Barcelona must find extra gear ahead of Clasico

Posted by Francesc Tomas

Barcelona will face Real Madrid in yet another chapter of their legendary rivalry on Saturday. To be honest, neither of the biggest teams in Spanish football history approaches the 85th domestic league Clasico at the Camp Nou in their best mental and physical shape.

Despite being unbeaten under Gerardo Martino, the Catalan club's two recent draws against Osasuna and AC Milan seemed to have put a halt in the euphoria which it was immersed in a mere six days ago.

The most critical Cules can certainly argue that the team continues to struggle against defensive-minded formations where the focus is on stopping the Blaugranas from developing their game and hoping to find a break in the counterattack.

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Lack of speed when distributing the ball across midfield can also be considered a major issue as having control of the game, but failing to transform such dominance into clear scoring chances, is rather pointless.

Since taking charge of the Blaugranas after replacing Tito Vilanova in July, El Tata has established a rigid rotation policy to ensure key players reach the final stages of the season in optimum condition. However, that has caused some important members of the squad (especially Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez) to be far from their best at this stage.

The repeated injuries of Argentine wizard Lionel Messi in recent times mean that he also is miles away from being as sharp as he would have wished. While his inner pride and competitive nature are undeniable, returning from the sidelines and recovering full confidence in your abilities is a process that takes longer than a couple of games.

Neymar, only days from starting in his first Clasico, has already shown that investing 57 million euros in signing him from Santos in the summer was the right decision. His dynamism, eagerness to take on markers and ability to provide an unpredictable attacking alternative to Messi make him, despite his lack of experience at this level, indispensable. I can't wait to see what he may offer in such a high-profile match.

I hope the side's two below-par performances are just a slight blip which Barcelona can recover from against Los Blancos. An opponent of that calibre will not waste any opportunities to punish any lapses of concentration in front of Victor Valdes' goal.

Up front, the hosts must ensure that passes are directed into space rather than at static players, compete intensively for the win from the initial whistle and rotate relentlessly in order to find gaps and goal-scoring chances. Victory against Madrid will, quite frankly, be impossible unless that crucial extra gear is found and used from the very start.

Barcelona have scored 28 goals in nine La Liga matches this season, winning eight and drawing only once. Similar success has been enjoyed at European level, with six goals and seven points in the first three group games.

Having said that, football is a hugely competitive game where, whether we like it or not, past achievement counts for nothing. A couple of weeks back, it seemed as if Real Madrid were unable to find their identity under Carlo Ancelotti and Barcelona were effortlessly cruising into their fifth league trophy in the past six seasons.

While a Blaugrana win in El Clasico would take them six points clear of their archrivals at the top of the table, a defeat in front of their Catalan crowd would level them in points with a massive 28 games to play.

Whether you are a 7-year-old Cule who has been to the Camp Nou only a couple of times or a retired veteran who used to watch this high tempo of games during the Franco years, facing Real Madrid at home is definitely one of the highlights of the Blaugrana calendar. Beating the Spanish capital giants would, undoubtedly, make millions of supporters in Catalunya and beyond incredibly happy.

El Clasico is so much more than 22 men chasing a ball around the pitch for 90 minutes. Time to trust that Gerardo Martino and his highly talented squad are ready for the challenge ahead and show enough ambition and know-how to come out victorious.

Let's finish this testing week on high: Endevant!

The Quote -- "It won’t decide the league title. There’s a long way still to go, but it is a good opportunity to play well and gain confidence. Real Madrid always demands the most from you. They're playing better and better. We’ll have to be at our best to beat them. We know they’re dangerous on the break. We know them very well. They have played very well in the Camp Nou in recent years but having the support of the fans is always important." -- Carles Puyol

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For more news and opinion notes on Barcelona, follow Francesc Tomas at @TomasESPN and Barcablog on Facebook; 49,500 Cules have already joined.

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