Youth versus experience
In the Barcelona football squad Pedri feels like a veteran at 20; meanwhile Real Madrid have nine players over 30
Friday, 27 October 2023, 14:24
Friday, 27 October 2023, 14:24
El Clásico has been billed as many things over the decades - but this is the first time it could be described as the biggest-ever "Lads v Dads" match.
One locker room is packed with thirty-somethings who've experienced seasons of the biggest game in world football. Across the corridor, there's a bunch of wide-eyed young men living the dream for the first time.
Barcelona's squad and finances are so stretched they've had to rely on the famous academy to make up the matchday squads. La Masia has come to the rescue in the most trying of times - and it is paying dividends.
When they faced Shakhtar Donetsk this week, 12 of the 20 players were academy graduates, coached by Xavi - another product of the youth team. Once more, Barcelona are breeding the best.
Sixteen-year-old Lamine Yamal scored against Granada. Just a year older, Marc Guiu hit the winner with his second touch of the ball on his debut against Athletic Bilbao. Fermín López scored the decisive goal against Shakhtar. Despite this being his breakthrough season, he's one of the older players at the age of 20.
It is the healthiest football academy in the world and has come good at just the right time - 20 players called up by Barça this season have previously played for the development side. Alex Balde and Gavi are fixtures in their teenage years; Pedri feels like a veteran at the age of 20.
In contrast, Real Madrid don't have a single player under the age of 20 and nine players over the age of 30. The side is built on the experience of Antonio Rüdiger, David Alaba, Dani Carvajal, Toni Kroos, Luka Modrić and Joselu.
Carlo Ancelotti has never been the kind of coach to promote home-grown players, and none have broken through during his time. That's not to say he doesn't give youth a chance - that's if you can class 20-year-olds as youthful. Jude Bellingham and Eduardo Camavinga defy their age and are already established at club and international level.
Real Madrid have concentrated on signing top talent globally and developing their potential. Rodrygo, Vinícius Júnior and Fede Valverde were scouted in South America as teenagers and developed by the club. They beat other suitors to Éder Militão and Aurélien Tchouaméni when they were just out of their teenage years.
So, who wins the Clásico? It's always a prediction I try to avoid. There's little between the two teams, just a single point separates them. Unfortunately for Barcelona, there are fitness doubts surrounding two senior players - Robert Lewandowski and Frenkie De Jong - and they are already missing Sergi Roberto and Pedri. Real Madrid are without two of their biggest stars in Thibaut Courtois and Militão but do have far fewer injuries. The only Clásico debutant for Real should be Bellingham - whereas Barça may have to throw a few in.
These games come down to fine margins and the greater experience should tell. It appears that the dads should just edge it against the lads.
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