In this second part, we look at the options that both squads have going forward.
In the middle:
Cesc Fabregas: In similar circumstances to those of Gerard Pique, Fabregas joined the Barca youth system aged just 10. However, he was left frustrated about his progression so switched to Arsenal’s academy instead, when he was 16 years old. At the time, Patrick Viera played for the Gunners and reportedly took Fabregas under his wing and nurtured the youngster, which resulted in Fabregas breaking into the first team with ease and becoming Arsenal’s youngest ever player at just 16 years and 177 days. A hero in the making and a hero he became after 8 years at the club, contributing in over 200 games before declaring his heart was still in Spain, and to be more precise; in Barcelona. Arsenal fans were left heartbroken when their captain returned to his homeland but wished him well, and he settled straight back into the club he supported as a boy. He also has over 70 caps for Spain and gloats a respectable list of honours, which include a FA Cup winners medal, a Cope Del Rey, 2 European Championships and a World Cup.
Xavi: The puppet master. A nickname given to him because of the way he pulls the strings in the centre of the field, Xavi holds a unique talent of both accuracy and creativity when it comes to passing a ball and has won more trophies than any other Spanish player. He came through Barcelona’s youth teams and has now played in 680 games, scoring 70 goals and making more than 160 assists for his teammates. He has won 23 major trophies with club and country during his 15-year career, gaining 115 appearances for Spain.
Andres Iniesta: Another product of La Masia (the Barcelona youth system) who has gone on to some incredible things. During his youth career at the club, he captained the Barcelona under-15 side in the Nike Premier Cup 1999, where he scored the winning goal in injury time in the final. Fast forward 11 years to World Cup 2010 in South Africa and ‘The illusionist’ would replicate this, scoring the winning goal in the final, after 116 minutes of play to win the competition for his country. During the European Championships in 2012, Iniesta was named Player Of The Tournament and donated the prize money to charity, all €200,000 of it. He has represented the Spanish senior side 72 times, the Barcelona first team 274 times and if you stacked up his individual awards, it would be taller than the man himself. 5 league titles, 3 Champions Leagues and a World cup, along with 2 Copa Del Rey trophies, 5 Spanish Cups, 2 European Championships and most recently being named the Best Player in Europe, all before the age of 30. How many people can say that?
Thiago: Not quite in the same ilk as the previous two I have just mentioned, however Thiago is one of the brightest young midfielders that world football has to offer. At only 21 years old, he has played 100 times for Barcelona and his form has warranted him 3 caps for the Spanish senior team, even though he was born in Italy and has a Brazilian father. He has already won a remarkable 9 trophies with Barca.
Sergio Busquets: A type of player that sits in front of the defence to provide extra cover, a player that breaks up the play and does the niggly things that no one else wants to do and a player that is always looking to play it simple. Busquets has become part of the furniture at the Nou Camp, appearing 119 in the 4 years he has been at the club. ‘Sergio’ is known for playing the ‘ugly’ part of the game; although when you’re playing for Barcelona, even the ugliest parts are made beautiful. With 16 trophies to his name with club and country and still only 24, be sure to keep an eye on where his career progresses.
Alex Song: One of 28 children, Alex Song was desperate to make a name for himself to provide a good life for his tight-knit family. He moved from his birthplace of Cameroon to France with Bastia to try and kick start his football career, and he well and truly impressed for the club, before being snapped up by Arsenal in 2005. The man with colourful hair went on to play over 140 times for the North-London club and became a firm fan favourite, before joining his former team mate Cesc Fabregas at Barcelona. He is immensely effective in a role similar to that of Busquets, where he dispossess the opposition and plays it simple and allows his team to attack. Song is yet to win a major trophy, but it wont take long, I’m sure.
Javier Mascherano: ‘The little chief’ as he is known, is viewed as one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe. The little Argentine was signed from Liverpool and quickly became a regular in the Barcelona midfield, but is now being deployed as a centre back as cover for an injured Carlos Puyol. With over 100 caps for Argentina, the 28 year old has vast experience in all levels of football and is known to lend a helping hand to the younger members of the squad, acting like a mentor. With 8 major trophies to his name, Mascherano offers Barca a huge range of abilities.
Sami Khedira: at 6ft2, Khedira is known as one of the most gifted ariel midfielders that football has to offer. His stamina and his determination give him the ability to gain possession and break down opposition attacks. The efficiency that comes naturally to all Germans and his gifted passing abilities make him a valuable member of Mourinho’s midfield. He was signed from Stuttgart where he won the Bundesliga title in 2007, and has since won the La Liga title with Madrid.
Mesut Ozil: Like Khedira, Ozil is a representative of Germany; however their style of play could not differentiate any more than it does. Ozil is very much in his element when he is going forward and combining with the strikers, both creating opportunities for them and himself. His movement and his technique on the ball make him one of the most unique players in the current generation of football players. His professional career started in Germany, with Schalke and then Werder Bremen, before making his move to Spain and signing a contract with Madrid. He has struck up a sensational partnership with Cristiano Ronaldo during his time in the capital, and has established himself as a first team regular.
Xabi Alonso: Quite possibly the best long-range passer in the world. A bold statement, however I firmly believe this to be true. The way in which Alonso can pick out a player, irrelevant of the distance between him and the target justifies this title. He made a name for himself at Real Sociedad before flourishing under Rafael Benitez at Liverpool where he would become a Champions League winner and a cult hero at Anfield. His 5 years at the club are still fondly remembered by the scousers, a spell which saw the ginger-bearded midfielder score 15 goals in 143 games, 2 of which came from distance against Luton Town in the FA cup in 2006. One of the goals was struck from 45 yards and the other from inside his own half, measured at 65 yards to lob over a shocked keeper who had ventured from his goal line. He joined Madrid after reported arguments with Rafa Bentiez and has been controlling Real’s midfield ever since.
Luka Modric: A member of Jose’s summer signings and the Madrid fans are in for a real treat. One of the most creative players I have ever laid eyes upon, Modric has the guile to open up a defence before you can blink. A player who loves to slip into space and has the natural ability to lose his marker, the little Croat is as comfortable on his right foot as he is on his left. What makes Modric stand out from most attacking midfielders is his willingness to track back when needed to help his team defend, not something all offensive players have in their locker. Modric played for Dinamo Zagreb and Tottenham Hotspur before signing for Madrid last month.
Michael Essien: The ultimate box-to-box midfielder with the torso of a weightlifter. Essien has moved to Spain in a one-year loan deal from current European Champions Chelsea, to link up with his former boss Mourinho. His sheer strength makes opponents uneasy and allows him to switch roles to play either as a midfielder, or as cover in defence. His lethal strike has earned him a place in the heart of Chelsea fans around the globe, as well as Lyon supporters, where he applied his trade previously. The Ghanaian international has 2 Premier League titles to his name, as well as 4 FA Cups and a Champions League.
Kaka: A hero at Milan but not so much at Madrid. Kaka’s career seems to be in decline and he is said to be frustrated with the lack of opportunity in the Madrid midfield. One time Ballon d’Or winner (2007) and World Cup winner with Brazil (2002), Kaka won the hearts of Ac Milan fans after he played in almost 200 games, scoring 70 goals and regularly expressing his love for the club. He has never quite had the same effect in Spain but is still plugging away like a top professional.
Midfield: Barcelona 1-2 Madrid
Lionel Messi: Where do I start with Lionel Messi? At the age of just 25 he has won more trophies than Pele, Maradona, Di Stefano and Cruyff had when they were his age, and is Barcelona’s all-time top goal scorer (if you ignore friendly matches) on a staggering 259 goals. He is 1 away from his 300th professional goal and has won the Ballon d’Or 3 times in a row. Last season Messi had his greatest campaign so far, scoring 75 goals in all competitions, which included 8 league hat tricks (one of which was completed in just 17 minutes). Messi has over 70 individual honours and 21 major trophies to his name and has been labelled the ‘best player ever’, which sometimes invites an argument, but the low centre of gravity that Messi is blessed with contributes to the way he is able to weave in and out of multiple defenders with ease, mixed with the delicacy of his finishing and his fancy footwork makes him a pleasure to watch. The incredible way he can pull opponents in and suddenly get away from them is what he’s best at, as well as his deft touch and the technique that no one else on the planet gets near to. Words cannot describe Lionel Messi, so I am going to stop trying.
David Villa: El Guaje (The Kid) has finally returned to the playing field after 8 long months out after a broken Tibia prevented him from participating. He returned as a substitute against Real Sociedad and it only took 7 minutes for the little striker to put the ball in the net. In his professional career, Villa has played over 400 club games and has currently got a ratio of 1 goal every 1.9 games, which is quite impressive considering the level he is playing at, and also has a potent record with the Spanish national side of 51 goals in 82 games, which translates into a goal every 1.6 games. He has 10 major club honours and 1 World Cup.
Alexis Sanchez: A 23 year old who has the raw speed and dribbling skills needed to be a top class forward. Sanchez usually occupies the wing at Barcelona but has a keen eye for goal, grabbing 12 in 27 games in the league during his stint in the first team. He has represented his native Chile at the highest level on almost 50 occasions and has had spells with Udinese and River Plate.
Pedro: From the age of 17, Pedro has been wearing the famous Barcelona stripes and has fully blossomed as a star. He stands at only 5ft6 but could give any professional sprinter a run for their money, quite literally. A player that can play on either side of the pitch, who enjoys cutting in to terrorise full backs, before unleashing one of his trademark long range efforts and after 4 years playing regularly in the first team, he has appeared on 107 occasions, netting 31 times.
Cristiano Ronaldo: It is hard to describe Cristiano Ronaldo. The man has an ego the size of an elephant, but when you’re as talented as he is who cares? The most explosive player you will ever see on a pitch, Ronaldo will leave defenders for dead with his super quick feet and sublime step overs, before another trademark trick and a swift swing of his muscular leg and 9/10 the ball will be sitting in the back of the net before the goal keeper has had a chance to move. Ronaldo recently scored his 150th goal for Madrid in just 149 games. A stat that makes you think 'WOW’. Ronaldo started off his professional career with Sporting in his country of birth; Portugal, before being snapped up by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2003 as a replacement for David Beckham. He enjoyed his time at Old Trafford, winning 3 Premier League titles, 1 FA Cup and a Champions League, scoring 84 league goals along the way. The cocky winger was then signed for a world record of £80m and had a buy-out clause of €1bn; something to this day still astonishes the football world. Ronaldo continues to battle it out with Lionel Messi to be the best Player in the World but very recently has spoken about a move away from Madrid, something that will devastate the owners and fans alike.
Karim Benzema: A man who is known for his accuracy in front of goal and his powerful presence in the air, Benzema has proved himself to be one of the most precious assets in European football. The 24 year old French international erupted onto the scene with his home club of Lyon and in his 5 year spell at the club, the striker managed 43 league goals in just over 100 games for Les Goneswhich earned him a €41m move to the Galacticos. The goal-gobbler has netted 44 times in 97 league appearances and will be looking to top that this season.
Gonzalo Higuain: Higuain was born in France in 1987 but chose to play for Argentina after securing citizenship when he arrived there at just 10 months old. The powerful striker scored his 100th Madrid goal last season and has carried on his deadly form by scoring 2 in his first 2 of the new campaign. If you give him a chance in front of goal he will take it, that is the sort of player Higuain is. He is still only 24 years old, so has years left to keep doing what he is currently doing. He has 3 league titles, 2 Spanish Cups and a Copa Del Rey.
Angel Di Maria: This nippy winger has established himself as one of the first names on Mourinho’s team sheet despite having the trait of making a blunder. What Di Maria does possess, however, is the facility to cross the ball, making his assist count as high as anyone’s. His nickname of noodle comes from his slim physique and his lanky legs, as well as having the strength of a flea. He wassigned in 2010 from benfica for €25m.
Barcelona 2-2 Real Madrid
As you can see, the decision is a hard one. Not only because it’s difficult to know how to compare the two squads, but because of the vast amounts of quality that both clubs own. The 3 (arguably 5) best players in the world are contracted to these two giants and it is impossible to see who comes out on top.
Who has the better squad, Barcelona or Real Madrid?