Only three points separate Real Madrid and Barcelona heading into Saturday’s Clasico but Rafael Benitez will be feeling the heat more than most ahead of his biggest test of the season so far.
The former Liverpool boss’s tactics remain at odds with the attacking flair demanded by so many of the Santiago Bernabeu faithful, despite Madrid having lost just once in 2014-15.
Goalless draws with Sporting Gijon and Malaga in La Liga and Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, as well as a 1-1 stalemate in the derby with Atletico Madrid, have led to criticism from within the media and supporter groups over a perceived focus on defensive solidity rather than attacking flamboyance.
The hostility appears unfair given that Madrid have scored more and conceded fewer than champions Barca after 11 rounds of La Liga, but a similar type of performance on Saturday – and a failure to win – would see the pressure increase on Benitez’s shoulders. Unfortunately for the ex-Napoli boss, the history books suggest such a display could well be on the cards.
In Spain’s top flight, Benitez has only ever beaten Barcelona once when in charge of the home team in five previous matches. That win came in 2002, when Pablo Aimar and Francisco Rufete scored as Benitez’s Valencia saw off Louis van Gaal’s side. Benitez masterminded a thrilling 4-2 win at Camp Nou the following season despite having goalkeeper Santiago Canizares sent off – just the kind of performance that Madrid fans will be hoping for this weekend – but they suffered a 3-1 loss at Mestalla to compound that poor home record.
There is a glimmer of hope for Madrid fans, however, with Barca struggling for goals in the face of Benitez’s miserly approach. That win in Valencia in 2003 remains the only time they have scored more than twice in a top-flight game against a Benitez side, and they managed just a single goal in the two games during Valencia’s title-winning campaign of 2003-04. Benitez also restricted Barca to just six goals across four games while in charge of Real Valladolid and Extremadura – no mean feat when you consider the former conceded 28 times in just seven encounters with the current champions between November 2007 and March 2014.
Benitez’s record against Barcelona in La Liga:
Goals scored: 11
Goals conceded: 14
Timeline of results:
03/09/1995: Valladolid 0-2 Barcelona
21/01/1996: Barcelona 1-0 Valladolid
12/09/1998: Barcelona 1-0 Extremadura
07/02/1999: Extremadura 1-2 Barcelona
14/10/2001: Barcelona 2-2 Valencia
23/02/2002: Valencia 2-0 Barcelona
18/01/2003: Barcelona 2-4 Valencia
15/06/2003: Valencia 1-3 Barcelona
05/10/2003: Barcelona 0-1 Valencia
21/02/2004: Valencia 0-1 Barcelona
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