Spanish football’s biggest rivalry takes centre stage on Sunday, as Barcelona go head to head against Real Madrid in the 238th El Clasico at Camp Nou.
Barcelona and Real Madrid will reignite their rivalry this weekend, as they take on each other in the first El Clasico of the 2018-19 season.
It will be a rather momentous occasion at Camp Nou, as Sunday’s encounter will mark the first ever Clasico without Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo since 2007. The duo have largely dominated these fixtures for the past ten years but with Messi sidelined with a fractured arm and Ronaldo having moved to Juventus in the summer, the contest does lose a bit of its sheen.
Nevertheless, it still promises to be an enticing battle between the arch rivals, as Barcelona sit second in the La Liga table – a point behind leaders Atletico Madrid, with Real Madrid occupying the eighth place in the standings after a poor run of results, looking to close the gap to the top.
Barcelona come into the game on the back of a comfortable 2-0 victory over Inter Milan in the UEFA Champions League, after having beaten Sevilla 4-2 this past weekend. And manager Ernesto Valverde will be hoping that his side carry the momentum into the weekend encounter.
Real Madrid, on the other hand, ended a five-match winless run in all competitions when they defeated Viktoria Plzen 2-1 in Europe earlier this week. They are without a victory in their previous four La Liga matches however and with manager Julen Lopetegui under intense pressure, nothing but a win will do for Los Blancos this weekend.
Team News & Tactics
As mentioned previously, club captain Messi misses out for Barcelona due to a fractured arm, while defenders Samuel Umtiti and Thomas Vermaelen also remain sidelined. Sergi Samper and Carles Alena have been excluded by the manager from the matchday squad.
German international Marc-Andre ter Stegen is a guaranteed starter between the posts for Barcelona on Sunday. Nelson Semedo started the last two games at right-back, but Sergi Roberto is expected to hold on to his spot in the team, having featured from the kick off against Inter. Jordi Alba, who scored a goal in the midweek encounter, will continue at left-back.
Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet are the only two fit senior centre-backs at Valverde’s disposal and are guaranteed to start against Real. Summer signing Arthur has come into his own in recent weeks, establishing himself as a mainstay in the Catalans’ midfield. He should make his El Clasico debut this weekend, partnering up with Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic in the middle of the park.
With Messi absent, Ousmane Dembele was expected to fill in on the right flank, but Rafinha was preferred over the Frenchman in the midweek and he delivered the goods, scoring a goal on the night. Expect him to hold on to his spot in the lineup, with usual suspects Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez completing the attacking trident for the reigning champions.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur; Rafinha, Suarez, Coutinho;
First-choice right-back Dani Carvajal is still unavailable for Real Madrid, while centre-back Jesus Vallejo is also sidelined for the visitors with a thigh injury. Marcelo came off injured in the midweek game but is expected to be fit for the game, whereas Brazilian prodigy Vinicius Junior is suspended after being sent off last weekend while playing for Castilla.
After sitting out of the European tie, summer signing Thibaut Courtois is expected to return to the starting XI on Sunday in place of Keylor Navas. Raphael Varane, who was benched as well, is likely to come back into the team to partner Sergio Ramos in the centre of the backline, with Nacho moving out to the right-back slot. The fit-again Marcelo should continue on the left side.
It has been a slow start to the season for Luka Modric, but given his quality and experience, Lopetegui is likely to persist with him in the midfield. Same goes for Toni Kroos, who also has struggled to match up to his usual standards this term. Casemiro will occupy the third midfield slot for Les Merengues.
Karim Benzema ended his goal drought in the midweek fixture and will look to continue from where he left off, against the Catalans. However, he will be hoping for better support from Gareth Bale who was ordinary in the midweek game. Marco Asensio is in line to return to the team in place of Isco on the left flank.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Nacho, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Bale, Benzema, Asensio;
- Sunday’s contest between the two sides will be the 238th El Clasico. Real Madrid have a slight edge over Barcelona when it comes to head to head record in Clasico contests, having won 95 matches, compared to 92 wins for the Catalans.
- Barcelona are unbeaten in their last 5 games in all competitions, whereas Real Madrid have won only 1 game in their last 5 encounters.
- Real Madrid have scored at least 2 goals in 5 of their last 6 matches against Barcelona in all competitions.
- Barcelona have scored in every one of the last 21 Clasicos in La Liga. A goal on Sunday and they will equal the all-time record held by Real Madrid (1959-69).
- Since he joined Barca in 2014, Luis Suarez is the top goalscorer in Clasico encounters with six goals.
Player to Watch
Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)
The Welshman made a promising start to the 2018-19 campaign, netting three goals and chalking up two assists in his first four La Liga games and had also scored in Los Blancos’ first Champions League encounter against AS Roma as well.
However, things have once again gone downhill for the 29-year-old. Bale, now, has gone without a goal in his last four league appearances and he put in a toothless display in the midweek game against Viktoria Plzen, in what was his 200th appearance for Real Madrid.
With Ronaldo departing in the summer, Bale was supposed to take over the mantle of being the main man of the team and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that he has failed to do so yet. However, he can draw confidence from the fact that he scored against Barcelona last time the two teams clashed and a strong performance on Sunday would do his confidence a world of good.
Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid
With no defeats in their last five matches, Barcelona definitely have the momentum on their side heading into the blockbuster clash on Sunday. And while Messi’s absence is bound to have some impact, Valverde’s men showed that they can cope just fine without the Argentine superstar against Inter Milan during the week.
On the other hand, Real Madrid have just one win in their five previous matches. While they did get back to winning ways on Tuesday night against Plzen, the performance was far from convincing. And considering how they have been showed up by lesser teams like Alaves, CSKA Moscow, Levante recently, Barcelona certainly will pose a mighty challenge for Lopetegui’s men.
In all likelihood, we will have an intensely contested battle at our hands at Camp Nou on Sunday, but given Barcelona’s better run of form of late, we at the Hard Tackle expect them to come out on top and heap further misery on their bitter rivals.