Having created a four-point advantage over their arch rivals, Real Madrid will be looking to cement the first place in the standings as well as put a dent into Barcelona’s title hopes. Meanwhile, the Catalans will be in all sorts of problems unless they win at Santiago Bernabeu, which is enough to suggest this particular El Clasico should offer plenty of fireworks.
After taking over the reigns from Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti needed some time to put a stamp on the squad and his side did suffer some unexpected slip-ups in the opening changes. However, as marquee signing Gareth Bale recovered from injury and players started getting used to the new boss, Real began to show plenty of improvement, although they needed to work hard to revive their title bid. Los Blancos eventually closed the gap behind their title rivals and opened up a three-point lead at the La Liga summit, while also impressing in other competitions, and this will be a rare occasion when they are considered favourites in El Clasico derby. The team have been playing at a very high level of late and with attacking trio of Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo scoring goals for fun, los Blancos are clearly in a good position to make a decisive step in an attempt to reclaim the league trophy. Karim Benzema and Pepe are both back in contention, meaning Carlo Ancelotti will be able to field his strongest line-up, with only back-up players Alvaro Arbeloa, Jese Rodriguez and Sami Khedira unavailable at the moment.
Barcelona have been the dominant force in both Spain and Europe for some seven or eight years, winning three Champions League titles and six La Liga trophies since 2005, but it appears that the most successful period in club’s history is coming to an end. While star players Leo Messi has been unable to hit top form due to numerous injuries, his teammates Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta appear to be past their prime, so maybe it is not surprising that the Catalans are struggling at the moment. There is still plenty of quality and experience within the ranks, but with quite a few players being linked with summer exit, it looks as though the team have lost the motivation that has been the driving force all these years. Shock defeats to Valencia, Real Sociedad and Real Valladolid have seen the Catalans slip behind both Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in the standings, and this could be their final chance to return into the title chase, which is likely to add extra pressure on Tata Martino’s side. Everything suggests veteran defender Carles Puyol will be missing through injury, whilst Jonathan Dos Santos and Isaac Cuenca remain on the long-term injury list.
Real Madrid seem completely prepared for the business end of the season and looking at their recent performances, los Blancos look they can edge this one out. In spite of the 7-0 triumph over Osasuna, Barcelona are clearly far from the desired form and I believe this game will mark the end of their title ambitions.
Verdict: Home win Real Madrid (1)
Best Odds: 5/4
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