Sitting nine points clear at the La Liga summit, Barcelona head into the El Clasico game confident of their chances of lifting the league trophy, but such a situation is unlikely to make them any less motivated to get one over their rivals. Real Madrid, on the other hand, will be desperate to prove they are good enough to match the Catalans and make the title chase a bit more interesting.
Barcelona had been quite impressive even before Luis Enrique was given one of the most enviable jobs in world football, but the former Real Madrid forward has taken the team to a whole new level, getting the absolute maximum out of the players at his disposal. By moving Lionel Messi to right wing to accommodate the arrival of Luis Suarez, Enrique unleashed the MSN trio onto the world to devastating effect. The likes of Messi, Suarez and Neymar were able to develop a very good understanding and this has been the key to Barca success this season as the results would not have been so impressive had it been every man for himself. Barcelona eased off to the Copa del Rey final and Champions League quarter-finals, where they will be facing La Liga rivals Sevilla and Atletico Madrid respectively, but now it’s time to make the decisive step towards the league trophy. Going into El Clasico ten points clear of Real Madrid, the Catalans are well aware the pressure will be on the opposition and that is something they will definitely be looking to exploit. The 4-0 win in the reverse fixture at Santiago Bernabeu will keep them in good stead to make it three wins in a row in meetings with los Blancos.
Luis Enrique was happy to see the likes of Messi, Suarez, Alves and Mascherano return from international duty unscathed and they are all expected to start.
This means that Sandro Ramirez is the only unavailable footballer, although Rafinha Alcantara is not yet ready to return despite resuming training.
Having been eliminated from Copa del Rey and with La Liga trophy also outside of their reach, the only way Real Madrid can save the current campaign is by lifting the Champions League title, which is easier said than done. Los Blancos did show some improvement under Zinedine Zidane, with the dressing room atmosphere much better than during Rafa Benitez’s reign, but the reality is Real currently sit behind both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in the league standings. The 1-0 home defeat to los Colchoneros appears to have served as a wake-up call for Ronaldo and Co. as they went on to win next five games in all competitions, scoring 18 goals and conceding just three in the process. But, even though they hammered Sevilla 4-0 last time out, Real Madrid players are well aware this will be a whole different ball game. The latest reports suggest that Zinedine Zidane is determined to adopt a positive approach and he will instruct his side to attack Barcelona from the off, pressing high in an attempt to prevent the Catalans from coming into dangerous positions, and that should guarantee us an exciting encounter at Camp Nou.
The French tactician will have Sergio Ramos and Pepe back from suspension after the pair missed the comfortable triumph over Sevilla.
And with all the international players returning to the club without any problems, Zidane will be able to select from a fully fit squad.
Key Factors to Consider
- Barcelona recorded a 4-0 win in the reverse fixture
- Over 2.5 goals were scored in each of last eight meetings
- Both teams scored in 18 of last 19 meetings between Barca and Real
- The Catalans have won 12 home games in a row
- Real Madrid scored in seven consecutive away fixtures
Barcelona will be looking to finish the job and virtually secure the La Liga title with seven games to go, and the Catalans are closer to winning at Camp Nou. But, with Real Madrid arriving with a positive mindset, we also expect to see los Blancos get on the scoresheet, even though they should eventually come short.
Verdict: Home win & both teams to score
Bookmaker: William Hill