With no Messi or Ronaldo, who will be El Clásico's leading men?
The two stars of El Clásico over the past decade will not be there on Sunday. Goals, free kicks and penalties, who will be the players to step into their respective roles in the first Barça-Real fixture without Ronaldo and Messi since 2007.
It has been 11 years since it last happened, but a Clásico without either Messi or Ronaldo had to come again someday, and that day will be this Sunday, October 28, 2018. The last Clásico played without at least one of them on the field was in 2007, a game which Madrid won at the Camp Nou thanks to a lone goal from Julio Baptista. At that time, Ronaldo was still knocking in goals at will for Manchester United, while Messi sat the game out due to injury.
Now, with the Portuguese at Juventus and Messi again injured, the Camp Nou will host a Real-Barça showdown without the two players that have been the most influential on this fixture over the past decade – they dominated the game, scored most of the goals and took the majority of the free kicks and penalties. In their absence, who will be the players have to step into their respective roles this Sunday?
Real Madrid: Isco, presumably, will occupy the position once filled by Ronaldo. Although Lopetegui has not been consistent with his starting line-ups, his preferred XI is made up of Casemiro, Kroos and Modric in midfield; with Isco, on the left, and Bale, on the right, sitting higher and behind Benzema in the number ‘9’ role.
Barcelona: Against Inter on Wednesday, Rafinha replaced Messi in the first game without the injured Argentinian and scored. Wide forward Dembélé would have been considered Messi's natural replacement but Valverde did not even name him on the bench on Wednesday. When he has the opportunity, Valverde likes to have more players occupying central areas, and even more so in big games.
Real Madrid: Ronaldo scored 18 goals against Barcelona in 30 games with Real Madrid. This season, Los Blancos’ leading scorer is Benzema with six goals (four coming in LaLiga, one in the Champions League and one in the Uefa Supercup).
Barcelona: Messi has scored 20 goals for Barcelona in 32 games against Madrid. With the Argentinian striker with 12 goals this season, the second highest goal scorer is Dembélé with five.
Real Madrid: With Ronaldo no longer around to hold a monopoly on free-kicks, there are a range of options for Julen Lopetegui. Free kicks which favour a right-footed player are usually taken by Sergio Ramos or Isco, although another option is Toni Kroos, who is the free kick taker for the German national team. Free kicks better suited to left-footers will fall to Gareth Bale, with Marco Asensio an alternative option.
Barcelona: Luis Suarez and Coutinho will share free-kick taking duties, as we saw in the match against Inter. The Brazilian took the first against the Italian club on Wednesday – Suarez the next two.
Real Madrid: Captain Sergio Ramos has become the new spot-kick specialist since the departure of Ronaldo. Madrid have had four penalties this season – Ramos has taken three and Benzema one and all four have been scored.
Barcelona: As with free kicks, Luis Suarez and Coutinho will contend to take penalties in Messi's absence. Suarez may be the preferable option seeming as he has taken eight for Barcelona and scored six. Coutinho has not taken any this year, and last year scored one from one attempt.
Ronaldo’s number ‘7’ shirt and Messi’s captain’s armband
Summer singing from Lyon, Mariano is the man that has inherited the coveted number ‘7’ jersey from Ronaldo. But the former Castilla player has not seen much game time this year and is unlikely to start. In Messi’s absence, the captain’s armband will be handed to Sergio Busquets, who will lead Barcelona out for this landmark Clásico encounter.