Barça-Madrid. El Clásico. Quite simply the biggest club game in world football. Tomorrow night (Sunday 9 pm) Camp Nou will witness the 230th competitive game between the two giants of Spanish football, and with just one point between the clubs in the battle for La Liga the contest promises to be another epic clash. Expectation is at a maximum as Madrid haven’t visited Camp Nou since October 2013 when Alexis Sanchez scored the winner in a 2-1 win for Barça.
This season’s title race has already provided plenty of twists and turns. Barça gained the initial advantage, gaining a six-point lead over Anceloti’s men after just three games. However, Madrid then hit their stride, winning 12 straight league games, including the 3-1 win over Barça at the Bernabéu, to reach Christmas a point above Barça with a game in hand. At this time Madrid seemed unstoppable but then they lost their first game of 2015 at Valencia. Barça’s defeat at Real Sociedad the following day meant a low point in the season for Luis Enrique’s men but since then the team has found the winning formula. Barça have now won nine of the last ten league games while Madrid have dropped eight points in that time. On top of this Madrid have been knocked out of the Copa del Rey and struggled against Schalke in the Champions League while Barça have progressed strongly in all competitions.
The momentum is definitely with Barça and tomorrow’s game offers the chance to go four points clear and deliver a huge blow to Madrid’s title chances. If all goes according to my script, Barça will win comfortably and Madrid’s season will fall apart, Ancelotti will lose his job and Barça will go from strength to strength and win the treble. This is not some distant fantasy, with Messi in fantastic form anything is possible, The defence, with Piqué back to his best, is looking much more solid, and it’s probably fair to say that only Guardiola’s Bayern Munich are at a comparable level in Europe right now.
However, a Clásico is a Clásico, and Madrid is Madrid, and a lot can happen over 90 minutes that could provide another twist in the title race which, in hand, could even go on to affect the fortunes of both clubs in the Champions League. Madrid did not play in midweek so Ancelotti has had more time to prepare for the game, and his players undoubtedly have the talent to cause an upset tomorrow which would restore their confidence and put the doubts back in the Barça camp. This is the beauty of football and also the beauty of the eternal struggle between these two great clubs.
Madrid travel today without James Rodriguez and Sami Khedira, but with Sergio Ramos and Luca Modric back after lengthy injuries Ancelotti is much closer to being able to play his best XI. Barça have had Sergio Busquets back training with the group for the last two days and Luis Enrique indicated the midfielder would be available for selection tomorrow, though having also admitted that Busquets wasn’t yet at 100% it seems unlikely that Lucho will play him from the start.
There is obviously a lot of attention on the attacking trios of each side with the possibility of comparing the MSN threesome against the BBC. The effectiveness of the strikers will of course be important but there will also be a fascinating battle in midfield where, if the coaches don’t pull any surprises, we’ll see Rakitic, Mascherano and Iniesta facing Kroos, Modric and Isco. Another key point will be the contest between Barça’s full backs and Madrid’s wide attackers. Madrid will be hoping that Ronaldo can get the better of Dani Alves but on the other flank I’m expecting Jordi Alba to get forward and take advantage of Bale’s defensive weaknesses.
The points are undoubtedly the most important thing in play but both teams will also have goal difference in mind. Madrid won 3-1 at the Bernabéu so Barça will need to win by three goals to gain the head-to-head advantage in this respect. As away goals don’t count here any two-goal victory for Barça (2-0, 3-1, 4-2) would leave overall goal difference as the deciding factor if the two teams end the season level on points.
Barça: Bravo; Alves, Piqué, Mathieu, Alba; Rakitic, Mascherano, Iniesta; Messi, Suárez, Neymar.
Real Madrid: Casillas; Carvajal, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo; Kroos, Modric, Isco; Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo.
My bet: correct score: Barça 3 Real Madrid 0 (current odds: 15.00) The best odds for soccer betting are at William Hill.
Date: Sunday 22 March 2015. Kick-off 9 pm local time.