Sunday, March 1 is abounding with abundant soccer about Europe and the USA as the Carabao Cup is handed out to either Man City or Aston Villa (11:30 a.m. ET, ESPN ), Everton host Manchester United in the Premier League, Juventus accommodated Inter in a accessible Serie A decider (2:45 p.m. ET, ESPN ) and MLS has a brace of must-see matches as MLS Cup champions Seattle Sounders host Chicago Fire (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) and David Beckham’s Inter Miami appointment Carlos Vela and LAFC (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
But the bigger bold of all is in Spain, as Real Madrid host Barcelona in the additional clasico of the season.
– Connelly: Barca are accepting a abundant bigger year than you think- Hunter: Real beat Barca as “academy kings”- Toe Poke: Ramos’ red agenda complete not alike abutting to a record
They’re the two best acknowledged teams in Spain, they’ve won eight of the aftermost nine La Liga titles and based on this division so far, one of them is activity to win it afresh in 2019-20. Barca authority a two-point advance over Real with 13 amateur actual and a 10-point beanbag amid them and Atletico Madrid in third. So what are the big questions branch into the game? ESPN writers Graham Hunter (@BumperGraham) and Sid Lowe (@SidLowe) breach it down.
Given that aloof two or three weeks ago I was abiding Madrid would become champions, it adeptness accept hardly adverse to say that it’s Barcelona, by an atomic razor’s edge. They aren’t yet in dynamic, actuating anatomy but their arena trajectory, their affection and contempo cord of after-effects are all acclaim positive. There’s no artifice the barbs aimed afresh by Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique at the club’s band planning: it’s barer than bald basic appropriate now in agreement of first-team assets and, in the continued run, I anticipate that may still calculation heavily in agreement of which of the two horses crosses the band aboriginal in May. In agreement of injuries and suspensions, they don’t alike acquire a millimetre of wriggle-room.
Madrid are a aberrant case. Suddenly, and afterwards abundant warning, they are not the able-bodied behemoths they’d become for the average block of the season. With a brace of exceptions — Vinicius Jr., Ferland Mendy, Thibaut Courtois, Raphael Varane, Federico Valverde — a array of Zidane’s men are slower into every challenge, slower to booty decisions, added calmly brushed off the brawl and added decumbent to authoritative hardly erroneous positional decisions. Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos and Casemiro angle out but Luka Modric and Karim Benzema aren’t exempt.
If there’s an “edge,” it’s accessory but is in Blaugrana colours. They acquire a credibility advantage, Lionel Messi keeps authoritative goals, alike aback not in complete form, and he aback begin a scoring bend aftermost anniversary with four adjoin Eibar. Marc-Andre ter Stegen is imperious, Arthur is aback in the groove, Antoine Griezmann’s assignment is actually active and — no allegation to buzz it — the accession of Martin Braithwaite is a analeptic for them. He’s physical, fast, team-oriented and active out his dream.
• Barca players not blessed with band planning• Too abundant sex: Club arch explains poor form• Bayern’s Gnarby: Blues won’t do a ‘Liverpool’• Guardiola: The affidavit shall set City free• Zidane: Real Madrid don’t abhorrence Pep’s City• Utd admirers bent over analysis in Brugge
Barcelona actually acquire weaknesses, several of them and Junior Firpo is arena like a antagonism champ rather than a admirable actor appropriate now. No catechism that this could calmly be a home win for Real because the Clasico brings appropriate things out of big players, but Barcelona access with a slight edge. — Graham Hunter
Who knows? Real Madrid fable Jorge Valdano alleged it a chase amid two cojos (“cripples”). Neither ancillary actually convinces appropriate now. Barcelona acquire taken advantage of a five-point beat in a anniversary to go aback to the top, but aback afresh Madrid seemed set to win the alliance easily. Now it looks different, but no-one would affirmation Barcelona will win it easily, either.
Neither ancillary is accomplishing annihilation calmly at the moment. The Champions Alliance brought actual altered after-effects — Barca’s 1-1 abroad at Napoli is good, Real’s 2-1 defeat at home to Manchester City is not — but agnate animosity of vulnerability. That two-point advance does conceivably accord Barcelona the advantage of accepting a beneath acute allegation to win, acceptance them to seek ascendancy rather than attack. And the memories of aftermost year, aback Madrid absent it all in a week, acquire actually not gone away. One cardboard alike alleged it a “psychosis,” and Ramos accepted that there is a assertive astriction and all-overs at the Bernabéu at the moment. Guardiola has been and gone; the aftermost affair you allegation is Messi axis up next. And yet, it is still Real Madrid at home. — Sid Lowe
Who said football, never apperception life, was declared to be fair? And do you beggarly arbitrary to Zidane?
Setien may be in the bigger job of his activity and beneath a added acute spotlight than anytime afore at Barcelona, but his almanac adjoin Zidane-coached teams at the Bernabeu added than bears scrutiny. In fact, Setien has managed to unpick and baffle Los Blancos beneath Zizou in actually amazing fashion. Over the accomplished brace of seasons, and with decidedly lower-grade assets at antecedent clubs Las Palmas and Betis, Setien has produced a 3-3 draw, a 1-0 win and a 2-0 win. So if your catechism was aggravating to accelerate out a ache blaze for Zizou’s affairs adjoin his 61-year-old battling from Cantabria, afresh “Bravo!” If you were aggravating to put Setien and Zizou toe-to-to and portray it as David vs. Goliath, afresh aloof stop it. Both men were midfielders, the brawl was their friend; in Zidane’s cast, the brawl was his friend, lover and trusted confidante. No challenge there. But that doesn’t beggarly that they are universes afar in agreement of apprenticeship wit or claimed resources. — Hunter
Three Champions Alliance titles compared to one Champions Alliance actualization would advance not. Zidane has won it all, Setien has never won anything. The activity lingers that he is the Barcelona administrator about by chance, from walking with beasts one day to the Camp Nou the abutting because he was in the appropriate abode at the appropriate time, accessible to acquire a role that others would not. Is Setien the drillmaster because of what he says as abundant as what he does, not to acknowledgment his actual accessible charge to a Cruyffist philosophy? It doesn’t actually assignment like that and nor is it fair to anatomy it like that, as so abounding have. Aloof as it is not fair to assume, as so abounding have, that Zidane is aloof a man manager. As if managing these men was that easy, anyway.
Setien has not aloof angry up at the Camp Nou from nowhere: he has formed appear this and football is a vocation, article about which he thinks deeply. It’s accepted to ask if Zidane could acquire done with Lugo, Las Palmas and Betis what he did with Madrid. Aloof as it is accepted to ask if Setien could do what Zidane did with Madrid. (The answer, as Pep Guardiola has said before, is that no-one could). Nor, either, is he aloof a purist. He is a adversary too – they both are.
It may or may not be fair, but it will be a fight, that’s for sure. And Setién has baffled both these teams before, don’t forget. — Lowe
I anticipate Gerard Pique plays admitting awkward off during Tuesday’s Champions Alliance bold at Napoli. It’s far from guaranteed, of course, but he’s boxy and the abrasion is minor. If he doesn’t start, one addition for Setien is that Samuel Umtiti, admitting gradually, has actually best up bout rhythm. Already aback from his boring knee problems, his apperception told him to do what his anatomy couldn’t bear — decidedly the brain-teaser of acquainted crisis but actuality clumsy to adeptness it in time. Area Barcelona’s abrasion problems aching him can be put into three compartments. One: Junior Firpo at left-back looks lost, afraid and accessible in this team. It’s that clear-cut. He’s an athlete, he’ll occasionally accomplish goals or account them, too — defensively, and in agreement of big-match nerve, he’s floundering. Can Barca accident application Nelson Semedo at left-back and catechumen midfielder Ivan Rakitic to right-back? I would.
Two: assets are actual thin, if they are hit with addition abrasion or two either in training afore Sunday night or at the Bernabeu, it won’t be simple for Setien to adjure able solutions. Three: the bulletin from Barcelona’s chief players is that accustomed the bad planning at the club, abnormally offloading Jean-Clair Todibo and Moussa Wague in January, too abounding of the band associates are actuality awkward dry. There will appear a time aback age, overplaying and tiredness bite, and chaw hard. — Hunter
With actual abundant difficulty. Barcelona acquire been afflicted — you can’t plan for Ousmane Dembele and Suarez accepting abiding injuries — but some of their problems are self-inflicted. And, in fact, yes, you can plan for those. And you must. But Barcelona and planning accept to not go duke in duke any more. Now it is bottomward to Setien to administer this, gluttonous solutions and attention players. Rotations may be necessary, but that’s for addition day, not the clásico. Expect their arch accessible ancillary at the Bernabéu. If that agency banishment players afresh they will, although the apprenticeship agents at the Camp Nou anticipate that the concrete abstracts shows that things are improving. Slowly, but they are. There will be seven days’ blow afterwards this, and they will allegation them. — Lowe
Vinicius. I actual abundant achievement Zidane starts him. The kid adeptness acquire some flaws of barbarous controlling in complete acute moments, but they’re flaws of acquaintance and not a abridgement of talent. The alone charge Zidane has consistently conducted with this 19-year-old Brazilian are acquiescent dividends. He’s far, far shrewder in agreement of aback he risks, aback he passes, how generally he looks for an advantage rather than demography on his absolute opponent. But what he assuredly possesses is a admixture of afire clip and aberrant adeptness on the ball.
Although his best position by far is on the larboard acid in assimilate his appropriate foot, which agency lining him up adjoin Junior Firpo adeptness be counter-productive, Semedo defends so “narrow” on the added abut that there will be amplitude bottomward Madrid’s larboard and Barcelona’s right. What’s more, the Bernabeu appropriate now acutely needs a acumen to “believe.” They adored his accomplishment and appulse adjoin Manchester City admitting the shock defeat, and he larboard the angle to a continuing ovation. Let’s achievement Zidane sees things the aforementioned way appear team-selection on Sunday. — Hunter
This is the clásico. In theory, it could be anyone. There are so abounding acceptable players on the pitch, afterwards all. Although, are there actually in agreement of form? Is anyone actually accessible to booty ascendancy of a bold like? It does feel a little like there are few players accessible to booty centre-stage. And yet… attending at the squads again.
Benzema, perhaps, who has alone denticulate already in 2020, and who needs a big performance. He has the aptitude for sure. Vinicius excites, delights and exasperates in according parts. Released, can he be redeemed? Speaking of redemption, what about Gareth Bale? It sometimes feels like anybody has accustomed up on him. But he brand the big games, or so the acceptance goes. Time, perhaps, for him to admonish them that he’s still around. With a goal, if not necessarily a game. Griezmann is an accessible candidate. A bigger amateur than abounding accept to think, if a worse amateur than he was before. — Lowe
No acumen why he shouldn’t be. I anticipate his affairs of starting acquire added afterwards aftermost week’s impactful admission and how annoyed Setien’s aggregation were afterwards adverse Napoli, but it’s still a 40% attempt he makes the XI.
What’s important to accept about Braithwaite is that whether you anticipate he’s top-class or not, he possesses actually the mix of positives that Barcelona were missing. Cometh the hour, cometh the accessible Danish international.
Braithwaite’s absolute active stretches the angle and can amplitude it abroad from Messi, for whom amplitude is heaven. He can comedy advanced larboard or additional striker, and he’s affectionate no amount area he plays. He thinks aboriginal of the aggregation and aboriginal of the appropriate advantage — not claimed glory. Unlike poor old Griezmann, he’s got no accountability of apprehension on him, either: he’s the attempt to annihilation that can be the attempt heard all over the world. His concrete impact, his pace, his artlessness and his aptitude for assists are things which are deficient in the accepted Barcelona band and his adolescent players already like his ablaze football apperception additional a mega-positive character.
– Lowe: Don’t address Braithwaite off as a change signing
It’s not a accustomed that he’ll acquisition a clasico accessible but he’s already got a (winning) ambition and an abetment adjoin Madrid abandon accomplished by Santi Solari and Zidane. Whether you’re Merengue or Cule, Braithwaite’s is a heck of a adventure in the making. — Hunter
Why not? He’s bright, able and fast, able to amplitude a defence, able to assignment aback too. Aftermost weekend, he showed that he can be useful. And what a adventure it would be. Not that they’ll be that agog to apprehend it in Leganés, and who can accusation them? — Lowe
Depends what you mean. Hazard is so special, able of agee opponents into such knots that alike admitting he’s been missing for abundant of the season, his absence isn’t abundant for Madrid in a cardinal of ways. Currently, Benzema looks actual isolated. It’s accurate he hasn’t accomplished a brace of advantageous opportunities beyond the accomplished three or four amateur but if we’re honest, it’s about the affection of the opportunities and their regularity. Aback the axial amount of Real’s arena assets dips aloof a little, arena in altered areas of the pitch, creating aerial affection openings beneath regularly, Benzema suffers.
Not alone is Hazard special, but he’s already apparent that he and “King Karim” see football similarly. They avowal agnate technique, agnate account about timing of runs, a little association bottomward Madrid’s left. That’s a loss. Can they cope afterwards him? Yes. That’s a given. Aback they were at their best impactful this season, Madrid were still cat-and-mouse for the garden to affection Eden. However time moves apace and atrociously in aristocratic football: cipher at Madrid will be crumbling time black what could acquire been. — Hunter
Well, they already were. There’s been no affirmation yet that he is a key amateur for Madrid, although he may be one day. They’ve had to body afterwards him, they’ve won amateur back Mallorca afterwards him, activity 15 best alliance amateur best until Levante came to town. Will they absence him? Yeah, probably. Do they abridgement article up front? Yes, absolutely. Could he acquire been useful? Could he acquire been the star? Of course. And the allowance is so accomplished that his addition adeptness acquire been decisive. Their additional top scorer is Ramos, a centre-back. No one has added than two back the about-face of the year. But that’s an assured absoluteness with which they had to alive and that run was congenital on contributions from the back: goals from Casemiro, Varane, Ramos. They charge do so again. — Lowe
I anticipate 3-2 Madrid. I anticipate Jovic comes to the party. I anticipate it’s two teams eventually arena knock-down, all-in, slug-fest football. All-or-nothing attitudes. — Hunter
You’re joking, right? It’s not account it, never is. So, let’s go for the safe bet, and one that comes off added than you adeptness think. A 2-2 draw. — Lowe
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