The Clásico has arrived at a good time for Real Madrid, who are fresh from winning the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, their fifth title of the year. With Barcelona looking down on Madrid from a distance of 11 points, victory at the Bernabéu is vital. Luckily for Zinedine Zidane, there are four counts of good news ahead of the match.
He is Real Madrid’s main man. Cristiano Ronaldo’s form in front of goal has a significant effect on the performance of the team as a whole. The Portugal international made a sluggish start in LaLiga (the case was different in the Champions League, in which he has scored nine goals in six matches), but has regained sharpness in recent weeks.
Against Gremio, Ronaldo appeared back to his old self. He scored one goal, had another one disallowed, and came close at the end with a backheel. Despite the fact that he has trained separately from the group in the days leading up to the visit of Barcelona, there is little doubt that he will be fit for the match on Saturday. Against the Blaugrana he has scored 17 goals in 28 matches.
Modric back to his best
If Ronaldo is Real Madrid’s goalscorer, Luka Modric is the thermometer that explains how the team is performing in any given moment. After winning the European and Spanish super cups, Real Madrid suffered an identity crisis that, curiously, coincided with Modric experiencing a drop in form.
In the last month, the diminutive Croatian has found his vigour again. He had a fine game in the 0-0 draw with Athletic at San Mamés, and against Gremio he was the leading actor. Modric was at the centre of everything positive in Madrid’s game: pressure, passing, and recovery. One of his shots from distanced was tipped on to the post by the opposition ‘keeper. He took the man-of-the-match prize in the final, and deservedly so.
Carvajal and Marcelo fly again
It wasn’t an easy start to the season for Madrid’s full-backs. Between injuries (to Carvajal, Marcelo, and Theo) and poor runs of form, Madrid lost the impetus from the flanks that was so important in 2016-17. That season, Marcelo and Carvajal participated in 30 of the team’s 173 goal, 17% of the total.
There are various reasons for the inability to replicate that this campaign. Marcelo suffered an injury against Real Betis in matchday five, and struggled to regain rhythm upon his return to action. Carvajal’s situation was different. The Leganés-born right-back was in fine form before his season was abruptly halted by a pericardium infection, which ruled him out for seven weeks. He has impressed since returning to the fold. With the Clásico looming, both are beginning to find the electric form that propelled Madrid to Champions League and LaLiga glory last season.
Gareth Bale on the road to recovery
Gareth Bale showed against Al Jazira and Gremio that he is nearing the end of his long road to recovery. The Welsh winger is close to returning to 100%. His goal avoided embarrassment against Al Jazira in the semi-final, and his ten minutes in the final against Gremio were promising. It is likely that Zidane will opt for Isco in his starting line-up, with Bale ready to come off the bench in the second half.
“I have to be patient and listen to my body,” Bale said in Abu Dhabi. He did not do that last season and it cost him dearly.