Twice in each La Liga campaign the football world is treated to some of the finest competition in Europe.
This Saturday finds Real Madrid and Barcelona battling at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, clashing as they have every season since 1929. Los Blancos have won 72 matches, with Los Blaugranes winning 68. While home turf should afford the teams an edge, in the prior campaign, each team won their away matches. For two teams of this caliber, it is not unusual for these games to determine the overall winner of La Liga each May.
With so much at stake for both clubs, here’s a look at some keys to victory for each club.
Currently trailing Los Blancos by six points in the La Liga table, a win at home would cut the lead in half, keeping in mind that the second leg of El Clasico will be played in Madrid under less hospitable conditions for them. Barca’s front line of Messi, Neymar and Suarez are all available, although Messi will be slowed from a knock he incurred from the match against Real Sociedad last Saturday. Look for Barca to play Umtiti, Mascherano and Pique as a defensive trio. In the midfield, Jordi Alba will be a game-time decision, and would be replaced by Lucas Digne if he proved unfit to play. Barcelona will welcome back Andres Iniesta in the midfield, as his absence from injury has been reflected by Barca’s recent lackluster results.
There are two keys to the game for Barcelona. The first is the health of Iniesta in his first game back from injury. His vision of the field is crucial to his team’s offense and as was demonstrated the past few weeks, Barcelona have no quality substitute for Iniesta. The second key is the defensive back line, with Barcelona breaking tradition and starting three central defenders back there. They will be tasked with stopping the goal-scoring juggernaut of Los Blancos, and will have their work cut out for them.
Having last won the La Liga title in 2012, this is a team that accepts nothing but success. Seeing Barcelona six points adrift in the table, Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane is well aware that a win in Barcelona will make it tough for Barca to make up ground in the table, even at this early date. Having played in these El Clasico matches himself, Zidane is well aware of the importance of this match for his team, as well as his own career. Unlike many teams, Los Blancos have the depth to replace injured players without missing a beat. For example, with Gareth Bale out due to ankle surgery, expect Lucas Vazquez to take his place up front, as he has in their last three wins. German midfielder Toni Kroos is said to be injured, but Casemiro has returned to training after an injury spell and is expected to assume his starting role in the midfielder.
The keys to the game for Real Madrid are simple. First, they must control the midfield so that the front three of Barcelona have as few touches on the ball as possible. Offensively, they need to get the ball to the foot of Cristiano Ronaldo and allow the offense to run through him. From the forwards to the back line, every player on Real Madrid is a potential goal-scorer.
Who will win
Barcelona has been in a rut of late, while Real Madrid has yet to lose a game in their 13 league matches.
Real Madrid 3, Barcelona 1.