Both Barcelona and Real Madrid head into the latest edition of El Clasico with positive results, but less than convincing performances in LaLiga. Both drew their latest matches in the Champions League.
But it’s the Catalan side who arguably need the win more.
Barcelona currently sit top of LaLiga, even with Real Madrid but with a better goal differential. But with the draw against Inter Milan, Xavi’s side is practically eliminated from the competition. With that in mind, it’s no surprise Barcelona have turned their attention to the league.
“We have improved since we took over the team,” Xavi said. “In terms of results, it’s a shame the dip against Inter, because we were doing well. But we are top of LaLiga, haven’t lost and the season so far gives me reasons to be optimistic.”
The manager’s optimism isn’t unwarranted. Barcelona have yet to lose a match and their only slip up was the season opener against Rayo Vallecano where they were held to a goalless draw. In addition, Barcelona received a significant boost in defense as Jules Kounde was included in the squad list.
The Frenchman hasn’t played a game since picking up an injury during the international break with France. It’s fair to say Barcelona have missed him given the injuries to Ronald Araujo and Andreas Christensen. Xavi was resorted to counting on Gerard Pique against Inter Milan to disastrous results.
Looking at Real Madrid, Carlo Ancelotti’s team’s only slip up was against Osasuna at home. In Europe, they drew midweek against Shakhtar Donetsk thanks to a stoppage time goal by Antonio Rudiger.
The big blow to Los Blancos is the absence of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. The Belgian international was facing a race against time and while there was a belief he could recover from his injury in time, it wasn’t meant to be.
“Courtois feels good, but he hasn’t trained much,” Ancelotti said in a news conference Saturday. “He doesn’t feel comfortable, so he’s ruled out for tomorrow. He’ll train next week and we’ll see for Wednesday or next Sunday.”
The back-up keeper, Lunin, hasn’t done a terrible job in Courtois’ place but it’s hard to replace a keeper of his caliber. Courtois has kept Madrid in a number of matches and been the difference between a win and dropped points.
The question for Barcelona will be whether or not Kounde starts and whether it’s at right-back or center-back. Xavi may not want to risk Kounde by having him face Vinicius Jr. On the other hand, he’d want to avoid playing Pique. Should he play at right-back, expect Eric Garcia and Marcos Alonso to make up the center-back pairing with Alejandro Balde at left-back.
To their credit, Barcelona have only given up one goal in eight matches. We’ll see the Blaugrana are able to extend their shutout streak against Madrid who boast the second-best attack in LaLiga, behind Barcelona.
Madrid’s defense has looked shaky but with the unpredictability of Ousmane Dembele and Raphinha, it’ll be anyone’s guess to see who prevails. If the two wingers are on their game, they’re going to be a havoc for Carvajal and Mendy. It also means Robert Lewandowski would get plenty of service. He scored twice and was one of the lone bright spots against Inter.
There are plenty of narratives surrounding El Clasico, as usual. But the narrative coming out of it will be vastly different.
If Real Madrid win, it further cements them as the standard in LaLiga and the fact they’re able to get a result when they need it.
If Barcelona win, it’ll be a much needed boost to their confidence after a tough midweek result. It’ll also put them alone atop the standings and while it won’t make up for their failures in Europe, it would be a significant step towards their league aspirations after not having won it the last couple of seasons.