The midfield is the heart of the pitch. Consequently, these clubs have had phenomenal players in this position. Quite a few of them have even played for both teams, populating the list of famous traitors in Spanish football. Since the beginning of the 2000s, one and the other have had ups and downs in the zone. However, in recent years, the two have assembled a plethora of world-class maestros. This battle will be a tough one.
The 4-3-3 has been Real’s system since Ancelotti hit the jackpot last season. Without Xabi and Di María, they’ve struggled to maintain the Italian’s desired “balance.” After the two consecutive losses in La Liga, Modrić, James and Kroos started to know each other better. They survived that rough patch with good grades. On top of that, Illarramendi and Isco are able to replace them seamlessly, with good results.
Kroos has taken the leadership of the midfield since his arrival. It feels like he’s been playing here for years. He’s had to adjust to a more defensive role, to the point that he hasn’t had many goal chances. He’ll have to hold the team against Barça’s crowded midfield. His partner Modrić is a different story. The Croatian was used to Xabi Alonso covering his back, still he’s found in Kroos a fantastic colleague.
The creative spark is Modrić’s and James‘ role. The Colombian gets better by the day, showing that he can end up exhausted, but help out the defense regularly. His vision, clinical passing and finishing have the Bernabéu excited. Finally, Isco and Illarra are great refreshers. Both have gained prominence and have delivered good performances. Illarra provides that defensive discipline, while Isco helps out with dribbling and creativity.
Fàbregas left, Rakitić came in. Cesc’s departure and Xavi’s decreasing playing time hasn’t made the Blaugrana midfield a weak one. The Croatian has amazed fans since the first day, working very hard, making great passes and even scoring screamers. In addition, he knows Real well from his Sevilla era, making him a great asset to own the midfield. Nevertheless, he’s going to need some help.
Busquets’ sudden injury is a delicate one, yet Mascherano can replace him rather well. The Argentinian’s role will be to serve as the chief, recovering the ball and not letting the lines get too separated. Iniesta doesn’t work as hard in the back, still he’s one of a kind, with an ability to drive defenders crazy. He scored his first goal at the Bernabéu last season, so there’s nothing stopping him from repeating this year.
Much like their arch rival, Barça’s squad depth in this position is very good. Shall these players not make it, Rafinha, Sergi Roberto and Xavi offer plenty of football. It’s good to point out that Xavi could even start the match, having been a fundamental player in the Rijkaard and Guardiola eras that crushed Madrid. Ball possession will be the obsession of the team, and with the midfielders they have, it won’t be a problem.