Our writer previews the highly anticipated El Clasico matchup between Barcelona and Real Madrid.
All heads turn to Spain this weekend as Barcelona and Real Madrid go head-to-head in the biggest rivalry in world football. The two giants are among the richest and most successful football clubs in the world and have in their ranks, arguably the greatest two players that have ever lived – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Real Madrid lead the head-to-head results in competitive matches with 93 wins to Barcelona's 90, while the Catalans lead in total matches with 109 wins to Los Blancos’ 97. Messi is the highest goalscorer in the El Clasico with 21 goals, but Ronaldo is the leading scorer in the league with 10 goals to his name and is also a firm favourite to pip Messi to the 2016 Ballon d’Or trophy. With all that being said, let’s take a closer look at what promises to be another cracking encounter!
Spanish La Liga | Saturday 3 December | Camp Nou | 17:15
To Win (90 Mins)
Barcelona 8/10 | Draw 3/1 | Real Madrid 29/10
Barcelona head into the El Clasico knowing two things: they could have entered the game in better form, at the same time, knowing that form means very little when these two giants step foot on the pitch.
Luis Enrique’s side have drawn back-to-back games in La Liga and find themselves six points adrift of their arch-rivals. In all fairness, Barca got lucky in their last game against Real Sociedad, with Carlos Vela being denied a goal by the linesman, who claimed that his shot did not cross the line, but replays suggest otherwise.
My main concern for Barcelona this season is that they are suffering from too many key players being injured. The Spanish trio of Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba are major doubts, which means we could see a makeshift backline, and the club without their best midfielder in the fold. Despite the injuries, Barcelona have managed to survive; the three reasons behind their success being Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi.
Barca have failed to hit the heights of old, with the gap between themselves and Madrid opening up to six points. However, the Catalans have had a much harder run than Los Blancos, already making tricky trips to Sevilla, Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao and Celta Vigo, not to mention playing Atletico Madrid at home.
On their day, though, Barcelona can manhandle the biggest of giants, including Real Madrid. Last season, Barca thrashed the European champions by a 4-0 scoreline at the Santiago Bernabeu, before being humbled to a 2-1 loss at the Camp Nou.
In the last two matches in particular, Sergio Busquets has been isolated in the deep-lying midfield position. That needs to change if Barca are to turn their recent slump around as Busquets is one of the best in the business in his position and gets the tiki-taka style of play started from the back.
That said, Barca have been too reliant on Messi this season, with the Argentine scoring 10 of his side’s last 14 goals, at the time of writing. I’m sure Enrique won’t mind as Messi continues to fire on all cylinders, but players like Neymar and Suarez will need to get amongst the goals as well for personal bragging rights. Suarez has scored just once in his last five outings, while Neymar hasn't scored from open play in La Liga since September.
Real Madrid have been by far the better of the two sides on form, with Zinedine Zidane’s men riding a 31-game unbeaten run, at the time of writing. A trip to the Camp Nou will certainly be their biggest test as they are close in on setting a new all-time unbeaten record, being just three games away.
In Madrid’s run of 31 games unbeaten, Zidane’s men have netted a staggering 86 goals, conceding 28 times. Zidane has been a key figure in the Madrid dugout, being a Galactico himself, Zizou only knows things one way – the Madrid way!
Zidane has already beaten Enrique as a manager, and proves to be thriving on the big occasions. When you think of the man for the big occasions, another name pops into mind – Cristiano Ronaldo. The debate between who is better between Ronaldo and Messi is yet to be settled, but at the moment, the Portuguese superstar has the edge over Messi for now.
Madrid played out to their best performance of the season a fortnight ago, beating their local-rivals, Atletico Madrid, by a 3-0 scoreline. To no surprise, it was Ronaldo who stole the show and netted yet another hat-trick for Los Blancos, now seeking a 40th hat-trick in the colours of Real Madrid.
Madrid have a few injury concerns to worry about, with Gareth Bale, Raphael Varane, Toni Kroos and Alvaro Morata all likely to miss out. With all due respect to Varane, Pepe and Sergio Ramos are both back from injury and the Frenchman won’t be missed as much.
In the absence of Kroos, Mateo Kovacic has been superb in the middle of the park, forming a lethal double pivot with Luka Modric. Lucas Vazquez has also caught the eye, making some stellar performances off the bench and could get the nod in Bale’s place.
As long as Ronaldo is on the pitch, though, Madrid will always be a threat – no matter who else gets injured. With his tally of 10 league goals in the campaign, Cristiano is now La Liga’s outright top goalscorer, overtaking Messi and Suarez who are on nine and eight goals respectively. Ronaldo has netted eight goals in the past four weekends of La Liga action, and is almost certain to add to his tally once again – especially with all the defensive injuries that Barca are suffering at the moment.
Verdict: Real Madrid (29/10)
Although form counts for very little when these two giants meet, you can’t ignore the fact that Real Madrid are undefeated in 31 matches. Neymar and Suarez are on an unusual goal-drought, which could benefit the fit-again duo of Pepe and Ramos. Zidane has beaten Barca before and he should claim back-to-back victories here. With Ronaldo in scintillating form, I can’t look anywhere else but an away victory for Madrid.
Written by Jesse Nagel @Hollywoodbets