On Sunday afternoon, Real Madrid will travel to the Camp Nou to face FC Barcelona in the biggest game in club football, El Clasico. Though some fans outside of LaLiga will tell you that this historic rivalry matchup has lost some of its luster, especially after Lionel Messi’s free departure to PSG, everyone who understands the magnitude of this rivalry in footballing and sociopolitical terms also understands that it remains as fierce as ever.
If you look at these teams on paper, Real Madrid look like the favorites. Whereas Dani Carvajal and Eden Hazard are their only major injuries, Barcelona could be missing two more important players in midfielder Pedri and defender Ronald Araujo. Pedri’s absence will almost certainly loom large, given he’s been arguably the most impressive young player on the planet in 2021.
However, wise Madridistas know to never underestimate Barcelona, who also only have one loss in LaLiga. Real Madrid will be riding high after their incredible victory over Shakhtar, but the margin for error in a Clasico at the Camp Nou (with the fans, of course) is zero.
Going back to the injuries, Real’s biggest absence could be Carvajal. Though Real would benefit greatly from the world-class right back’s presence, the reality is that the club needs to keep his long-term health in mind. As pivotal as El Clasico is for both the title and personally, Los Blancos stand to lose more if Carvajal suffers yet another aggravation. He has not been consistently healthy at any point in 2021.
Lucas Vazquez was better than Nacho in last year’s away Clasico
Therefore, Real Madrid must turn to Lucas Vazquez as an alternative. COPE’s Miguel Angel Diaz tweeted that the right back position is one of two doubts for Carlo Ancelotti against Barcelona, in the sense that it is a spot where the manager is still contemplating who will start. He asked his followers who should start, and when splitting the options of Rodrygo Goes, Fede Valverde, Nacho Fernandez, and Vazquez starting, Vazquez’s options only won by a margin of 50.8 percent to 48.2 percent as compared to Nacho.
I am a little puzzled at that. Vazquez has his flaws defensively, as his lack of height, his spotty positioning, and his frustrating tendency to ball-watch can be costly. Yet in the last two Clasicos, Vazquez has been one of the best players on the pitch.
In the first match against Barcelona last season, Vazquez entered the pitch for Nacho at right back and was a massive upgrade offensively. He was a star for Real and helped them see out a 3-1 win. And even though he got injured at the half-way point of the second Clasico, he had an early assist for Karim Benzema in the win. Vazquez was so good in that match that he was in WhoScored’s Team of the Week for LaLiga despite playing fewer than 45 minutes!
Nacho has been even worse than Vazquez this season, particularly at either fullback position. Though Vazquez was not perfect against Shakhtar, he was still solid in the 5-0 win. Vazquez played his role competently, boosting the attack with two key passes and two fouls drawn. Per WhoScored.com, he even baited Shakhtar into two offsides calls.
Vazquez is the best option at right back for Ancelotti in El Clasico. Even acknowledging his flaws, his attacking ability, work-rate, and ability to fight for loose balls make him the best option. And he is one of those players who adds that little something extra in a derby, much like the other question mark to start, the respected youngster Fede Valverde.
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Real Madrid should not risk Carvajal, and Nacho is simply not an option at fullback. It’s time to let Vazquez have more starts at right back, as he showed last season, including in both matches against Barcelona, that he is not a bad emergency option.