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Real Madrid will go nine points clear of Barcelona at the top of La Liga if they can clinch a win at the Camp Nou on Saturday afternoon. For the first time in years, Los Merengues might be favourites to win at the home of their bitterest enemy. Can Real Madrid land a title blow against Barcelona?
Worst Barça for Years?
In recent seasons a bad day for Barcelona would mean a match in which they create lots of chances and dominate the ball, but because of bad luck or amazing defending by the opposition, are unable to grab the win.
Well the draw in San Sebastián on the weekend was a new kind of bad day. For most of the first half Barcelona’s plodding midfield hardly saw the ball, and Real Sociedad were extremely unlucky not to have taken all three points, having hit the woodwork twice.
Not Playing as a Team
The one thing you could always count on Barcelona to do was play in a way that put the group above the individual. Maybe this is the drawback with the current setup:
It’s fine to have mercurial superstars in attack if they’re supported by a rock-solid defence and midfield. But if you start weakening the team through injury, transfers or bad form, that spectacular front line becomes a bit of a luxury.
Call it sacrilege, but replace one of those attackers with a selfless runner like Pedro or Alexis and the team might be stronger for it.
Down in the Dumps
The whole world knows how crucial Messi is to Barcelona’s fortunes. But less-documented is the role played by central midfield, though this is also hardly a secret.
At the moment the service to that glittering front line is almost non-existent. This falls mostly on Busquets’ shoulders, as the holding player is having the worst season since he came through eight years ago.
Busquets hasn’t been helped by Andres Iniesta’s injury. It’s not hard to see how Barcelona’s poor form correlates with his absence as he’s one of the best at opening up the pitch.
The word is that he’s training with the group once more, and if he’s even close to full-fitness he’ll be a dead-cert to drop straight back into that left spot in central midfield.
His mooted long-term replacements, André Gomes and Denis Suárez, haven’t looked close to Iniesta’s standard this season.
New Worry at the El Clasico
With each game there’s another injury, and Jordi Alba is the latest player to fall victim. He’s almost certain to miss El Clasico, and although Lucas Digne isn’t a big downgrade you can bet that Barcelona won’t be the same without their first-choice left-back.
There’s better news about the central defender Samuel Umtiti, but it remains to be seen if Luis Enrique is willing to gamble on a player who has missed a month of football for such a crucial match.
But Messi is Back
For all Barcelona’s problems, whether it’s a dysfunctional system, injuries or players out of sorts, Lionel Messi can win them matches at the drop of a hat.
It looks like he’s put his own injury troubles behind him, and as long as he’s in the side Barcelona will be competitive on Saturday.
Ter Stegen; Sergi Roberto, Piqué, Mascherano, Digne; Rakitić, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez, Neymar
Like Barça, Real Madrid have been hit with injuries to some of their most important players. But unlike their great rivals Los Merengues haven’t missed a beat, and this is down to the quality of their squad.
Take Kroos out and Isco or Kovačić can step up. And with Bale out until January Lucas Vázquez took the chance to show what he could do against Sporting Gijón last weekend.
Keep an Eye on Kovačić
Anyone who recalls the days of the elegant Fernando Redondo will see a lot of similarities in Mateo Kovačić. The young midfielder had struggled for minutes before this season, but has put Casemiro, one of last year’s stars, in the shade.
Like Redondo the Croatian has the tactical acumen to intervene and break up attacks, but also has the same playmaking spirit to play dangerous passes and create space by dribbling forward.
One of the many special things about the Portuguese superstar is the way he’s managed to evolve his game in the last two seasons. The Euro 2016 winner has lost some of his pace to beat players one-on-one.
But to make up for that, his movement and instinct for danger are now sharper than ever. Combine those with his deadly shot and aerial prowess, and he’s now found a skillset to keep him at the top level well into his 30s.
Now the creative work is being done by the midfielders, while Ronaldo waits to land the fatal cross or finish.
The other big difference between these two teams at this El Clasico is that Real Madrid keep finding a way to win matches even when they don’t play well. That’s how things went against Sporting on the weekend, when Duje Čop missed the chance to equalise from the spot.
But while results look good there’s no doubt that Los Blancos are going to be significantly weaker than usual on Saturday. And if any team can make them rue their injuries it’s Barcelona.
Real Madrid Predicted Lineup:
Keylor Navas; Dani Carvajal, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo; Modrić, Kovačić, Isco; Lucas Vázquez, Benzema, Ronaldo
When Will Barcelona vs Real Madrid Take Place?
The El Clasico match kicks off at 15:15 GMT at the Camp Nou.
Barcelona vs Real Madrid El Clasico Match Prediction
Zidane’s team is in far better form, but they laboured in the win against Sporting last weekend and Gareth Bale’s injury could have a big impact on their title ambitions. Barcelona meanwhile have been out of sorts, but if Iniesta can come back they will be instantly better.
So we’re predicting these two depleted teams to cancel each other out and are tipping a 1-1 draw, which will suit the visitors a lot more than Luis Enrique’s struggling Barça.