As FC Barcelona welcome Real Madrid to the Camp Nou on Saturday for the first El Clasico of the season, it’s a tale of two teams in the midst of very different fortunes at the moment. On the one hand, you’ve got the visitors Real Madrid.
Currently six points clear at the top of the La Liga standings, Zinedine Zidane’s team remains undefeated across all competitions this season. Wednesday’s Spanish Cup victory over Cultural Leonesa in fact extended Los Blancos unbeaten run to 32 games – surpassing the 31 game unbeaten streak Carlo Ancelotti put together during his time in charge of the club.
A good result at the Camp Nou on Saturday would put Zidane in striking distance of the club record of 34 games unbeaten set by Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker during the 1988-89 season.
With Gareth Bale ruled out until April with an ankle problem, Madrid will look to talisman and leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo to lead the attack against Barça. The Portuguese attacker will undoubtedly start in attack, most likely alongside Karim Benzema and Lucas Vazquez.
But while Zidane and Real Madrid can cast an eye toward new club records, in the opposing dugout Barça manager Luis Enrique will be looking to put the brakes on the downward slide. Since losing to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on November 1, Barcelona have drawn three out of five matches in all competitions.
Prior to losing to City, Barça dropped points in La Liga to Alaves, Atletico Madrid and Celta Vigo.
Normally when your team counts Lionel Messi among its ranks, you could count on him to haul you out of a bad patch. But the Argentine ace has surprisingly failed to score a goal in a Clasico since the 2013/14 season.
Barcelona drew their second consecutive match on Wednesday, being held 1-1 by second division side Hercules. While that side consisted mainly of reserve players and was without Messi, Neymar or Luis Suarez, last weekend’s draw with Real Sociedad will be of far more concern for Enrique.
While a single goal from Messi was enough to cancel out Willian Jose’s opener for Sociedad and save Barça’s blushes, the Catalans were lucky to have escaped with a draw. Sociedad had Barça under the gun for much of the first half and striker Juanmi had a goal incorrectly disallowed for being offside late in the second.
A loss on Saturday would leave Barcelona nine points behind their rivals and all but end their title hopes this season. Despite the advantage of playing at home, Enrique’s men will be feeling the pressure.
But while a loss could likely rule them out of the title chase this season, a win would cut Madrid’s lead to three points and potentially spur the Blaugrana on to a good run of form leading up to the winter break, potentially setting the stage for a close title race in the second half of the season.
Watch Barcelona taking on Real Madrid in the first Clasico of the season, this Saturday December 3 at 10:15 a.m. EST on BeINSports.