Top 3 candidates to replace Tim Sherwood at Spurs

As predicted by all but Tim Sherwood, Tim Sherwood’s contract has been terminated early at Spurs. In the aftermath of Andre Villas Boas’ sacking in December, the former Blackburn captain was handed the reigns and an 18 month contract. No one seriously believed that Sherwood would remain beyond the summer, even if he did manage to win more than half of his games.

So who will replace Sherwood as the next victim of Daniel Levy’s itchy trigger finger?

As is always the way with managerial vacancies, there have been many names mentioned, the majority of which are utter nonsense.  The lack of Champions League football at Spurs next season will be a major factor in the recruitment of a new manager, so the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Diego Simeone will categorically not be gracing the White Hart Lane hotseat.

Louis van Gaal was hotly tipped to take over at Spurs this summer once his contract with the Dutch national side ended after the World Cup. However Manchester United look to have pinched him from under Levy’s nose as they look for a replacement for David Moyes.

Nevertheless, there are a few viable candidates for Spurs fans to mull over.

 

3. Rafa Benitez

spurs manager

Photograph: telegraph.co.uk

Say what you will about the man – and Chelsea fans had plenty to say last year- Benitez does a good job at the majority of clubs he managed.

He won two league titles and a UEFA Cup with Valencia, the Champions League and an FA Cup with Liverpool, a Europa League with Chelsea, and a few weeks ago his Napoli side won the Coppa Italia.

Not a bad record at all. He may not have had the best time at Inter Milan, but to be fair he took over from Jose Mourinho who had won the Champions League with the Nerazzurri. Chelsea fans disliked him as a result of his rivalry with the club during the Mourinho era, but Benitez came in and did a professional job, culminating in the Europa League final victory over Benfica in 2013.

The Spaniard has always talked up his love of England and may be tempted with a move back to London. However he has a quality squad at his disposal at Napoli right now so it would be quite surprising should he take the Spurs hotseat.

 

2. Frank de Boer:

de Beer ajax spurs

Photo: guardian.com

The 44 year old has enjoyed a successful spell at the helm of Ajax, after cutting his teeth coaching the club’s youth team and as Bert van Marwijk’s assistant at the Dutch national side.

With four Eredivisie titles to his credit as manager, the younger of the De Boer twins has done a good job in the Dutch league. In knock-out competitions, he has fared less spectacularly however. He has won just one Johan Cruijff shield during his tenure. Ajax are Champions League mainstays, but under De Boer have never progressed beyond the group stages.

De Boer hasn’t kept his cards close to his chest as regards the Spurs job. He said recently that he had been in contact with the club, something that didn’t go down too well with Tim Sherwood at the time. If De Boer does get the job he’ll see a few familiar faces in the Spurs dressing room. Cristian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen both played under the Dutchman at Ajax before making the move to North London.

1. Mauricio Pochettino:

pochettino southampton spurs

Photo: telegraph.co.uk

The footballing community couldn’t believe it when Southampton sacked Nigel Adkins in January 2013, with the side three points clear of the relegation and fresh off  a draw with Chelsea.

In Adkins place came Pochettino, a 40 year old Argentinian who had been out of work since leaving Espanyol two months previous. He was initially viewed as the man who had taken the job of an English manager, but that soon changed as he led Southampton to victories against Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea.

In his first full season in charge, Pochettino’s side have consistently remained in the top half of the table, even occupying third place for a time. Southampton play an aesthetically pleasing brand of passing football, with Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert all stand out performers this season. It’s a club with a big future if they can hang onto Pochettino and their young talents.

If another club such as Spurs did come in for Pochettino in the summer, what could help engineer a move is the fact that Nicola Cortese, the chairman and ally of the manager, was fired in January. In the aftermath Pochettino was rumoured to be close to quitting but ultimately decided to wait until the summer to decide his future.

If he likes to build up a good working relationship with a chairman however, will he really be comfortable working under the notoriously difficult Daniel Levy?

Pochettino has been installed as the bookies favourite for the Spurs job, and fans will hope that if he does arrive at White Hart Lane he might bring one or two of the talented Southampton players with him.

The major complaint levelled against Spurs in the season just gone was their lack of attacking invention and urgency. Cristian Eriksen notwithstanding, the players found it very difficult to break teams down and as such goals were hard to come by.

Under Pochettino, Southampton hassle and harry opponents close to their own goal, so that when the Saints do get possession, the opposition is disorganised in defence and susceptible to quick passing movements. If the Argentinian did make the move to Spurs, he would have a talented midfield at his disposal that would be well suited to implementing such a game plan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bale trumps Neymar in far from classic El Clasico cup final

Last night’s El Clasico was the third of the season. Even without the hyperbolic talents of one Cristiano Ronaldo, football fans worldwide were hoping for a classic to match Barcelona’s 4-3 victory last month. King Juan Carlos was in Valencia for the occasion, and two footballing superpowers lined out in the cauldron of the Mestalla to fight it out for the Copa Del Rey, or the Kings Cup.

Ultimately however, El Clasico take three was a pre-dominantly drab affair lit up intermittently by the sheer talent of the players on display. There were no hatricks, no sendings off, and little of the drama we have come to expect when these two rivals meet.

Football supporters were left to dine on tidbits of the extraordinary. A Xavi turn here, a Benzema flick there. Barcelona look disjointed at this moment in time and Real Madrid were content to play on the break. And it was Carlo Ancelotti’s game-plan that proved decisive. A quick counter in the 11th minute, supplemented by clever one-touch play from Bale and Benzema, released the marginally onside Angel Di Maria whose low strike could only be palmed into the bottom corner by Pinto.

Young Barcelona defender Marc Bartra scored an equaliser on his El Clasico debut, losing his marker Pepe to head past the helpless Casillas midway through the second half. Yet it was Gareth Bale who was to have the final say in the Copa Del Rey final.

Even with an impressive 19 goals and 13 assists to his name this season, the Welshman has come in for criticism at times from the Madrid faithful. The accusation levelled against him was that he didn’t turn up in the big games. With a trophy at stake and such illustrious opponents opposite, Bale answered his critics last night.

Barcelona had pinned Madrid back in their own box, but some careless play allowed Los Blanco’s to break out out with the ball. Bale gathered on the left wing and passed the ball into space beyond Bartra. It’s something that every football follower has seen the former Spurs winger do, but that doesn’t make it any easier to stop. Bartra bodychecked Bale, who bounced off the field of play and kept on running. It may have been a less direct route than he would have liked, but he still had enough pace to burn Bartra and he finished calmly through the legs of Pinto.

The white half of the Mestalla erupted, and from his vantage point in the stands, the injured Ronaldo smiled a smile of approval.

Neymar had a chance to level things at the death, but one on one with Casillas he managed to hit the post when it seemed easier to score.

That miss summed up the Brazilian’s night. None of Barcelona’s starting forward three made much of an impact over the 90 minutes. Messi looked uninterested, Fabregas didn’t have the pace to threaten the Madrid defence, and nothing went right for Neymar. He lost possession far too easily, his movement rarely gave Barcelona’s midfield an option, and his shooting rarely troubled Casillas.

During a game in which footballing afficionados couldn’t compare the gifts of Messi and Ronaldo, it was only natural to focus on the lead supporting actors of Neymar and Bale. On the basis of last night’s performance the €100m Spurs commanded for Bale was a savvy investment for Madrid, while Neymar has much to do to prove he is worth whatever it was that Barcelona spent on him.

Champions League Review: 3 ties balanced but Dortmund doomed

With the first leg of the Champions League quarter finals over with, it’s time to reflect on this week’s performances and look forward to next week’s encounters.

Manchester United v Bayern Munich

On Tuesday night Manchester United entered unfamiliar territory as underdogs at Old Trafford. They were up against a much lauded Bayern Munich side under the management of the much lauded Pep Guardiola.

While United can’t claim to ever really have dominated the game, they did cause problems for Bayern and Danny Welbeck had two great chances. The striker was unlucky to have a goal disallowed early on but he should have done better with a later chance when one-on-one with Manuel Neuer.

United managed to strike first, with a wonderful Nemanja Vidic header off a Rooney corner. Bayern adopt zonal marking when defending set-plays and we’ve seen over the years that this tactic is open to exploitation. The German team further incapacitated themselves by neglecting to put a man on the posts.

Bayern had looked a bit lacklustre early in the second half, but that goal jolted them into action. Eight minutes after United took the lead, substitute Mario Mandzukic nodded down into the path of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the German blasted home on the half-volley. After that it was all Bayern. Antonio Valencia was lucky to escape a second yellow for a heavy challenge on Boateng, and Guardiola was seething when Schweinsteiger was sent off for a less robust challenge in the closing stages of the game.

The goalscorer will miss the return leg, as will Javi Garcia. However Mario Gotze was rested for the first leg and is a capable replacement for Schweinsteiger. Dante returns from suspension and will slot in instead of Garcia. With an away goal in the bag and home advantage for the second leg, it is difficult to see past Bayern for a semi-final berth. However stranger things have happened and if United can put in a strong performance at the Allianz Arena they have a chance.

You can see the two goals from Old Trafford here:

Barcelona v Atletico Madrid

In Tuesday’s other game Barcelona welcomed La Liga title rivals Atletico Madrid to the Camp Nou. This was the fourth meeting of the sides this season and it ended like the previous three, in a draw. Atletico manager Diego Simeone has exceeded expectations this season after the sale of lethal Colombian striker Falcao last summer. His side work hard to press teams high up the pitch and it has had the required effect against perceived bigger teams.

Falcao may have been the main man last season, but Atletico’s other striker Diego Costa has negated the loss in this campaign, scoring goals for fun and looking a threat every time he gets on the ball. He was an injury concern before Tuesday’s game but spearheaded the attack from the start. However he only lasted 28 minutes before having to be substituted with a hamstring concern. His fitness will be crucial if Atletico are to maintain their La Liga challenge.

His replacement on Tuesday night was the Brazilian Diego, who gave Atletico the lead in the 56th minute with an absolute screamer. Behind to the away goal, Barcelona responded quickly. Busquets was denied by Courtois before a sublime Andres Iniesta pass released Neymar for a cool finish in the 71st minute.

The score remained at 1-1 until the end and so Atletico Madrid have the slight advantage going into next week’s game at the Vicente Calderon. If they play their usual brand of high-tempo pressure football they have an excellent chance of advancing to the semi-finals, even without Diego Costa. But on the other hand, Lionel Messi.

All the goals from Tuesday night here:

 

Paris Saint-Germain v Chelsea

Last night saw the clash of two major egos as Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea took on a PSG team spearheaded by Zlatan Ibrahimovich. Both men were respectful before the game, playing down their own team’s chances while praising the ability of their opponents.

Ibrahimovich has been scoring at will all season, however last night he was well marshalled and came off with a hamstring injury in the second half after being ineffective in the main. PSG had taken the lead in the third minute from a Lavezzi half-volley which was a direct result of an uncharacteristically poor headed clearance from John Terry. An Eden Hazard penalty in the 27th minute levelled matters, and it remained that way until half time.

PSG were the more composed side in the second period, and it was further defensive errors which allowed the home side to take a 3-1 lead to Stamford Bridge. With Matuidi running towards the corner flag with the ball on the hour mark, David Luiz opted to barge into the midfielder from behind. From the resulting free, Luiz bundled the ball into his own net after it cleared everyone else. In the third minute of stoppage time Javier Pastore scored a brilliant individual goal, tempered somewhat by the quality of Chelsea’s defending and Cech’s goalkeeping.

After the game Jose Mourinho again did something to his strikers that they themselves seem uncapable of. He attacked. While noting that his defenders had been solid all season and were allowed to make the occasional mistake, he bemoaned his lack of strikers. He had opted to start winger Andre Schurrle as the furthest man forward and as such there was no one to get on the end of threatening balls from creative talents like Hazard, Oscar and Willian.

A two goal deficit is far from insurmountable, particularly at Stamford Bridge. However Mourinho must figure out in the coming days who is most likely to bridge the gap for Chelsea. It’s clear he doesn’t believe his strikers are up to the task.

Here are all the goals from Parc des Princes

 

Real Madrid v Borussia Dortmund

The Santiago Bernebeu is a difficult enough place to come without having five of your first team players missing. Add to that the fact that the 4 goal hero against Madrid in last year’s semi-final Robert Lewandowski was missing througt suspension, and Borussia Dortmund were always going to have a mountain to climb.

Madrid were ruthless from the off, with Gareth Bale poking the ball into the Dortmund net from close range in just the third minute. Isco added a second from the edge of the box in the 27th minute and Ronaldo wrapped the game, and more than likely the tie, up in the 57th minute, showing quick feet to get a shot away from eight yards out.

Out of all the quarter finals, this one looks to be beyond doubt. Home advantage may not help Borussia Dortmund in the second leg. Just ask Schalke, who Madrid demolished 6-1 in Gelsenkirchen at the last 16 stage.

All the goals from Madrid’s victory here:

 

 

Weekend Round-up: Spurs in turmoil, toothless Chelsea and stylish Liverpool

1 – Everton serious contenders for a Champions League spot.

While other teams have suffered following the appointment of new managers last summer, Everton have had a fantastic season under Roberto Martinez. Astute dealings in the transfer market have given the team a strength in depth unseen for years at the club.

Everton fans will hope that the bubble doesn’t burst when loan signings like Gerard Delofeu and Romelu Lukaku return to their parent clubs. A Champions League club needs players of that quality, and if Everton can beat Arsenal at Goodison Park in two week’s time, they have an excellent chance of mixing with Europe’s elite next season.

everton fulham

Everton were 3-1 winners at Fulham yesterday,

2 – Chelsea need a new striker.

Jose Mourinho has conceded defeat in the race for the Premier League title, a race that he said Chelsea weren’t really in anyway. The defeat at Crystal Palace was Chelsea’s first against a newly promoted club in Mourinho’s two spells at the club. A John Terry own goal gifted Palace a much needed victory, but it was the lack of a cutting edge on Saturday that really hurt Chelsea’s title tilt.

It’s all very well having the creativity of Oscar and Hazard, but who is there to finish off the chances they create? Fernando Torres started at the weekend and Demba Ba made an appearance towards the end but neither made an impact.

Mourinho spoke after the game about the need to add a striker during the summer. Diego Costa is rumoured to be the main target and the question is which current front-man will be surplus to requirements.

3 –  Arsenal’s glimpses of quality not enough for team with title ambitions

Paul Scholes’ assessment of Arsenal last week irked Arsene Wenger enough that he responded before his side’s game with Manchester City. Scholes said that Arsenal were a “million miles away” from being able to challenge for a title, with Wenger retorting that six points cannot be called a million miles. However the points difference doesn’t tell the whole story. In games against other big sides this year Arsenal have looked out of their depth at times. Chelsea scored six against them last weekend, following on from another hammering from Liverpool in February.

Against Manchester City on Saturday evening, it took a David Silva goal for the visitors to spark Arsenal into life. They look nervous when faced with the big challenges, and until they can prove they can put it up to other teams with title ambitions on a regular basis they will have to be content with chasing a Champions League spot.

4 –  Spurs heading for another summer of change.

Spurs fans knew that it would take time for the multitude of new players bought with the Gareth Bale money to settle in. Nevertheless having broken their transfer record three times in the space of a few weeks with Paulinho, Soldado and finally Erik Lamela the hype was such that fourth place and the Champions League was the least expected from the White Hart Lane faithful.

Whatever hope was left of a fourth placed finish vanished within a minute at Anfield yesterday when Younes Kaboul knocked the ball into his own net. Now Spurs are looking at another summer of big change where there will certainly be players leaving, and perhaps the manager too.

Tim Sherwood was handed an 18 month contract in December following the sacking of Andre Villas Boas and won supporters initially due to Spurs playing a more attacking brand of football. However results have been inconsistent and questionable tactical decisions have contributed to rumours that current Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal will take over in the summer.

Yesterday’s game at Anfield was viewed as a chance for Sherwood to prove his worth to the Spurs board, and it was a test failed by both players and the manager. If a new manager does come in, then Spurs fans hopes for a settled squad by this summer will be dashed as he moulds the squad to his liking.

liverpool chelsea spurs arsenal everton

Soldado and Spurs set for another summer of change

5 – Liverpool worthy of top spot.

Liverpool would not have gone top of the Premier League table yesterday if it weren’t for results elsewhere. However it is hard to argue with their league position given their recent form. They have won eight on the trot in the league, and have won 12 out of 13 at home.

They are playing the best football too, with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge contributing 49 league goals between them this campaign. Suarez’ 29th goal of the season against Spurs yesterday gave him the accolade of most goals scored by a Liverpool Player in a Premier League season.

Equally important to Liverpool’s run-in are the likes of Henderson, Gerrard and Coutinho. These three (along with yesterday’s man of the match Raheem Sterling) are a big part of the reason the strikers are so prolific this season. Their work-rate in the midfield has been second to none, and the link up play has been wonderful to watch at times.

Manchester City still have the title in their grasp, and if they manage to overcome Liverpool at Anfield in a few weeks time the title race will be as good as over. However Liverpool have the greatest goals per game ratio since the 1960/61 Spurs team, and that in itself shows their title credentials.

 

El Clasico: Messi hat-trick re-ignites Barca title challenge

Messi the difference in Bernabeu encounter

The latest instalment of El Clasico was preceded with a minute’s silence for Adolfo Suarez, the Prime Minister who united Spain after the reign of General Franco. Once the formalities were over, the only thing uniting Real Madrid and Barcelona was their desire to strike a blow to the other’s title hopes.
This game began at the pace we’ve come to expect in meeting of these two sides. Neymar had the first shot in anger in the third minute, and following a half-hearted Ronaldo penalty appeal, Iniesta drew first blood for Barcelona. A well-timed ball from Messi found the Spanish midfielder in plenty of space and he blasted a left footed shot across Diego Lopez and in off the woodwork.
That goal provoked Madrid and they responded swiftly. While all talk before the match was about Ronaldo and Messi, Bale and Neymar, it was Angel Di Maria who was running the show. He teed up Benzema in the 12th minute but the Frenchman squandered the opportunity, blasting over from close range. A few minutes later however the centre forward made no such mistake. Di Maria the provider again, Benzema rose highest to power a header past a despairing Valdes. The keeper got a hand to it, but it served only to place the ball in the top corner.
Di Maria and Madrid had their tails up, and three minutes later they took the lead. Di Maria was giving Dani Alves a torrid time down the left, and it was his cross again that found Benzema on the edge of the six yard box. A good first touch was followed by a smart volley with his right foot. The Barcelona players looked stricken as Ancelotti lost his usual composure celebrating on the sidelines.
With the combination of Di Maria and Benzema proving so effective, Barcelona would have been well advised to shackle them. The problem with that being that leaves space for messrs Bale and Ronaldo. So it was no surprise when Di Maria once more found space on the left flank to put in a cross. The ball eventually found its way to Benzema who shifted it onto his left and aimed for the bottom corner. Only a last-ditch block on the line from Gerard Pique prevented the French striker from completing a perfect hatrick.
It was all Madrid for large periods of the first half. When in possession, Barcelona faced a white wall near impossible to break down. Five minutes before half time however, Messi found a way through. His pass to Neymar inside the box deflected back into his path and he made no mistake, finishing low to Diego Lopez’ left. As Messi celebrated becoming the all time top scorer in El Clasico (19), Pepe and Fabregas rubbed noses and proceeded to fall to the floor. Both were awarded yellow cards for their efforts. There was still just time for Benzema to flash another header wide before the teams trudged down the tunnel. The 400 million people watching had time to draw their collective breath.
The second half didn’t spark to life until the 53rd minute. A jinking run from Ronaldo was ended abruptly with a trip from Dani Alves just outside the box. Incredibly however, the referee Undiano Mallenco pointed to the spot, despite the protests from the Barcelona players. Unconcerned with the Barca players’ feelings, Ronaldo dispatched the penalty to give Madrid a one goal lead that was to last just ten minutes.
As Ronaldo had scored the penalty, it was Messi’s turn to influence the game once more. His slide-rule pass to Neymar was inch perfect and the Brazilian went down in the box following minimal contact from Sergio Ramos. The Spanish centre-half was duly shown the 19th red card of his career. It was his third in an El Clasico, and the 13th shown in the past 14 meetings between these two sides. Messi made no mistake with the spot-kick.
Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti sacrificed Benzema for compatriot Rafael Varane as he looked to protect the draw which would leave his side four points ahead of their bitter rivals. Zinedine Zidane was on hand to console Benzema as he came off without attaining his hat-trick.
Gerard Martino also made a change, taking off a disappointing Neymar and replacing him with Pedro. Calls had been made for Pedro’s inclusion from the start, given Neymar’s recent run of poor form as opposed to the Spaniard’s 14 goals and 8 assists this season.
The game died down again following Messi’s penalty, with both sides fighting hard for possession in the middle of the park but failing to make any significant breakthroughs. Dani Alves struck the base of the left post in the 73rd minute but the rebound failed to find any players in blue and red. Martino brought on Alexis Sanchez another player who had cause to be disappointed not to start the game. The Chilean had 17 goals and 7 assists before this weekend. Cesc Fabregas made way after an underwhelming performance.
It was neither Sanchez nor Pedro who were to make the vital contribution to the game however. Andres Iniesta, who had been lively all evening, found himself near the left by-line being marked by Carvajo and Alonso. As he tried to drift through the non-existent space between them, he found contact and went down. The referee pointed to the spot once more amidst howls of protests from the Bernabeu faithful. Messi blasted the penalty high into the roof of the net to secure his 26th career hat-trick. He scored his first against the same opponents way back in 2007.
The game ended scrappily as Madrid struggled to reclaim the ball from their opponents. Martino may have introduced a Plan B to this Barcelona side’s armoury, with crosses and diagonal balls not uncommon in games, yet this was all Plan A. Patient build up play, supporting the player on the ball. Alonso, Ronaldo and Modric received yellow cards for kicking the shadows they chased in the closing stages.
85,454 people in the Bernabeu to witness the latest in a long line of classic El Clasicos. When the final whistle blew, all that could be heard was the jubilant singing of the travelling Barcelona supporters.
Celebrating too will be Atletico Madrid. This result leaves them top of La Liga following their 2-0 victory away to Real Betis earlier this evening. Level on points with their bitter city rivals, they have a better head to head record. Barcelona’s victory brings them to within a point of the Madrid sides. Real Madrid must finish clear points ahead of both sides to claim the championship.
The last La Liga El Clasico of the season is by no means the last time these two magnificent sides will meet. They lock horns once more in the Copa Del Rey final on April 16th, and there is still the possibility that they will meet in the semi-finals or final of the Champions League. After matches like this one, we can only hope.

El Clasico: Messi v Ronaldo not the only show in town

An intriguing encounter in store tonight
El Clasico. There’s no more intriguing game in the football calendar. Leaving aside the political context, Real Madrid and Barcelona is never a boring spectacle. For the past few years it has been the Ronaldo and Messi show. That duel still takes centre stage, but this season there’s a wonderful supporting act in Bale and Neymar.
In the last El Clasico at the Camp Nou in October, the home side ran out 2-1 winners following goals from Neymar and Sanchez. That goal helped endear Neymar to the Barcelona support following his high profile summer move from Santos. Unusually however, the Brazilian’s transfer has come under even more scrutiny in the interim. It has emerged that the Catalan side paid far more than originally estimated to secure his services.
Off the field problems aside, Neymar has struggled for consistency when playing for the Blaugrana. His best spell coincided with Lionel Messi’s absence due to injury. Since Messi’s return this year, Neymar has found it difficult to be as effective. Could it be that Neymar needs to be the main man in attack in order to reach his full potential? Can he and Messi form a long-term beneficial partnership up front? Games against teams in the lower half of La Liga can only tell us so much. Real Madrid in the Bernabeu  will give a real indicator as to how the two South American stars can play together.
Messi himself has cut a frustrated figure at times this season. Gerardo Martino’s time at the helm has seen a slight shift away from the tiki taka football cultivated to devastating effect under Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova.  This season has seen an emphasis in some games on diagonal balls and crosses, as opposed to patient build up play with the ball and urgent pressing without it. Martino is clearly trying to formulate a Plan B that Barcelona can switch to when opponents are difficult to break down. However these tactics need a genuine number 9 who can hold up the ball and get on the end of crosses. Messi is many many things, but an old style centre forward he ain’t. Noises from the Camp Nou suggest that Martino will move on in the summer, most likely to take over the Argentina national side. If he does, expect to see an advocate of Tiki Taka hired in his place. Messi is the one player who Barcelona don’t want to upset. He was the star of Barca’s 7 goal dismantling of Osasuna last week and will likely need to reproduce those goal scoring exploits at the Bernabeu. 
Since defeat at the hands of their bitter rivals in October, Real Madrid haven’t lost a game. This extra-ordinary run has been facilitated by a cohesive unit who are as potent in attack as they are  solid in defence. Ronaldo has been in his usual superlative form, and has been adequately supported by the player who usurped him as the most expensive footballer on the planet, Gareth Bale. Bale played in the last El Clasico while still not clearly fully fit (he didn’t have a pre-season), but since then he has been in flying form, weighing in with 14 goals and 17 assists as Madrid marched to the top of La Liga and into the Champions League quarter finals. His former team-mate at Spurs, Luka Modric, has been imperious in the midfield, with short odds on him being voted player of the season in La Liga.
Also in good form has been Karim Benzema, with Zinedine Zidane’s move from upstairs to the coaching team being credited for improving the French striker’s performances. The number 9 is a doubt for tonight, and Jese Rodriguez is certainly out. If Benzema doesn’t recover in time, Arsenal target Alvaro Morata may see game time. An extremely talented youngster, he has yet to  prove his worth to a dubious Carlo Ancelotti.

With Barcelona’s difficulties at the back (set to be compounded at the end of the season with Carlos Puyol’s retirement) it is difficult to see past Real Madrid for tonight’s game. However, if Messi and Neymar manage to combine to good effect, there’s always a chance Barcelona could sneak a result. A win for Real is a disaster both for Barcelona and neutral observers, as it would leave the Catalans 7 points adrift entering the home stretch of the season. A draw would suit Atletico Madrid as well as anyone, as they travel to Real Betis beforehand and could be level with their city rivals at the summit before El Clasico brings the footballing world to a standstill.