In the first of two La Liga matches this season, Barcelona FC will travel to Madrid to battle Los Galacticos in a crucial match for both teams. Although the season is not even halfway complete, Real Madrid trail Barcelona by 11 points (although Real Madrid has played one less game), which is important, as Los Galacticos have never won a La Liga title when trailing by eight or more points.
Here are four storylines to watch in Saturday’s match:
Barcelona’s Weakened Back Line Against Real’s Offensive Prowess
Barcelona’s defense has proven ineffective at key points this season, and they will be without Samuel Umtiti in the middle. While Jordi Alba has just returned to practice this week from an undisclosed ailment, no one really knows if the left-back will be back to full strength by Saturday. If Barcelona is unable to keep the ball in Real Madrid’s half of the field, it could prove to be a daunting task for a depleted Barca back line.
Can Luis Suarez Regain his Luster?
Suarez had a good showing in his last La Liga match, scoring twice against Deportivo La Coruna. Overall, however, his form hasn’t been as consistent as in prior years, and he has struggled at times. With fellow goal-scorers Paco Alcacer, Gerard Deulofeu and Ousmane Dembele all ruled out of Saturday’s match, Suarez will be relied upon to produce goals against the likes of veteran defenders Marcelo and Sergio Ramos. Should he fail to put pressure upon the defensive back line of Real Madrid, it could prove be a long afternoon for Barcelona.
Last Opportunities for Bale and Navas
The transfer window opens a week after this match, and Los Blancos have never been shy about shedding players they feel are surplus to requirements. While Gareth Bale is still returning to match fitness from a knee injury, it appears that management has lost patience with the Welsh striker. Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, a Bale supporter in the past, has recently compared him to recently-retired star Kaka, who never was able to achieve stardom with the team after sustaining injuries.
As for goalkeeper Keylor Navas, the Costa Rican international was initially meant to be a placeholder for Manchester United’s David de Gea, who is expected be pursued in the future, and is several years younger than Navas and considered far more agile in goal. If de Gea proves unavailable, it is no secret that other keepers are being considered as Navas’ replacement. For both players, a good showing in the widely-watched match will serve to cement their standing on the team, or at least increase their worth in the transfer market should they prove to have fallen out of favor with Madrid’s management.
Ronaldo vs Messi
The world’s two best footballers going toe-to-toe only serves to enhance the rivalry. While Lionel Messi has turned 30 and Cristiano Ronaldo is 32, both have shown little sign of slowing down. While Ronaldo has trained the past few days away from the team due to an undisclosed ailment, expect him to be match-fit on Saturday.
Statistically in the Clasico matches, Madrid has been victorious in 89.5 percent of the games when Ronaldo scores, while Barcelona wins 88.9 percent of its games when Messi scores. While no one can say which of the two will be the better player in the match, expect both to play with a passion and talent rarely seem in most football matches. And for a closer look, both will be tracked with player-cams, so we’ll be able to watch them wreak havoc on their opponent from their point-of-view.
Real Madrid have their entire squad healthy enough to be available to play, while Barcelona is missing some valuable pieces as mentioned above. Injuries, combined with playing in Madrid at the Bernabeu, will be enough to turn the game in favor of Real Madrid as they fight to a 2-1 victory over Los Blaugranas.