When people hear that the El Clasico is coming up, it’s enough to make the hair on any football fan’s skin stand on end – especially this year. Not only are there two brand new managers for both teams, but also two new number 11s – Gareth Bale and Neymar. The pair cost an estimated €148m between them. For the past few seasons, the spotlight has been between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but now we have the newcomers looking to make their own impact on the game – a mouth-watering spectacle to add to a Hollywood blockbuster of a fixture.
To Win (90mins)
Real Madrid 33/10
Barcelona sit top of the table with 25 points, three more than Madrid. They dropped their first points of the season after nine matches last Saturday, missing the chance to equal the record for the best-ever La Liga start, set 45 years ago by Madrid. The La Liga champions were held 0-0 at Osasuna. It was the first time they failed to score in a domestic league game in 65 matches since a 0-0 draw at Villarreal in January 2012. The game didn’t go quite as expected for the visitors, as Gerardo Martino rested key personnel in readiness for a very important upcoming seven days. It was another stunning performance from Neymar, who was a constant thorn in the side of Osasuna. His runs were intelligent and incisive, and his passing was on point. In the absence of Lionel Messi, Neymar was a revelation. He took a battering all night, but there was no exaggeration on his side. He just got up and went on with the game. All he was missing was a well-deserved goal. Captain Carles Puyol is back and the old warrior showed everyone just what Barcelona have been missing at the back these last few months. The commitment that Barca’s 35-year-old legend showed throughout is an example to all. Time and again, we saw the calmness that he brings and how simple and effective his play is. He provides no frills—just good, old-fashioned defending. His presence in the El Clasico will be vital.
Real Madrid beat Malaga 2-0 at the Bernabeu last Saturday, securing their first clean sheet at home in the progress. Angel di Maria’s cross deceived everyone to open the scoring in the second half, before Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty sealed it in stoppage time. Madrid’s 100-million-euro winger Bale went on for the final fifteen minutes after recovering from a leg injury and it was he who earned the penalty that Ronaldo converted. Although Real’s record of six wins out of eight and one draw in La Liga so far this season is respectable by the standards of most teams, some of those results have hidden a multitude of sins in some dismal displays and the capital club find themselves in third place below Atletico Madrid by two points. And now, less than four months into his tenure at the Bernabeu, Carlo Ancelotti faces his toughest test to date: Juventus in the Champions League and then Barca in the Clasico at Camp Nou. Ancelotti’s predecessor, Jose Mourinho, lost his first fixture against the Catalans by five goals to nil in November 2010. Already under pressure, Ancelotti can ill afford a repeat of such a scoreline and, worse still, a loss would mean an eight-point deficit, with hopes of reclaiming La Liga looking slimmer still. A subject much talked about is whether Bale should start in this big match, or whether Ancelotti should continue to rely on the services of Isco and Di María.
VERDICT: Real Madrid 33/10
We have recently seen a change over in dominance in this fixture; last season in the league Real Madrid did not lose to the Catalan club, drawing and then beating them at the Bernabeu. They also knocked Barcelona out of the Copa del Rey by beating and drawing with them over two legs. This season Barca have looked the slightly better but when these two clash head-to-head on Saturday Real Madrid’s firepower could get them the win, and at a valuable 33/10.