Defenders are often the symbols of certain clubs, often carrying the captain’s armband. Puyol served as the leader of FC Barcelona for over a decade, while Sergio Ramos has been the vice-captain for Real since 2010. This position has caused Madrid many headaches in the 21st century, but Barça remained rather stable until last season. All in all, the back line will be key in stopping the rivals’ skilled forwards.
This zone is Ancelotti’s biggest problem. The central defenders seem to be in form, but they go through concentration mistakes at times. Ramos is still hoping to recover in time for this match. He’s also had a negative record against Barça, often suffering against Messi and company. If he can recover, it’s almost certain he’ll play. He’s Pepe’s longtime partner and they seem to connect with Casillas the best.
Pepe, unless a sudden injury occurs, will most likely start the match. The formula for his success will be staying calm. The Portuguese’s temperament is special, and against Barcelona, he often loses control of his actions. In order to keep 11 men on the pitch, he should try to take it easy. With Varane, Ancelotti would gain a better marking man for Messi, since the Frenchman has been successful in controlling him.
The center of the defense seems to be clearly defined. The full backs are the complete opposite. Carlo has played Marcelo and Carvajal often. Both of them are great attackers, yet mediocre defenders. Barcelona’s wingers are world class, and mediocrity won’t do. Arbeloa could be an option, as he prioritizes defense. The same goes for Coentrão, still his presence is unsure. Ancelotti knows that the wrong back line could be an advantage for Barça.
Last year this was the root of all Barcelona problems. The transfer window saw them fail to sign star defenders, settling with Mathieu and Vermaelen. The investment hasn’t exactly been bad, except for the loss against PSG. The Belgian’s still injured and hasn’t even made his official debut. Mathieu has surpassed all expectations, at least for now. The big examination will come at the Bernabéu.
Piqué isn’t going through a good moment. He’s been criticized for his extracurricular problems with the law and politics. However, he’s always done well against Madrid, especially at the Bernabéu, scoring one in the 2-6 win. These types of factors are important in a crucial game. Should Luis Enrique not line him up, Bartra will start. The Masia product is the future and without Bale, he’ll have less to worry about.
The full backs are a bit more secure, with Alves and Alba earning regular playing time. Both of them are the best assistants, constantly helping out the wingers and feeding Messi and/or the strikers. Defensively they may not be the most stable, but the ball possession makes their flaws less relevant. What’s clear is that the combination of the wingers and the full backs will trouble Madrid frequently.