It is time for the clash of the titans in La Liga as Real Madrid square off against arch-rivals Barcelona in the final El Clasico of the 2021/22 season.
One of the biggest fixtures of the La Liga calendar will go down on Sunday night at the Santiago Bernabeu, as leaders Real Madrid play hosts to bitter rivals Barcelona in Matchweek 29.
Real Madrid are sitting comfortably at the top of the La Liga standings and look all set to lift the crown come the end of the season. Carlo Ancelotti’s side have a ten-point lead over second-placed Sevilla with ten games left to be played. Los Blancos are currently on a five-game winning run across all competitions, most recently defeating RCD Mallorca 3-0.
Barcelona are battling Atletico Madrid for a third-place finish. Currently fourth in the table after the Rojiblancos’ 1-0 win over Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, the Catalans are three points behind them with two games in hand. With Sevilla only five points ahead, a second-place finish could also be on the cards. Xavi’s men are on an 11-game unbeaten run in all competitions and beat Galatasaray 2-1 in their last game in the UEFA Europa League to qualify for the quarterfinal.
Real Madrid and Barcelona have faced each other twice this season in all competitions. The Merengues prevailed on both occasions, registering narrow 2-1 and 3-2 victories in La Liga and Supercopa de Espana respectively.
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The big blow for Real Madrid heading into the game comes from the absence of star striker Karim Benzema. The leading goalscorer in La Liga will miss out due to a leg injury. Ferland Mendy is also set to miss out for the home team, which will be another concern for manager Carlo Ancelotti.
The Italian tactician is expected to set up his side in the usual 4-3-3 formation in front of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Dani Carvajal, Eder Militao and David Alaba, who scored in the reverse fixture, will hold their places in the defensive line. Mendy’s absence should pave the way for Nacho to start at left-back.
Casemiro is a guaranteed starter at the base of the three-man midfield unit, where he will need to keep a close eye on the in-form Pedri. Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are expected to take up the remaining two slots in the centre of the park and could have to do some defensive work to help Casemiro against the threat of Pedri and Frenkie de Jong.
Marco Asensio and Rodrygo Goes will be vying for the right wing berth. Although the Spaniard has scored some vital goals in recent weeks, the latter should get the nod due to his superior work rate and link-up play. Vinicius Junior, meanwhile, is a certainty on the left flank and will have added responsibility on his shoulders in the absence of Karim Benzema.
Luka Jovic and Mariano Diaz would be the natural options to replace the Frenchman in the centre-forward role, but Ancelotti has used a false-nine in his absence in the past. It may well turn out to be the case again on Sunday night, with Asensio likely to be deployed centrally, while Isco is also an option.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Alaba, Mendy; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Rodrygo, Asensio, Vinicius
Barcelona have a fresh injury concern to deal with as Sergino Dest is sidelined after picking up a thigh injury against Galatasaray. In addition, Ansu Fati, Samuel Umtiti, Alejandro Balde and Sergi Roberto are also ruled out. Nico Gonzalez is back available at Xavi Hernandez’s disposal after missing the last league game due to suspension.
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Gerard Pique, who was taken off with a knock in midweek, has been included in the squad by Xavi and should start at the heart of the Barcelona backline against Real Madrid. He will likely be partnered by Ronald Araujo, who is set to return to the side after being left out of the starting XI in the last couple of games. Dani Alves and Jordi Alba should occupy the full-back slots.
Captain Sergio Busquets will anchor the midfield for the visiting side. He will have additional support against potential counter-attacks from Alves, who will frequently drop into the central midfield positions. Frenkie de Jong and Pedri will provide the forward thrust and creativity from the middle of the park for the Blaugrana.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who has scored seven goals in his last seven appearances for Barcelona in all competitions, should get the nod in the No. 9 role. January signing Ferran Torres should slot in on the left flank while Ousmane Dembele, who has been in explosive form of late, should start ahead of Adama Traore on the right.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Alves, Pique, Araujo, Alba; de Jong, Busquets, Pedri; Dembele, Aubameyang, Torres
- With their Spanish Super Cup semifinal victory in January 2022, Real Madrid became the first team in El Clasico history to reach 100 wins across all competitions.
- Real Madrid have won their last five games against Barcelona in all competitions.
- Barcelona have not lost any of their previous ten away La Liga games (W5 D5), with nine of those coming under Xavi Hernandez.
- No side in Europe’s big five leagues have suffered fewer defeats than Real Madrid since the start of last season (6, level with Inter Milan).
- Since Xavi’s arrival, Barcelona have taken 34 points from 15 games in La Liga (W10 D4 L1), a record only bettered by Real Madrid during this period (39 points).
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With Karim Benzema out of the game, there will be added pressure on Vinicius Junior to deliver the goods for Real Madrid in the final third of the pitch. The 21-year-old has played in eight El Clasico fixtures and scored two goals against Barcelona. But the numbers do not tell the entire story.
The Brazilian has often caused many problems to the Blaugrana defence with his pace and direct running. On Sunday, more of the same will be expected, especially with the hosts missing their talismanic striker. Vinicius’ duel against the old warhorse Dani Alves could have a big impact in the outcome of the game.
Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona
Barcelona have found attacking fluidity in their game under Xavi Hernandez and are getting sharper in front of goal, which had been a major issue in the earlier stages of the season. However, they will be coming up against a resolute Real Madrid side who boast the second-best defensive record in La Liga this term and are hard to break down at home.
At the same time, Los Blancos will be unable to carry the same level of threat in the absence of Karim Benzema. Neither Luka Jovic nor Mariano Diaz have played regularly. At the same time, the likes of Marco Asensio and Isco are unlikely to carry the same goal-threat if deployed in a false-nine role. All things considered, it could turn out to be an evenly-contested affair that ends in a stalemate.