Barcelona vs Real Madrid: Three key players to look out for

The Hard Tackle lists three players who can singlehandedly influence the tie when Barcelona and Real Madrid clash on Saturday.

The biggest game of the first half of the 2023/24 season is here. Barcelona and Real Madrid will lock horns in the first edition of El Clasico this term at Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys, with the top spot in the standings up for grabs.

Barcelona and Real Madrid have done reasonably well thus far in the 2023/24 season, even though they have had a few issues to deal with thus far. While Los Blancos chose not to replace Karim Benzema and have had to depend on Jude Bellingham’s goals, the reigning champions have had an injury crisis to worry about.

But the Catalan giants have emerged strongly from a tough situation, going the first two and a half months thus far without a defeat in any competition. On the other hand, Real Madrid might have lost once in La Liga. But they sit atop the league table and their group in the UEFA Champions League.

Heading into Saturday’s fixture, the top spot in La Liga is up for grabs. So, neither team will have a margin for error as they look to outfox the other. With that in mind, The Hard Tackle lists three players whose performances will be critical for their team to grab all three points this weekend.

Aurelien Tchouameni

The midfield battle always determines how the pendulum swings in any El Clasico. That is the reason the recent battles between Barcelona and Real Madrid have gone in favour of the Blaugrana. But things are different this season following the departure of Sergio Busquets.

In addition, with Pedri and Frenkie de Jong out of action, the reigning La Liga champions do not have the components to overpower the biggest teams in the middle of the park. But Gavi and Ilkay Gundogan have the tactical acumen to pull the strings against Real Madrid. So, Aurelien Tchouameni needs to be at his best this weekend.

The Frenchman’s future has again come under question in the last few days, with Arsenal keen on signing him. But a departure might not be on the cards for the 23-year-old, who remains committed to Real Madrid. As for matters on the pitch, the Arsenal target has been one of Los Blancos’ best players this term.

If he rises to the occasion, Gundogan and Gavi might find themselves in sixes and sevens. That will be the catalyst for Real Madrid to unleash wave after wave of moves on the Barcelona defence. So, Tchouameni’s performance will hold the key for the visiting side.

Joao Felix

Robert Lewandowski might not be fit enough to start against Real Madrid, even though he has trained ahead of the first El Clasico of the 2023/24 season and is in the matchday squad. In addition, there are question marks surrounding Raphinha’s fitness to last 90 minutes. So, the onus will be on Joao Felix to make his mark.

The Portuguese international has been in his element since joining the Blaugrana from Atletico Madrid on Deadline Day of the summer transfer window. But he has looked better with Lewandowski alongside him in the final third.

Nonetheless, Felix’s performance level remains high, even though the goals and assists have not come at a rampant rate. The former Chelsea loanee will look to use his guile to stitch play together alongside Ilkay Gundogan and Lamine Yamal. And with Lewandowski likely to feature off the bench if he does not start, his presence in the final third will help deliver the goals the hosts need to topple Real Madrid.

Vinicius Junior

The Real Madrid juggernaut has been a reality thanks to the relentless offensive output of Jude Bellingham. The English international has been phenomenal since arriving from Borussia Dortmund in the summer transfer window. But Vinicius Junior needs to start stepping up for Los Blancos to remain atop La Liga.

The Brazilian international has also had to worry about the racism-related trial to worry about. So, one cannot blame him in case his head has not been in the game thus far in the 2023/24 season. But Vinicius often saves his best for the biggest games of the season and should rise to the occasion this weekend.

The 23-year-old will look to run at the Barcelona defenders, with Joao Cancelo’s presence on the right flank likely working in his favour after struggling to get the better of Ronald Araujo in recent Clasicos. So, a Vinicius Junior masterclass might be on the cards at Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys. A game-changing performance will pave the way for a popular victory away from home for Real Madrid.

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