotti has a tough decision to make come crunch time next Saturday.
A LOT MORE THAN THREE POINTS. But if fans wait all year to enjoy El Clásico, it is not only to see which player will be lining up that day, or whether or not a coach will get scared in the last minute and make a terrible tactical mistake; it’s not even really about the three points at hand. There’s a whole lot more at stake for both teams, and their match ups in La Liga are usually telling of what the rest of the season will bring both teams. In a tournament where Real Madrid averages 4.6 goals in their last seven matches, or where Barcelona reaches El Clásico without receiving a single goal in the initial eight games of the season, the competition is really between these two giants, and so whoever takes the three points gets something much more important than that: they get an edge that could be critical in the championship and bragging rights until they meet again in April. Surely, the Holy Grail for one of the two teams.
LOGISTICS: Spain’s El Clásico, Saturday, October 25, noon ET