Real Madrid vs. Barcelona: 3 coaching decisions to watch for El Clasico

Real Madrid, Marco Asensio (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Marco Asensio (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images) /

La Liga hangs in the balance on Saturday night when Real Madrid face Barcelona at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano for the second Clasico of the season. Los Blancos have won their last two meetings against La Blaugrana by two goals, and they are coming off two excellent performances at their home stadium against Eibar and Liverpool.

But Barcelona are ahead in the table and boast the best front three in La Liga. They may be out of the Champions League, but that just gives them even more reason to focus on the league. La Blaugrana pride themselves on consistency and on winning the league, so Zinedine Zidane’s men will have to be perfect again at home in order to make it three straight wins over their biggest rivals.

Here are three key coaching decisions for Madridistas to keep an eye on before kickoff at 21:00 CET on Saturday.

Possible rest for Marco Asensio?

Marco Asensio made it four in four against Liverpool, calmly tapping the ball into the back of the net after Trent Alexander-Arnold’s error left star goalkeeper Alisson for dead. This weekend, Asensio will go up against another elite keeper in Marc-Andre ter Stegen. That is, of course, unless Zidane decides to give Asensio some rest.

Breaks have done the Andalusian well this season. His first real break from the lineup came against Elche. Thereafter, he started his streak of four games in four, including goals off the bench in the first two appearances of the streak vs. Atalanta and at Celta Vigo.

Asensio looked tired in the second half against Liverpool, which is probably why he squandered a couple of good chances to score and assist.

A fresh Asensio is vital against Liverpool in the second leg, because you know Jurgen Klopp will bring a bigger fight in the bigger stadium, right?

Jokes aside, Real Madrid can feel confident about resting Asensio for the Champions League, because they have another great option on the right-hand side if they choose to stick with a 4-3-3. (More on that later.) His name? Rodrygo Goes.

Real Madrid, Fede Valverde
Real Madrid, Fede Valverde (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images) /

Fede Valverde’s role in El Clasico

Although Fede Valverde’s status for the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal was initially in some doubt, the Uruguayan was actually the one who made it on the pitch for Marco Asensio in the second half to give Los Blancos some additional defensive solidity to see out the home win.

Valverde put in a solid 20 minutes, which means he should be able to play against Barcelona if Zidane has room for him. The question is, what role could he fulfill?

The “old guard” trio of Casemiro, Luka Modric, and Toni Kroos seems locked in for El Clasico. These three men are untouchable. However, Valverde was one of Real’s best players earlier this season and throughout last season. He has excelled in the last three Clasicos since becoming a regular first-team player, dominating Frenkie de Jong much to the delight of Madridistas. Valverde even scored in the 3-1 win over Barça earlier this season.

So Valverde should have a role to play this Saturday, right? He can change the game off the bench, or he could even be a surprise starter to give Modric some much-needed rest before Liverpool. But this game is so important, can Zidane afford to leave Modric on the bench to start the match?

These are intriguing questions. There’s no doubt that Zidane has a decision to make with Valverde, but it is a luxury to have either Modric or Valverde available as a second-half sub.

Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane
Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

The back three or the back four?

Raphael Varane’s positive COVID-19 test made the decision easy for Zinedine Zidane in the first leg. He reverted back to four men in defense, with Eder Militao and Nacho Fernandez starting in between Lucas Vazquez and Ferland Mendy. The results were positive, with Nacho putting in another strong display and Militao standing out as one of the players of the week defensively.

Barcelona are a better attacking side than Liverpool right now. Ousmane Dembele is in form, Antoine Griezmann is starting to find a niche, and Lionel Messi is still the scariest player in the world to go up against.

Real Madrid have done a fantastic job against Messi and Co. in the last three Clasicos, as La Blaugrana have scored just once. But Real have never gone with a “back three” against Barça, even though they did start Marcelo against their rivals in last season’s second Clasico.

Marcelo can still be an asset to the team in the attack, but only in a “back three” formation and in an attacking role, as we saw against Getafe and Eibar in 2-0 wins. Barcelona are decidedly not Getafe or Eibar, though. They are much, much more dangerous attacking-wise.

3 reasons why Real Madrid will win El Clasico. dark. Next

Could the solidity of Mendy, Militao, and Nacho as three center backs help against Barcelona’s talented front three? Perhaps. It seems like it’s best for Zidane to stick with four men and go with what worked against Liverpool, but it could be tempting for the Real Madrid manager to throw a bit of a curveball at Ronald Koeman and sneak Marcelo into the lineup with three men helping out defensively against Messi and friends.