Real Madrid will face rivals FC Barcelona at home this Saturday night in La Liga, having just dominated Liverpool 3-1 in the Champions League on Tuesday. Thus, Los Blancos stand a good chance of vanquishing their biggest rivals for a third straight time. And much like last season, the second Clasico of the 2020-2021 campaign will play a key role in deciding the title race.
So what could be the X-Factors in this pivotal matchup? Which players or circumstances could change the game for either Los Blancos or La Blaugrana?
Real Madrid LW Vinicius Junior
We HAVE to start with Vinicius Junior. The Brazilian winger was unstoppable against Liverpool. He scored two composed goals in the win, and he would have scored another and added an assist if Marco Asensio’s tired legs did not fail him in the second half.
Vini had a quiet first Clasico this season against new Barcelona right back Sergino Dest, but it’s difficult seeing the American shutting down Vini again. The 20-year-old is playing with much more confidence now. His performance against the Reds was no fluke, as Vini has been playing well for a couple of months now. The match against Liverpool was a culmination of it all coming together for Vinicius in front of goal.
You’d back him to bury his opportunities this weekend. We can’t guarantee anything as far as Vini’s finishing goes, but that performance against Liverpool may have been the start of something. And remember, Vini scored the opening goal in last season’s crucial, second-half-of-the-season Clasico.
MARCA expects Ronald Koeman to have Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann flanking Lionel Messi on Matchday 30. Dembele and Griezmann are not the most consistent players for Barcelona, but they are still even better players than Los Blancos’ winger duo. These guys can be electrifying, and if they are at their best on Saturday night, Real could be in huge trouble.
Griezmann will get to go up against Lucas Vazquez. And if Dembele switches over to his side, the Frenchman’s skill and pace could give Vazquez major issues. He has played well at right back for Real, but he can make crucial errors, such as when he played Mohamed Salah onside this Tuesday. More to the point, he had issues with Yannick Carrasco in El Derbi. Dembele is even tougher to stop off the dribble.
Griezmann has eight goals and six assists this season, while Dembele has five goals and two assists. Those are good numbers, but consistency in front of goal has been an issue for both stars. So Real could conceivably shut them down. Still, that’s easier said than done. And if just one of them steps up in this big game, Real could be handed a crushing loss in the title race.
The battle of the goalkeepers
When I broke down the combined XI coming into this game, it all came down to the goalkeepers. Both sides swept the midfield (Real) and attack (Barça) while splitting the defense amidst key absences. And in the end, I gave Thibaut Courtois the edge over Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Games are not played on paper, so it will be up to these two elite goalkeepers to come up huge for their teams this weekend and swing the balance of the game. One big save can make the full difference, and we’ve seen Courtois come up with game-clinching stops for Real Madrid so many times since the winter of the 2019-2020 season.
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Ter Stegen and Courtois are pretty much neck-and-neck in save percentage, goals allowed per game, and clean sheet percentage. There seems to be nothing separating the Belgian and the German from each other statistically. That makes me even more excited to see what both men do when they are playing it out of the back or staring down Karim Benzema or Lionel Messi. This game could very well be decided by two of the top five goalkeepers on this planet.