With 10 gameweeks remaining, it might be rash to suggest that the result of one match could determine the destination of Spain’s Primera Division title but, come the end of the season, this weekend’s Clasico in Madrid might in retrospect have had a significant bearing on the final outcome.
Real Madrid go into Sunday’s showdown with Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu four points ahead of their deadliest rivals, knowing that a win would extend that margin to seven, leaving the Catalans playing catch-up for the rest of the campaign. There is even the possibility of Los Blancos contesting a two-horse race, not with Barca, but with their neighbors Atletico Madrid.
Programming note: For viewers in the United States, this Sunday’s el Clasico is being shown exclusively on beIN SPORT, beIN SPORT Espanol and DishWorld. Even if you don’t have a TV subscription to beIN SPORT, you can access those channels via online streaming service DishWorld for $10/month. Read our review of DishWorld. And sign up for DishWorld via their website.
The pre-game coverage starts on beIN SPORT on Sunday at 3pm ET, with the match kicking off at 3:55pm ET.
The season’s first Clasico at Camp Nou last October was a cagey affair that saw Carlo Ancelotti’s side suffer the second of only two defeats so far this season. Alexis Sanchez added to Neymar’s early strike before a stoppage-time goal from Jese Rodriguez left the final score 2-1 to Barcelona. At that stage in the campaign, La Blaugrana were sweeping all their opponents aside, but their form has stuttered since the turn of the year while Madrid have hit their stride at just the right time.
Los Blancos have had the perfect preparation for the Clasico, recording wins over Malaga in La Liga and Schalke in the Champions League. The 1-0 win at La Rosaleda last Saturday was their 30th consecutive game unbeaten, while the 3-1 win over Schalke – for an aggregate 9-2 thrashing – was achieved with a team comprised largely of fringe players. The only black spot for Ancelotti came when Jese suffered a suspected anterior cruciate ligament injury in the opening minutes, effectively ending his season.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s winning goal at Malaga took the Portuguese striker’s tally for the season to 25 goals in La Liga and 39 overall. It also meant that the Madrid front three of Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale have bagged 50 out of Los Blancos’ 77 Primera goals. With his double strike against Schalke on Tuesday night, Ronaldo took his total haul for Real Madrid to 242 goals in just 236 games, bringing him level with the Hungarian great Ferenc Puskas. Only three men – Santillana (290), Alfredo di Stefano (307) and Raul (323) – are ahead of him in the club’s all-time top goalscorers list.
Meanwhile, Barcelona warmed up for the Clasico by hammering Osasuna 7-0 at Camp Nou last Sunday. Lionel Messi set a record of his own, hitting a hat-trick to make him the Catalans’ all-time leading scorer with 371 goals, with Alexis Sanchez, Andres Iniesta, Cristian Tello and Pedro Rodriguez queuing up to complete the rout against the Pamplona outfit.
The result must have come as something of a relief to Barca coach Tata Martino, who has seen his side struggle by their own high standards since the turn of the year. Recent defeats at Real Sociedad and lowly Real Valladolid have led the highly-critical Catalan press to openly question whether the Argentine tactician has what it takes to deliver success to Barca.
Messi has had – for him – a poor season, yet he has still notched 18 times in La Liga. The forward trio of Messi, Alexis and Pedro have accounted for 49 of Barca’s 81 La Liga goals, with Neymar and Cesc Fabregas notching another 15 between them. While their heavy win last weekend will go some way to banishing the impact of those shock defeats, Martino’s men will be under no illusions that Real Madrid present a very different proposition to Osasuna.
There will of course be a third Clasico next month, when the two contest the final of the Copa del Rey in Valencia. With both giants believing they can complete a rare treble, the often derided domestic cup competition will carry added significance, but it is the Primera Clasicos that really fire passions in Spain’s two largest cities. It could be that form goes out of the window as personal individual battles as well as team rivalries bring a unique intensity to this most special of fixtures.
Two things are certain. By Sunday, the pre-match hype will have reached boiling point; and whatever the result, sufficient copy will be generated to keep the Spanish presses rolling until the Copa provides time for revenge.