As recently as last weekend, this first El Clásico of the league campaign seemed the most unpredictable in years. Now, on the eve of the clash at the Nou Camp, Real Madrid really should be fancying their chances of all three points against Barcelona (6.50pm BST, Sunday).
Barcelona currently sit top of the La Liga table and eight points ahead of Real Madrid. But their recent displays leave much to be desired: are they capable of beating Jose Mourinho’s team at this time?
The Nou Camp is clearly no safe haven for Barcelona, as Real confirmed their title capture last season with a win in the league in Catalonia.
But even with Real Madrid seeming out of sorts this season, it’s the smaller clubs they’re struggling against. When playing the big teams, Jose Mourinho’s team are getting it done.
Real went to the Nou Camp in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup and got exactly what they wanted, despite Barcelona picking up the win and apparently holding the stronger hand.
In the return game at the Bernabeu, however, Real Madrid mauled their visitors. The score line would have been much more had Gonzalo Higuain taken all his chances, but Real looked a class apart.
Barcelona may feel confident in their chances considering the impressive win away at Sevilla, a place where Real Madrid lost only a few weeks prior. But we shouldn’t forget that Barcelona have had to find late goals in their last two games in the league to get a result.
Even against lowly Granada two weeks ago, it took a strike from Xavi in the 87th minute to put Barcelona ahead. Lionel Messi created the second with the own goal from Borja Gomez, but are we convinced?
Were those victories a display of Barcelona’s resilience, character and drive? This is probably the most appropriate time to raise the issue of the gulf in class between Barcelona and Real Madrid and the rest of La Liga.
How many teams can call on a player of the quality of David Villa with 15 minutes remaining in a game? Moreover, Barcelona play their high intensity game from the first minute until the last. It takes a lot out of the opposition when they’re chasing the game for the full 90-minutes.
Not everyone is firing for Barcelona, even though they’re getting the points. Dani Alves doesn’t appear to be at his marauding best, and what about those problems at centre-back?
Barcelona may fancy themselves to see plenty of the ball in the upcoming Clasico, but Real Madrid are deadly on the counter attack. Alex Song and Javier Mascherano paired at centre-back are nothing close to a comfortable safety net. Gerard Pique is currently in a race against time to be fit for the game on Sunday night.
Alexis Sanchez, despite his goal in the win away at Benfica in midweek, is really not looking great. He admitted it himself when he described his performances as a five out of ten. But he’s wasting chances and his place in the team is under threat.
Should we have been impressed with what Barcelona did away at Benfica in the Champions League? Yes, of course. The hosts were snappy, dogged and looked to take advantage where they could. It was a typical match-up that saw a clearly inferior side resort to the uglier side of the game and try to knock Barcelona off their stride. But once again, it was inferior competition.
In contrast, Real Madrid are thriving in the big games this season. The Manchester City game saw Real take on a much more “Barcelona” role, having much of the possession and looking for holes in the City defence. They were caught on the break, yes, but they’re still finding goals when it matters in the big games.
Kaka was outstanding for Real Madrid in their Champions League game against Ajax. Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo also played exceptionally well. Unfortunately, I doubt Jose Mourinho will retain Kaka in the starting line-up for the Clasico, in spite of his obvious talents and commitment.
Real Madrid have a full squad to choose from and will be looking to hurt the heavily-weakened Barcelona back line.
Tito Vilanova will be relying on David Villa for important goals again. The question is whether the striker is in good enough shape to start the game for Barcelona.
How many of Barcelona’s players are at their best leading up to this game? They’re battling and hammering on the door for results in La Liga, and it’s certainly admirable. But should Real go into the game with the same sense of fear as they did in previous Clasico meetings?
Barcelona v Real Madrid Betting Tips Verdict
I believe this to be an excellent opportunity for Real Madrid to close the gap between themselves and Barcelona in the league. Anything less and the La Liga title will seem light years away.