The first El Clasico of the season is here as Barcelona get set to welcome bitter rivals Real Madrid to Camp Nou on Sunday afternoon.
Matchday 10 of the 2021/22 La Liga season continues on Sunday, with as many as four matches on show. The second of the games on show on the day will be the marquee fixture of the weekend, as Barcelona play hosts to Real Madrid at Camp Nou in the first El Clasico of the season.
Barcelona are going through a tumultuous time right now, with the onset of the 2021/22 season being a far from a straightforward period for them. While the departure of Lionel Messi has invariably paved the way for instability in the first-team setup, the financial issues will take some time to disappear.
As far as the results are concerned, the Blaugrana are currently seventh on the La Liga table, two points adrift of their visitors on Sunday, Real Madrid. However, back-to-back wins in the past week or so have eased some of the enormous pressure on Ronald Koeman. Real Madrid, on the other hand, have largely been decent enough early in the 2021/22 season.
The only major blips for Real Madrid so far have come in the form of back-to-back defeats ahead of the international break, with unheralded opponents Sheriff Tiraspol and Espanyol both grabbing a one-goal win over Los Blancos. However, Carlo Ancelotti & co. returned to action earlier this week in style, as they cruised to a 5-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Champions League.
The corresponding fixture last season ended in a 3-1 win for Real Madrid, with Federico Valverde, Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric on target while Ansu Fati scored an early goal for Barcelona. Ahead of the first El Clasico of the season, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) October 23, 2021
Ronald Koeman has been handed a major blow on the team news front ahead of the visit of Real Madrid. On Sunday, the Barcelona manager will likely have to make do without as many as six first-team players.
The latest player to be struggling with an injury is Jordi Alba, who sustained a foot issue earlier this week in the game against Dynamo Kyiv in the UEFA Champions League. Since then, the veteran left-back has not been a part of training, although he has been picked in the squad to take on Real Madrid.
In addition, Pedri (muscle injury) and Ronald Araujo (hamstring) are the other major absentees for Barcelona, with the likes of Ousmane Dembele (knee), Martin Braithwaite (knee) and Moussa Wague (knee) also continuing to remain unavailable ahead of the visit of Real Madrid.
With Alba a part of the matchday squad, it looks like he could be set to shrug off the injury to start against Real Madrid. On the opposite flank, Sergi Roberto could start ahead of Oscar Mingueza while at the heart of the Barcelona defence, Gerard Pique and Eric Garcia are automatic picks. Behind the four defenders, Marc-Andre ter Stegen will take his customary place in goal.
Up ahead in midfield, Gavi’s memorable run in the starting lineup ought to continue owing to the absence of Pedri. The 17-year-old will provide the creative impetus in the middle of the park along with Frenkie de Jong while Sergio Busquets will sit at the base of the midfield, looking to contain Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.
Finally, a key change is expected in attack, with Ansu Fati replacing the under-fire Luuk de Jong. That also means Memphis Depay will lead the line for Barcelona against Real Madrid, with Fati stationed on the left wing. Finally, Sergino Dest will continue on the right wing, having impressed in the position of late.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Garcia, Alba; Gavi, Busquets, de Jong; Dest, Depay, Fati
Like his counterpart in the Barcelona dugout, Carlo Ancelotti has a major concern hampering his preparations ahead of the trip to Camp Nou. On Sunday, the Real Madrid manager could be bereft of the services of three first-team players.
Dani Ceballos (hamstring) and Gareth Bale (ankle) continue to remain on the sidelines, due to their respective injuries. In particular, though, Ancelotti is sweating over the fitness of Karim Benzema, who sustained a knock in the win over Shakhtar Donetsk and did not train on Friday.
— Real Madrid C.F. 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@realmadriden) October 23, 2021
However, widespread reports suggest that the French striker will be a part of the starting lineup on Sunday, which is a significant boost for Real Madrid. Benzema should, therefore, lead the line for the visitors against Barcelona, with Vinicius Jr. and Rodrygo Goes likely to be the two wide men while Eden Hazard appears to be in line to make .
Midfield will hold the key for Real Madrid and it is here that they are at full strength, with Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro all set to start. Casemiro will sit at the base of the three-man unit, with Kroos and Modric providing the creative impetus in the middle of the park.
Defence is where the troubles lie for Real Madrid, with Nacho likely to start as a makeshift right-back. However, the return of Ferland Mendy has been quite a relief for Ancelotti, with the French defender set to be deployed as the left-back. At the heart of the Real Madrid defence, there is no looking past Eder Militao and David Alaba while Thibaut Courtois picks himself in goal.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Nacho, Militao, Alaba, Mendy; Kroos, Casemiro, Modric; Rodrygo, Benzema, Vinicius Jr.
- Barcelona have not won any of their last four games against Real Madrid in La Liga (D1 L3). If they fail to win on Sunday, it will be their longest winless run in the competition against any opponent since May 2008, also against Los Blancos (D2 L3).
- Real Madrid have won each of their last three games against Barcelona in all competitions against Barcelona. The Merengues now have the chance to win four successive matches or more versus their bitter rivals for the first time since 1965 (seven).
- Barcelona have scored in 34 of their last 35 home games in La Liga (79 in total, an average of 2.3 per game), failing only against Atletico Madrid in May 2021 during this period (0-0).
- Following their defeat to Espanyol on Matchday 8, Real Madrid could suffer back-to-back losses in La Liga for the first time since their last two games of the 2018/19 season.
- Sunday’s game will be the first El Clasico of the post-Lionel Messi era for Barcelona. Messi led the team to 19 Clasico victories in the 45 matches he played against Real Madrid, scoring 26 goals along the way.
Player to Watch
With Cristiano Ronaldo long gone from Real Madrid and Lionel Messi also no longer being at Barcelona, the focus for the first time turns towards the young prodigies on show in El Clasico. One of the prospects taking the field will be Vinicius Jr. but the spotlight will firmly be on Ansu Fati after putting pen to a new long-term deal that solidifies his status as the new Barcelona talisman.
Fati has been beaming since signing his bumper new contract and Ronald Koeman will hope that it translates into a game-changing performance on the pitch. The 18-year-old has been in solid touch since returning from a long injury layoff, and his performance will once again hold the key for the hosts, seeing as Koeman has been building Fati’s fitness up for this moment.
Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid
This is a game that might be too close to call, a status borne out of the unique challenges of El Clasico, despite the recent struggles of Barcelona. That coupled with the fact that the Blaugrana tend to reserve their best form at Camp Nou means they should take the game to Real Madrid.
The availability of Jordi Alba is a big boost for Barcelona, but their vulnerabilities at the back ought to be exploited by the in-form duo of Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr. On the opposite end, Ansu Fati and Memphis Depay will likely combine well, but might not trouble the Real Madrid defence as much as they would like. All that means Real Madrid should eke out a narrow 2-1 win on Sunday.