El Clásico is back in town. Football’s premier club spectacle showcasing eternal rivals FC Barcelona and Real Madrid will be staged for the second time this season when the curtain rises at Camp Nou on Sunday night at 9.00pm CET. The crucial battle pits two sides seemingly going in opposite directions and could be pivotal in what is currently a tight race for the league crown. The madridistas prevailed 3–1 at the Bernabéu way back in October, providing the culers with added motivation, as if any were needed.
The Catalans have made it through the gruelling winter months and into the beginning of spring with relative health, the only major exception being midfielder Sergio Busquets, who sustained a serious ankle sprain back on 4 March during Barça’s 3–1 win over Villarreal in the Spanish Cup semi-finals. Nevertheless, he trained at full speed with his teammates on Saturday morning and could be declared fit and named to the squad when head coach Luis Enrique announces his list on Sunday.
The team went through a light recovery workout on Thursday morning following Wednesday night’s 1–0 Champions League triumph over Manchester City at Camp Nou. Luis Enrique granted his players Friday off before Saturday’s final session ahead of El Clásico.
Barça defenders Dani Alves and Jordi Alba are both returning from one-game suspensions, while Busquets, if he plays, and defenders Mascherano and Mathieu will all miss the following match if booked on Sunday. For Madrid, midfielders Isco, Toni Kroos and James Rodríguez, and defender Álvaro Arbeloa are all one caution away from missing the following game.
For FC Barcelona’s first-year head coach Luis Enrique, facing Real Madrid is always a dangerous proposition. “There are no clear favourites in games like these,” he said in his pre-Clásico press conference on Saturday. “We won’t fall into the trap of thinking it will be easy; our defence will be under serious pressure at times.” In spite of the warning, the Barça skipper knows being at home provides an edge. “Playing in front of our own fans always gives us an extra boost,” he added.
Real Madrid’s second-year manager Carlo Ancelotti also spoke the media on Saturday and attempted to wrest importance from this weekend’s fixture, especially in light of his team’s upcoming Champions League tie with cross-city league rivals Atlético. “Every game is important now, but I don’t think it’s as crucial as the two Champions League games against Atlético; this is a different competition,” he said while acknowledging, “This is a special game for everyone. We’re facing a great team on top of their game, and we’ve prepared in a special way because this environment is different from that of other matches.”
Sunday’s matchup features a pair of teams who have gone through a reversal of fortunes of sorts. FC Barcelona are atop the league table, playing perhaps their best football of the season and will be looking to deliver a powerful blow to their arch-enemies in the quest to hoist the league trophy. The culers can look back to their first match of 2015 as a catharsis. That match, a 1–0 loss at Anoeta, seems to have nudged the sleeping giant out of passivity. Since then Luis Enrique’s team have scorched everything in their path en route to achieving a berth the Spanish Cup final, cruising into the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League and erasing what was once a formidable deficit in the league standings while storming to the top of the table.
Real Madrid, in second place one point behind Barça, seem to be going in the opposite direction as of late and check in to the Catalan capital following a series of lacklustre performances. After chiming in the new year with a new title under their belt – having won the FIFA Club World Cup in December – and a four-point cushion over Barça in La Liga, Carlo Ancelotti’s squad have looked lost at times while bowing out in the last 16 of the Spanish Cup and letting their league lead trickle away upon drawing at home with Villarreal and losing at San Mamés. Even their seemingly positive berth in the Champions League quarter-finals was roundly criticised by their own supporters after a 4–3 home defeat to Schalke in the return leg, eking through 5–4 on aggregate.
Ones to watch
It’s no secret that Sunday’s match will feature Europe’s most elite attacking units. Real Madrid boast a front line of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo, aka the BBC. The trio have combined for a staggering 55 league goals. In fact, they have only been outdone by one other group – Barça’s lethal trident of Leo Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez, who have found the net a combined 56 times in La Liga.
Individually, most of the world will be focusing on each team’s top goal-getter, the two men generally considered the best of this generation, if not ever. Messi and Ronaldo are one–two on the league goalscoring chart, as well as in the race for the Golden Boot, with 32 and 30 goals, respectively. Sunday represents just the latest chapter in their epic personal battle to claim superiority. Messi was a distant ten goals behind as recently as mid-January but steadily climbed back into the chase and took the scoring lead in last weekend’s 2–0 win over Eibar. Ronaldo will look to end an almost unprecedented dry spell, during which he has been held to just two goals in his last eight games.
In the last ten meetings between these two giants at Camp Nou dating back to the 2004/05 season, FC Barcelona have won five and lost two, with 3 games ending in a draw … Both of Real Madrid’s wins over that span came by a single goal, while Barça’s largest margin of victory came in a 5–0 rout in week 13 of the 2010/11 season … Barça took the most recent Camp Nou clash 2–1 in week 10 of last season … Ten current Barça players – Messi, Neymar, Xavi, Iniesta, Dani Alves, Piqué, Pedro, Jordi Alba, Rakitic and Mathieu – have scored at least one career league goal versus Real Madrid … Six current Madrid players – Ronaldo, Benzema, Ramos, Pepe, Khedira and Jesé – have done the same against Barça … Head coaches Luis Enrique and Carlo Ancelotti both have career record of one win and two losses against Sunday’s adversary, while head to head Ancelotti has taken two of three from Luis Enrique.
Sunday’s Clásico is expected to draw a huge global audience of close to 400 million viewers. In the United States, the game will be carried on magicgoals.com, live-agones.com, alivefootballstreaming.com, Fubo TV, beIN Sports USA, beIN Sports en Español, and beIN SPORTS CONNECT. Coverage in the UK will be on Sky Sports 5/HD, Sky Go Extra, Sky Sports 1/HD, Sky Go, and NOW TV.