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Ronald Koeman’s side have made tentative steps forward in recent weeks, but Madrid are a stronger team right now and they have the blend of quality and experience that their arch-rivals lack.
Real Madrid to beat Barcelona this weekend (+145)
The doom and gloom has not gone yet, despite a small upturn in results. Victories over Valencia and Dynamo Kyiv – Barcelona’s first back-to-back wins of 2021/22 – mean Ronald Koeman is breathing a little easier ahead of Sunday’s Clasico. The return to full fitness of Ansu Fati, together with the emergence of the 17-year-old Gavi, has given Barcelona fans cause for cautious optimism. Yet no one should be getting carried away just yet.
For starters, it is impossible to ignore the financial mire in which Barcelona have become embroiled. The malaise around the Camp Nou is palpable; the swathes of empty seats on display when Dynamo visited on Wednesday spoke for themselves. Media reports continue to link Barcelona with high-profile players like Raheem Sterling, but such talk is fanciful. The club simply does not have the money to fund the extravagant transfers which became commonplace in the capital of Catalonia in the second half of the 2010s.
There are plenty of issues on the field too. Granted, Barcelona did show signs of life in their 3-1 victory over Valencia and the subsequent 1-0 win against Dynamo. The latter triumph should have been by a much wider margin given Barcelona’s dominance. But in their two games prior to the international break, Koeman’s side lost 3-0 to Benfica and 2-0 to Atletico Madrid. Barcelona fans are rightly concerned that their team will be exposed when they come up against another quality opponent in Real Madrid.
If the Blaugrana win on Sunday, they will climb above their arch-rivals in the table. They have lost only one game in La Liga this season – the same as the two Madrid giants. But there is still not sufficient evidence to declare that Barcelona have turned a corner. The doom and gloom could return yet.
Real Madrid’s appointment of Carlo Ancelotti in the summer seemed to be an acknowledgment by the board that this is a team in transition. The affable Italian is widely recognized as a safe pair of hands. He is not the type of manager who expounds his philosophy and insists on a particular style of play. Ancelotti adapts to the players at his disposal, and he proved in his first spell at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu that he can turn a locker room full of personalities into an effective collective unit.
There were some significant changes of personnel in the summer, as Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane bade farewell to Madrid. But David Alaba and Eduardo Camavinga were the only arrivals, and stalwarts like Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Dani Carvajal, Casemiro and Toni Kroos remain integral members of the squad. Even Gareth Bale has earned an unlikely return to prominence.
Madrid expect to welcome Kylian Mbappe to the club next summer as their next galactico. They could even attempt to unite the France international with Erling Haaland, who is set to leave Borussia Dortmund. Paul Pogba is also thought to be on their radar as Madrid plan a shake-up.
It would, however, be a mistake to think the current team is just idly waiting for fresh blood. Ancelotti’s side are capable of winning silverware this season, particularly domestically. Benzema is in the form of his life, Vinicius Junior has discovered an end product, and Camavinga and Alaba have slotted in nicely. Madrid are justifiably the favorites to win the La Liga title.
This will be the first Clasico without Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo being in either team’s squad since 2007. Benzema is one of the most in-form players on the planet right now, but the latest edition of this famous old rivalry will be lacking a little stardust. Perhaps Ansu or Memphis Depay will be at the center of the post-match headlines, or maybe it will be Benzema or Vinicius who provides the most decisive contribution.
Barcelona are just one defeat away from another crisis at the moment, and it is worth backing Madrid to inflict one on them this weekend. Barca’s confidence remains brittle and falling behind against their biggest rivals would be a significant blow to morale. Madrid’s team contains more experience of this fixture, while they will be full of belief after Tuesday’s 5-0 demolition of Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League.
The pace of Vinicius on the counter-attack could be key for los Blancos, particularly as Barcelona will be without their best – and most mobile – defender in Ronald Araujo. Madrid will back themselves to win the midfield battle, and that should result in an away win on Sunday.
|Barcelona vs Real Madrid Information|
|Teams||Barcelona vs Real Madrid|
|Location||Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain|
|Time||Sunday, 24 October 2021, 10.15 AM EDT|
|How to watch||ESPN|
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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