The biggest game of the Spanish season is upon us as Real Madrid get set to welcome Barcelona to the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.
Matchday 26 of the 2019-20 La Liga season is underway and the latest round of fixtures will end with a blockbuster fixture. Real Madrid play hosts to Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu in what will be the second El Clasico of the season, with top spot on the table on the line.
Real Madrid have enjoyed a fine campaign in La Liga this term, with a solid defence paving the way for a return to the top echelons. Los Blancos, though, are going through their worst run of form this season, having failed to win each of their last three games. Zinedine Zidane & co. will especially be gutted after squandering a slim lead to lose 2-1 to Manchester City earlier this week.
For Barcelona, on the other hand, a bit of a turnaround appears to be on the cards after a dampener of a start under Quique Setien. The Blaugrana are now unbeaten in their last four games, and a 5-0 thrashing of Eibar last weekend showed signs of what the team can be when in flow.
The reverse fixture, played at Camp Nou in December last year, ended in a goalless draw, with clear-cut chances coming few and far between. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Zinedine Zidane does not have any fresh injury concerns to contend with ahead of the visit of Barcelona. On Sunday, the Real Madrid manager will be without just two first-team players due to fitness troubles.
Marco Asensio is inching closer to making his return, but is only likely to be available later this month. Eden Hazard, meanwhile, is a long-term absentee due to an ankle injury. Rodrygo Goes will be the third absentee for Real Madrid against Barcelona due to suspension.
Despite the Champions League defeat to Manchester City, Zidane is unlikely to tinker a great deal with his side. One possible option for the Real Madrid boss could be to overload the midfield, as he had done during the Spanish Super Cup. However, that would mean dropping Vinicius Jr., who has looked in great touch lately.
Vinicius was, in fact, a bright spot against Manchester City and would be the man to use his deadly change of pace to good effect on the left flank. The midfield will still have four players when off the ball, with Isco, another player who has been playing well of late, dropping down in the defensive phase.
Karim Benzema will lead the line for Real Madrid against Barcelona, but the Frenchman needs to arrest his poor run of form. As for the midfield, Toni Kroos ought to return after not being used at all in the midweek.
Luka Modric is likely to be the man to make way for Kroos, with Federico Valverde expected to be persisted with due to the intensity he brings in the middle of the park. Casemiro will sit at the base of the three-man midfield, with the Brazilian one of those who will aim for a turnaround after a poor showing against Manchester City.
One change is expected in defence as well, with Marcelo coming in for Ferland Mendy, despite the French full-back’s solid showing last time out. Marcelo will be joined by Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos in the backline. In goal, there is no looking past Thibaut Courtois.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Valverde, Casemiro, Kroos, Isco, Benzema, Vinicius
Quique Setien has been handed a major injury boost ahead of his side’s visit to the Spanish capital. Against Real Madrid on Sunday, the Barcelona manager will be without just three first-team players, although he is set to welcome Jordi Alba back into the matchday squad.
Alba has recovered from a groin injury and should slot straight back into the starting lineup, with Junior Firpo blowing hot and cold in his absence. Meanwhile, the three absentees are Sergi Roberto (groin), Ousmane Dembele (hamstring) and Luis Suarez (knee).
As is the case with Real Madrid, changes are likely to be kept to a minimum. Clement Lenglet should return to the starting lineup, replacing Samuel Umtiti at the heart of the Barcelona defence, where he will have Gerard Pique as his partner.
As iterated earlier, Alba should start as the left-back while in the absence of Roberto, Nelson Semedo picks himself as the right-back. Behind the defence, there is no looking past Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the Barcelona goal.
Arthur was sorely missed for large parts of the 1-1 draw with Napoli earlier this week. The Brazilian midfielder should come in for Ivan Rakitic, who was disappointing last time out. Arthur will have Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets for company in the middle of the park.
Setien has used Arturo Vidal as an auxiliary forward in the last two games, but should revert to using Ansu Fati, aiming to exploit the weaknesses showed by Real Madrid right-back Dani Carvajal against Manchester City. Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann are, meanwhile, automatic picks in attack.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; de Jong, Busquets, Arthur; Messi, Griezmann, Fati
- Barcelona have won more La Liga games against Real Madrid than any other side (72), while Los Blancos have beaten Barcelona more than any other side in the competition (72).
- Real Madrid have not won any of their last seven La Liga games against Barcelona (D3 L4). Should they fail to win this game, they will have suffered their worst such streak in the competition in El Clasico history.
- Barcelona have only won one of their last four away La Liga games, conceding two goals in each of those four.
- Barcelona boss Quique Setien has won just two of the eight La Liga games he has managed against Real Madrid (D2 L4), although both wins came against Zinedine Zidane, making him the only manager to win twice against the Frenchman in the league.
- Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema has gone seven games without scoring against Barcelona, his worst run in El Clasico.
Player to Watch
It has been a rough couple of weeks for Real Madrid, with Karim Benzema’s lean patch being a big reason for their struggles. In this time, Isco has stood up and taken the responsibility, even scoring the only Real Madrid goal against Manchester City.
Against Barcelona, though, Isco will shoulder a lot more responsibility than just scoring. The Spaniard will need to do a lot of legwork, supporting Dani Carvajal and Federico Valverde while also looking to complement Toni Kroos in providing the creative impetus. A pivotal player for Real Madrid against Barcelona.
Real Madrid 1-2 Barcelona
The tide appears to be turning in the race to win the La Liga title. Up until a couple of weeks ago, it seemed as if Real Madrid were going to cruise to the title triumph, with Barcelona blowing hot and cold under Quique Setien.
Since then, Los Blancos have been a picture of inconsistency, with Lionel Messi inspiring Barcelona to a turnaround. Indeed, Messi should be the defining factor once again on Sunday, which is why Barcelona seem to have the slightest of edges ahead of the game. This is a game that could go either way, but we are going with a 2-1 win for the visitors.