LA LIGA | REAL MADRID - BARCELONA
Seven debutants could feature in Saturday's Clasico
Kroos, Hernández, James, Rakitic, Suárez, Bravo and Mathieu may all get first taste of big game but Navas and Ter Stegen will be stuck on the bench.
Real Madrid welcomes Barcelona to the Santiago Bernabéu on Saturday in a match that Toni Kroos, Javier Hernández and James Rodríguez for the home side, and Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suárez, Claudio Bravo and Jérémy Mathieu for the visitors, will be having their first taste of.
Every year Real and Barça fight not just for titles but also to attract the finest players in Spain and from abroad to their clubs. Carlo Ancelotti replaced the departed Ángel di María and Xabi Alonso with World Cup-winner Kroos and James, who won the Golden Boot in Brazil, the players signed from Bayern Munich and Monaco respectively.
Of Madrid’s new signings, neither Kroos nor James has ever played against Barcelona before. The German missed the 2012-13 Champions League semi-final in which Bayern beat Barça 7-0 through injury. Both players are certain to start the match, while Hernández will have to settle for a place on the bench. Keylor Navas, one of the stars of Costa Rica’s memorable run in Brazil, will be a mere spectator with Iker Casillas firmly installed as Ancelotti’s number one.
Barcelona manager Luis Enrique has plenty of reinforcements at his disposal this season as he seeks to redress the balance of power in La Liga and Europe, which last season left the Camp Nou club empty handed. Of these, three know very well what it is like to face Real Madrid: Claudio Bravo, the former Real Sociedad keeper who has managed a record-breaking eight clean sheets in the league this season, but who has conceded 18 at the Bernabéu during his career, and Mathieu and Rakitic, formerly of Valencia and Sevilla respectively.
Mathieu scored twice against Real Madrid last season, one in the Mestalla and another at the Bernabéu, both headers. Rakitic also netted twice against Saturday’s opponents last campaign, both goals coming in Sevilla’s 7-3 loss.
But the spotlight will inevitably fall on Luis Suárez. The Uruguayan striker’s four-month ban has come to an end and he could make his debut for his new side in the Bernabéu, although whether that is from the start or from the bench remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Brazilian full back Douglas and Barça B graduate Rafinha may also get the chance to experience their first Clasico, but goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen will, like Navas, be rooted to the bench unless the unexpected happens.