Barcelona v Real Madrid 2

Won’t somebody please think of the defenders? Barcelona are apparently on a quest to eradicate the world of defenders and strikers, creating a sport played exclusively by midfielders. Not a midfielder? Nah, not interested! It’s a strategy that requires an extraordinary about of faith in your own ability to keep the ball and minimise the opportunities the opposition will have to attack your defence. Given that this is Barcelona we’re talking about, that’s to be expected. Yet even the best can be beaten. Even the best have a weak spot and it is not hard to spot where Barcelona’s lies: in the centre of defence. Tonight, against Real Madrid, Barcelona are likely to trust Alex Song and Javier Mascherano in the centre of defence. There are, of course, mitigating circumstances, injuries robbing them of both Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol. But where is the back-up? After all, Real have Pepe, Raphael Varane, Raul Albiol and Sergio Ramos to play centre-back.

Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and a whole lot of dramas. Here we go again.

Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and a whole lot of dramas. Here we go again.

It’s hardly a problem that has crept up on them (here’s a piece on the topic written last year). Although Puyol’s latest injury was unfortunate, he has struggled for fitness for some time and missed Euro 2012, while Pique has also had problems. More often than not, Barcelona have the attacking talent to overcome this dilemma, but they are vulnerable against the better sides, as they were against Chelsea in the Champions League last season. Sometimes Lionel Messi will miss a penalty. Last week Sevilla exploited Song’s frailties and it required two late goals for Barcelona to maintain their perfect start. But it’s only been perfect statistically. On paper. On the pitch, they are open. They can be attacked. They won’t always have the ball. Real have Cristiano Ronaldo.

After a slow start to the season, Ronaldo and Real are starting to hit top form, perhaps sparked by the late victory over Manchester City. Ronaldo has two hat-tricks in his last two games and he doesn’t seem so sad any more. He has scored in five of the last six matches against Barcelona. Tonight he doesn’t have to run at Pique and Puyol, he gets to run at Song and Mascherano. Even so, the pressure is still on Real this evening because unlike last year, they are the ones chasing. If they lose, Jose Mourinho’s side will be a whopping 11 points behind Barcelona, which would surely be a decisive lead, even at this stage of the season. Even with this defence, Barcelona remain about as close to perfection as it’s possible to be.

Kick-off: 6.50pm.

Kicking off: 6.51pm.

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