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A week and a half has now passed but Real Madrid are still on a high from their thrilling victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.
Trailing 2-0 on aggregate with less than a fifth of the tie still to play, los Blancos dug deep and mounted a magnificent comeback. Karim Benzema’s hat-trick booked their place in the quarter-finals, and all eyes will be on Friday’s draw to see who Madrid get next.
One thing is for sure: no one will want to play them after that turnaround against PSG.
That is partly because of the quality within the squad and partly due to Madrid’s vast experience in continental competition. Their manager, Carlo Ancelotti, has won the competition three times as a coach – a record that no one can better. The likes of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Benzema, Dani Carvajal and Casemiro know what it takes to go all the way in Europe. That could be crucial now we are into the latter stages.
Another reason why it would be wise to not bet against Madrid is the situation in La Liga.
Manchester City and Liverpool are going at it hammer and tongs in the Premier League title race, while Bayern Munich’s grip on top spot in the Bundesliga has loosened in recent weeks. Over in Spain, it is only a matter of time before Madrid are crowned champions: their lead at the top stands at 10 points and second-placed Sevilla have been stuttering of late. Madrid will soon be able to focus fully on European matters.
The Clasico is always a priority, though, no matter the situation in the table. The March international break follows Sunday’s game, so Madrid can afford to go all-out for victory without worrying about an imminent Champions League encounter.
That will ensure this match is well worth watching.
Barcelona are in a much better place now than they were ahead of the first Clasico of the campaign.
Then managed by Ronald Koeman, the Blaugrana had failed to win half of their eight matches before their first meeting with Madrid, which ended in a 2-1 defeat at the Camp Nou. Virtually from that point on, top spot in La Liga has been out of reach for Barcelona.
That is still the case now, but the mood in Catalonia is much brighter. Many felt it would take Xavi Hernandez a while to get his ideas across after his appointment as the club’s manager in November.
For starters he was inheriting a difficult situation, with Barcelona struggling on and off the field. Secondly, he had no experience of managing in the European game. Yet Xavi has done a fine job so far. He has got Barcelona playing more attractive soccer while also improving their results.
The Catalan side head into the weekend in third place. They have played one fewer game than the teams around them and could yet finish as runners-up if Sevilla continue to drop points (Julen Lopetegui’s side have drawn five of their last six outings). Ordinarily second place would be nothing to write home about for Barcelona, but it would be a decent achievement for Xavi in his first season at the helm.
For all that Barcelona are clearly a better team under Xavi, they are still in need of a statement victory over a fellow superpower. There have been impressive wins so far, including against Napoli in the Europa League and Atletico Madrid in La Liga. But Barcelona have measured themselves against Madrid from time immemorial.
That is why Sunday’s match is so important despite the Blancos’ unassailable lead at the summit of the standings.
Xavi might have to wait a bit longer for his first taste of Clasico success as a manager. Madrid have won 10 and drawn four of their 14 home games in the league this term, while away teams have scored only nine goals at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
More broadly, Madrid have won four top-flight matches on the bounce and conceded just one goal in that time. There has been much talk of Barcelona’s uptick, but their arch-rivals are in fine form too.
As we saw against PSG, Madrid possess players who tend to turn up in the biggest matches. Benzema (who should be fit despite a calf issue), Modric, Kroos et al. have been there and done it when it comes to the Clasico. Barcelona’s squad is less experienced and that could count against them on Sunday.
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|Real Madrid vs Barcelona Information|
|Teams||Real Madrid vs Barcelona|
|Location||Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain|
|Time||Sunday, 20 March 2022, 16.00 PM EST|
|How to watch||ESPN+|
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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