The top two teams in La Liga will take on each other this Wednesday, as Barcelona play hosts to arch-rivals Real Madrid in the first El Clasico of the season.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are set to resume their on-field rivalry this week as they go head to head on Wednesday night at Camp Nou in the 179th El Clasico in La Liga, with the top spot in the table at stake.

Barcelona are perched at the top of the standings, despite dropping points this past weekend when they were held to a 2-2 draw by Real Sociedad. Ernesto Valverde’s men are on an eight-game unbeaten run across all competitions, and haven’t been at home all season.  And they will look to extend that run when they meet their arch-rivals.

Real Madrid missed a great opportunity to knock Barcelona off the top spot as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Valencia on Sunday. Level on points with the Catalans, Zinedine Zidane’s side are undefeated in their previous seven league outings. They will be raring to bag all three points on their trip to Camp Nou and move to the summit of the standings.

The last time Real Madrid visited Barcelona for a league game, they ended up getting thrashed 5-1. And ahead of the latest encounter between the Spanish heavyweights, we at The Hard Tackle take a closer look at both the teams.

Team News & Tactics

Barcelona

Arthur and Dembele are ruled out for Barcelona (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)

Arthur and Dembele are ruled out for Barcelona (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)

Barcelona will once again be without the services of midfielder Arthur Melo and forward Ousmane Dembele, who is a long-term absentee. There are no other injury/suspension concerns for manager Valverde ahead of the big game on Wednesday.

There is no looking past the excellent Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal for the reigning La Liga champions, while the four-man backline of Sergi Roberto, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet and Jordi Alba is unlikely to be tinkered with, despite the latter not performing well upon returning from injury against Sociedad.

No changes are expected in the middle of the park either with Sergio Busquets lining up at the base of the three-man midfield, while Frenkie de Jong is also expected to feature in his first ever El Clasico. Ivan Rakitic has found a new lease on life after spending the early part of the season on the periphery of the first-team and should hold on to his place against Real Madrid.

Antoine Griezmann is finally starting to live up to expectations after a slow start to his debut season with Barcelona. The Frenchman has scored in each of his last two league appearances and should continue on the left flank, with captain and talisman Lionel Messi on the right and Luis Suarez through the middle.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, de Jong; Messi, Suarez, Griezmann

Real Madrid

Real Madrid’s marquee summer signing Eden Hazard is ruled out for the Barcelona clash as he continues to battle his injury problems. Los Blancos will also be without the services of Lucas Vazquez, James Rodriguez, Marcelo and Marco Asensio. Ferland Mendy is back in the squad after missing the Valencia game due to suspension.

Real Madrid star Eden Hazard is still sidelined (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Real Madrid star Eden Hazard is still sidelined (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Thibaut Courtois was impressive in Real Madrid’s draw against Valencia and ought to continue between the sticks on Wednesday, while three of the four defenders who started on Sunday – Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos are all expected to feature again. Mendy should return to the left-back slot at the expense of Nacho.

There will be one alteration in the Real Madrid midfield as well, as Casemiro is set to return to the starting XI after sitting out at the weekend. The Brazilian should replace Luka Modric in the side, with both Toni Kroos and Federico Valverde expected to hold on to their spots.

In-form superstar Karim Benzema is a certainty to feature as the centre-forward for Real Madrid. Gareth Bale, Vinicius Jr., Rodryo and Isco will compete for the two spots on the flanks. Zidane might opt to go for experience over youth meaning Bale and Isco could get the nod at Camp Nou.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Mendy; Valverde, Casemiro, Kroos; Bale, Benzema, Isco

Key Stats

  • Barcelona have won more La Liga games against Real Madrid than any other side (72), while Real Madrid have beaten Barcelona the most often in the competition (72).
  • Barcelona are one goal away from reaching 400 goals in El Clasico history in all competitions and just four goals away from equaling Real Madrid’s total (403).
  • Real Madrid have gone six La Liga meetings without winning against Barcelona (D2 L4), their worst such run in El Clasico since December 2011 (seven). In fact, their seven-game winless run ending in December 2011 was Real Madrid’s worst ever such streak in El Clasico in La Liga.
  • Ernesto Valverde could equal the longest unbeaten run of any Barcelona manager in El Clasico in all competitions (W4 D2 L0), registered by Pep Guardiola between April 2011 and January 2012 (W4 D3 L0).
  • Zinedine Zidane is unbeaten in his four managerial games at Camp Nou in all competitions (W2 D2) and he could become the first Real Madrid manager to remain unbeaten in five away Clasicos.

Player to Watch

Lionel Messi

Messi will be key for Barcelona's chances (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Messi will be key for Barcelona’s chances (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

The Barcelona captain will equal club legend Xavi Hernandez (42) for most appearances in El Clasico in all competitions by a Barcelona player on Wednesday evening. In his 41 appearances against Real Madrid, Messi has bagged 26 goals and assisted 14 more.

However, the 32-year-old has failed to score or assist in his last three games against Real Madrid in all competitions. The Argentine superstar has never gone four consecutive appearances against them without scoring or assisting and will be keen on delivering a match-winning performance when Madrid come visiting this week.

Prediction

Barcelona 1-1 Real Madrid

Barcelona have not lost on their turf this season across all competitions and are currently on an eight-game unbeaten run. Real Madrid too are without a defeat in eleven matches in all competitions, but they have failed to pick up a win against their arch-rivals in their last six meetings.

As always, the latest El Clasico will make for a mouth-watering contest, as both teams will be looking to claim the top spot in La Liga for themselves. While Real Madrid lost badly to Barcelona in the corresponding fixture last season, they have done well at Camp Nou under Zinedine Zidane’s guidance, having won and drawn two games each.

And hence, we at The Hard Tackle are expecting Los Blancos to hold the Blaugrana to a 1-1 draw on Wednesday night and return with a point from Camp Nou.

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