EL CLASICO EXAMPLE: Barcelona’s European woes have seen them pull out all the stops for the LaLiga success that would save Xavi… but Real Madrid are also undefeated and serene both on and off the pitch
- Real Madrid will play against Barcelona on Sunday afternoon in the Clásico at the Bernabeu
- Both teams are tied on 22 points after an unbeaten start to the season
- Although this Clásico will not decide the title, the pressure is more on Barcelona
- Xavi is under pressure after his team’s capitulation in the Champions League
- Winning the title this season and also the Europa League would be satisfying
- Real is now reigning Spanish and European champions and doing well
Real Madrid and Barcelona are equal at the top of LaLiga, so a win in the Clásico may not be decisive in terms of points, but after Wednesday’s disappointment in the Champions League, it is Xavi who needs a win more than Carlo Ancelotti.
Joan Laporta has publicly endorsed his coach this week, but the message was clear: we are focused on winning the title. That translates as three points clear of the top by winning at the home of their big rivals for the second season in a row.
If they succeed, Xavi will send a huge message that he is not the naive young manager from his depths as portrayed by some after the midweek draw with Inter Milan.
Xavi couldn’t watch Barcelona draw 3-3 with Inter Milan in the Champions League
It was another night of blame for Barcelona in the Champions League against Inter
Real Madrid, meanwhile, is unaffected by off-field battles and continues to drive well
One thing seems certain, he will try to beat Madrid without Gerard Pique. The veteran former Spain defender was blamed for Inter’s draw and will almost certainly be left out with Jules Kunde returning from injury to partner Eric Garcia at the center of defence.
Barça can’t kick Pique off midweek and then keep playing him. The ongoing battle between the club and three of its greats – Pique, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba – provides the ugly backdrop to the biggest game of the season in LaLiga so far.
Xavi has inherited a difficult situation with the veterans. While Real Madrid get their best players out the door before fading to a shadow of their former selves (Casemiro and Cristiano Ronaldo were sold for around €170 million), Barcelona are still trying to persuade Alba and Pique to leave at the end of the season. season so the club doesn’t have to keep paying them until 2024.
Kounde may not be 100 per cent, but he has the natural pace that will help Barcelona play the high defense they want to use.
Barcelona currently tops the LaLiga table on goal difference with Real Madrid level on points
Carlo Ancelotti led Real to LaLiga and Champions League glory and wants to push through
lunin; Carvajal, Militao, Alaba, Mendy; Modric, Tchouameni, Kroos; Valverde, Benzema, Vinicius
Ter Stegen; Balde, Jules Koude, Eric Garcia, Alba; Pedri, Busquets, De Jong; Dembele, Lewandowski, Gavic
Sunday; kick-off at 3.15 pm Dutch time
Live on Premier Sports 1 and LaLiga TV
The continued absence of Hector Bellerin at right back means they have to play a left back at right. Young Alex Balde could have been picked for his pace – he faced Vinicius just four days before his 19th birthday.
If Barcelona can show their defensive form in the league – where they have only conceded one goal – and not their form in the Champions League, where they have suffered from both Inter and Bayern Munich, then they have a better chance.
Much of that defensive form in the league is due to the spectacular form of Marc Andre ter Stegen, who is back at his best after a right knee injury delayed him last season.
His counterpart is unlikely to be Thibaut Courtois, who was still afflicted on Friday with the sciatica problem that kept him out of Real Madrid’s last four games.
Andriy Lunin has done well in place and is the only Madrid goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in LaLiga this season, but there is still a huge gap in the league and Courtois’ absence will be felt in such a big match.
Courtois’ absence should give Barcelona a boost as they enter a game that will change the mood around the club for better or for worse, depending on the outcome.
Win and Barcelona look down on Real Madrid after their big rivals laughed at their fate in the Europa League for four days. Losing and the weeks leading up to the World Cup look even harder.
Andriy Lunin has performed well without Thibaut Courtois, but this will be a test
They play at home against Unai Emery’s Villarreal on weekdays. They then host former manager Ernesto Valverde’s Athletic Club. He was fired after winning two league titles.
Then it’s that Champions League game against Bayern Munich, when they know they could already be out if Inter win in the earlier kick-off. And Gennaro Gattuso’s Valencia and feisty Osasuna are also coming for the mid-season break.
Unlike Barça’s roller coaster, Real Madrid is the epitome of tranquility on and off the pitch. That became clear when the Kylian Mbappé story came out last week.
Real’s failure to sign Kylian Mbappe is a blessing and Vinicius (left) continues to excel
The Spanish and European champions are not interested in the wanton Frenchman and no wonder.
Had they managed to sign him in the summer, Vinicius would have had to switch wings, Rodrygo wouldn’t have been given minutes in form, and Aurelien Tchouameni wouldn’t have signed. Sometimes it can be good not to get what you want.
If Barcelona win the Europa League and win LaLiga, they could even say the same about a Champions League exit, but this week it didn’t feel quite like that. They need a Clasico win to lift the clouds.