Real Madrid vs Barcelona Clasico preview Predictions, big questions, stats to know, key matchups

Sunday’s Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona on the Bernabeu — stream LIVE, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN+ — may not be decisive when it comes to LaLiga’s title race, however it’s nonetheless a fiery rivalry with lots on the road. (The strains, from Caesars: +110 for Real Madrid, +225 for Barcelona, and +265 for the draw.) For Real Madrid, it is the ultimate actual hurdle between them and successful the league, whereas for Barcelona, Xavi has an important probability to indicate simply how rapidly the Blaugrana revolution goes.

Which workforce has the sting? Which gamers will doubtless resolve the competition? And which head-to-head matchups will probably be essential? Alex Kirkland (Real Madrid) and Sam Marsden (Barcelona) break down the sport from each views.

Soar to: Massive questions | Fascinating stats | Distinction-making gamers | Key head-to-head matchups | Predictions

The large query for every workforce

How do Real Madrid strategy a Clasico that kicks off with them 10 factors clear on the prime of the desk, and 15 factors above Barcelona? This fixture at all times, at all times issues, however this time it will not be decisive within the title race.

Sevilla, their nearest challengers, appear to be they’re slipping away, and with 10 video games left it is exhausting to think about a state of affairs the place Madrid do not find yourself champions. So whereas a win in opposition to Xavi’s resurgent Barca can be trigger for celebration, a draw can be fantastic and a slim loss can be no motive to panic.

The provision of Karim Benzema — on the time of this writing, a doubt with a calf drawback picked up in Madrid’s 3-0 win at Real Mallorca — will probably be a big issue. Madrid depend on Benzema to dictate their ahead play. In his absence final month, coach Carlo Ancelotti experimented with Marco Asensio, Isco and Gareth Bale within the position with various levels of success.

The temptation is to choose Benzema even when he is not totally match, however is {that a} threat you’ll be able to take with LaLiga near being received and the Champions League quarterfinals on the horizon?

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Can Barcelona management the sport and maintain the ball as distant from their purpose as doable? Below Xavi Hernandez, Barca have improved all three “Ps” (possession, positioning and urgent), however they continue to be removed from the completed article. With out the ball, good counter-attacking groups can nonetheless exploit their weaknesses, and Madrid actually match that class. There have been already indicators of Barca’s enchancment when the groups met within the Spanish Supercopa in January. In the end, although, Madrid picked them off on the break to seal an extra-time win in Saudi Arabia.

Barca’s upward trajectory has continued over the previous two months and with some added effectivity in entrance of purpose, they’ve comfortably dismantled Atletico Madrid, Valencia, Napoli and Athletic Bilbao, scoring 4 targets in opposition to all of them. The problem in opposition to Madrid will probably be to essentially check how far they’ve come.

If they will maintain the ball away from Carlo Ancelotti’s aspect, win it again rapidly once they lose it and restrict counterattacks (issues they’ve finished in latest video games in opposition to inferior opposition) there is not any motive they can not finish their barren run — Barca have not overwhelmed their rivals in LaLiga since 2019 — on this fixture.



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Stats of curiosity heading into Sunday

Real Madrid are on their finest Clasico run in years, having received the final 5 conferences in all competitions. The final workforce to dominate this rivalry to that extent was Pep Guardiola’s Barca, who received 5 in a row between 2008 and 2010, together with the well-known 6-2 on the Bernabeu and 5-0 at Camp Nou.

Benzema is LaLiga’s excellent offensive participant, topping the charts for targets (22) and assists (11) in addition to anticipated targets (17.2), non-penalty targets (17), pictures (89), pictures on course (38) and passes into the penalty space (72). (All stats from FBRef.) The breakout season of Vinicius Junior is backed up by numbers too. The winger has dribbled previous 97 gamers — his nearest rival, Rayo Vallecano‘s Oscar Trejo, has 61 — and carried the ball into the opposition field 78 instances, approach forward of Betis’ Nabil Fekir with 48.

Surprisingly, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois doesn’t have the very best save proportion in LaLiga — his 78.4% is available in second to the 80% of Sevilla’s Bono — however elsewhere, Madrid gamers lead in various key classes. Toni Kroos is the participant who has performed most passes into the ultimate third (207, forward of Barca’s Sergio Busquets), and Casemiro has received essentially the most tackles (60).

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Xavi’s fingerprints on this Barca aspect are most seen in how the workforce has recovered its urgent type, however the largest enchancment has been in entrance of purpose. The January signings of Ferran Torres, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Adama Traore have particularly helped in that sense: Torres already has 5 targets in all competitions, whereas Aubameyang has weighed in with six. Traore’s contribution has been organising targets, with 4 assists in six appearances.

Objectives have been an enormous drawback for Barca earlier than January. Of their first 21 league video games this season, they scored 32 instances. Against this, they’ve netted 20 targets of their final six LaLiga matches. The targets are actually flying in from all over the place, too, with Riqui Puig the twenty second participant to attain for them within the league this season when he netted final weekend. By no means have so many various gamers scored for a membership in the identical season within the Spanish prime flight.

These targets have contributed to a four-game successful run within the league and a 12-game unbeaten streak as, with Xavi on the helm, they’ve risen from ninth to 3rd within the desk. The final time they misplaced a recreation in regular time was in December to Bayern Munich, with their solely two defeats within the 18 video games since coming after extra-time.

The gamers most certainly to make a distinction are…

Although Benzema and Vinicius usually seize the headlines, there is a sturdy case to be made that Courtois has been Madrid’s most constant, and vital, participant this season. The goalkeeper has conceded simply 21 targets in 28 LaLiga video games to this point, holding 12 clear sheets, and is assured to make one jaw-droppingly good save per recreation.

Courtois’ type has helped minimise the affect of Madrid’s generally shaky defence. David Alaba and Eder Militao are each glorious footballers, however neither is proof against the occasional blunder, whereas harm issues for Dani Carvajal and Ferland Mendy have left the workforce uncovered at full-back.

In midfield, Luka Modric continues to be massively influential, offering dynamism and ahead momentum alongside Kroos’ rhythmic passing and Casemiro’s assertive play. Modric excelled in opposition to Paris Saint-Germain final week and was then rested in opposition to Mallorca with the Clasico in thoughts. Watching the Croatian go up in opposition to Barca’s younger pretenders Pedri and Gavi — their mixed ages, 19 and 17, add as much as Modric’s 36 — must be good enjoyable.

Xavi’s emphasis has been on the group since he took over. “Pressing is non-negotiable,” he stated on Wednesday. “There’s no room for anyone that’s not prepared to press. The group is more important than any individual.”

If Sergio Busquets performs properly, that normally means Barca play properly, too. There was quite a lot of debate in regards to the membership captain this season. Is he nonetheless able to performing in opposition to one of the best? Ought to he be dropped? Although there’s one other query, requested earlier within the marketing campaign, which now appears extra related: Why is Busquets higher for Spain than Barca?

It is all a matter of fashion. Below Luis Enrique with the nationwide workforce, he is performed higher as a result of the system fits him. With Xavi, that’s now additionally the case at Barca once more. It is true that at 33 age is more and more in opposition to him, however it’s additionally true that Busquets at his finest, robbing balls again excessive up the pitch and giving it to extra artistic gamers, is normally an indication that Barca are taking part in properly.

Elsewhere, €55 million signing Torres has rapidly established himself as Barca’s key ahead. His motion and intelligence have vastly improved the workforce’s attacking output, and whereas his ending has let him down at instances, Xavi shouldn’t be frightened. “The goals will come,” the coach says.

Key head-to-head matchups

Mendy’s thigh harm means it’ll doubtless be Marcelo at left-back going up in opposition to Ousmane Dembele or Adama Traore on Barcelona’s proper wing. Simply the considered that may have Madridistas frightened.

Marcelo, 33, is a membership legend, however there is a motive his contract won’t be renewed when it expires this summer season. The Brazilian was at all times happier becoming a member of the assault quite than defending — that is nonetheless the case, as evidenced by the pinpoint cross he offered for Benzema to attain with a header in opposition to Mallorca on Monday — however he more and more struggles to get again into place following these frequent forays forwards.

There isn’t any query Barca will goal Madrid’s left-hand aspect if Marcelo begins, and the considered Dembele or Traore operating riot on that flank is a sobering one. He’ll want assist from midfield — the inclusion of Fede Valverde would offer cowl — and Vinicius must observe again too.

The midfield battle will probably be attention-grabbing as Barca’s kids, Pedri, Gavi and Frenkie de Jong, alongside veteran Busquets, try and get the higher of Madrid’s skilled trio of Casemiro, Modric and Kroos. Simply as vital, although, would be the matchup on the wings. Dani Alves going head-to-head with fellow Brazilian, Vinicius, must be notably attention-grabbing.

Vinicius, 21, is having fun with an distinctive season and can have an excessive amount of tempo for Alves. Nevertheless, what Alves might lack in tempo — and he is not sluggish by any means — he makes up for in expertise. How he offers with Vinicius on the Madrid left and the way Barca on the whole address Madrid’s counter-attacks may decide the result of this match.

Prediction time!

Real Madrid 1-1 Barcelona: Sure, it’s kind of of a cop-out, however given the circumstances it is a scoreline Real can be proud of: it retains them on observe for the title, whereas Barcelona want a consequence as they appear to safe a top-four end.

Each groups are on type and assured, however the similarities finish there: Madrid are a settled, efficient and considerably predictable aspect underneath Ancelotti whereas Xavi’s Barca are solely now rising as one thing thrilling and uncooked. Count on Barca to take the sport to Madrid and dominate possession, however threat exposing themselves on the counterattack, simply as we noticed when the 2 sides final met within the Supercopa in January. — Kirkland

Real Madrid 2-3 Barcelona: Whereas there may be at all times strain on the groups within the Clasico, each units of gamers might really feel there may be much less this time round. It could take a monumental collapse for Madrid to lose the league from right here, whereas Barca’s return to type ought to guarantee them of a top-four spot and Champions League soccer come Might. Optimistically, then, the groups will minimize free.

Logic dictates that Madrid’s settled aspect will be capable of climate the Barca storm, however the Blaugrana are ever-improving and filled with confidence heading to the Santiago Bernabeu this weekend. Their dropping run in opposition to Madrid should finish someday. — Marsden

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