Barcelona head into Saturday’s El Clasico showdown with Real Madrid sitting pretty at the top of the table, ten points clear of their rival. With Atletico Madrid sitting second, one point above Real, and only eight match-days left in the season, nothing short of a full-scale collapse is likely to prevent Barça from retaining the La Liga title.
But while the title race may be all but over, this is the Clasico and there is pride at stake for both sides – particularly in light of their last meeting, when Barcelona strolled into the Santiago Bernabeu and romped to a 4-0 win. And that was without Lionel Messi!
As is their tendency, Real Madrid has since changed managers – parting ways with Rafa Benitez and appointing Zinedine Zidane to the role. The side has improved under the Frenchman, but playing at home and absolutely flying on all fronts, Barcelona remain heavy favorites going into Saturday’s clash.
However, for Barcelona manager Luis Enrique, the circumstances heading into the match are less than ideal. His injuries to key defensive players include Adriano and go-to sub, Jeremy Mathieu; Jordi Alba also remains questionable.
Moreover, several key players, including the star trio of Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez, traveled halfway around the world last week to represent their countries in World Cup qualifying, so fatigue could be a factor on Saturday. Same goes for Javier Mascherano.
Real Madrid, on the other hand, was able to rest star players Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale during the international break. And while he did feature for Portugal in friendlies against Bulgaria and Belgium, no intercontinental travel was required of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Although when you look at the current form of the two clubs and consider the Catalans' homefield advantage, it’s difficult to envision anything other than another win for Barcelona. The gap between the two clubs is wider at the moment than it’s been at any time since the turn of the decade.
In light of the passing of Netherlands great and Barcelona club icon Johan Cruyff, Enrique’s team will have a special motivation to demonstrate that the principles of attack and possession Cruyff instilled at the club are alive and well.
Real Madrid is coming into the match on the back of a four-game winning streak. However, that streak is likely to be snapped as Los Blancos line up away against a Barça side that’s only lost twice this season and is undefeated in its last 39 games in all competitions.