To the surprise of many, almost certainly including themselves, Barcelona head into the first Clasico of the La Liga season with the opportunity to already hammer one nail into the coffin of Real Madrid’s hopes of retaining their title.
Real had an unexpectedly poor start to their campaign after their breakthrough last term as they lost twice and drew one of their first four fixtures to drop eight points behind their great rivals. With there also being rampant speculation about the happiness of Cristiano Ronaldo and the relationship between Jose Mourinho and influential defender Sergio Ramos all did not look well in Madrid.
However, Real appear to have turned a corner. After scoring two goals in the final four minutes to come from behind and beat Manchester City in their opening Champions League encounter, Los Blancos have now won four games on the bounce. What’s more: Ronaldo has scored back-to-back hat-tricks—in a 5-1 victory over Deportivo La Coruna followed by a more impressive treble in a 4-1 win over Ajax on Wednesday.
While Real came out on top in the Spanish Super Cup back in August, they will also have fond memories of the corresponding fixture last season when they effectively sealed the title with a 2-1 win at Camp Nou.
Although Barcelona’s results have been impressive under new boss Tito Vilanova, the Catalan giants have not been overwhelming opponents in a way that became custom under Pep Guardiola. Indeed before their victory over Benfica in midweek, Barca had required last-gasp goals to beat Spartak Moscow, Granada and Sevilla.
Much of their recent struggles have been down to injuries to first-choice central defensive pair Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol. Captain Puyol returned against Benfica, but, to the dismay of all involved with the club, suffered a dislocated elbow, ruling him out for eight weeks.
That means that Alex Song will again be forced into duty alongside Javier Mascherano. While both learned their trade as midfielders, Mascherano has had time to adapt into a capable defender. Having just arrived from Arsenal, the same cannot yet be said for Song.
D: Alves, Mascherano, Song, Alba
M: Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta
F: Pedro, Messi, Sanchez
Real Madrid (probable)
D: Arbeloa, Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo
M: Khedira, Alonso
Di Maria, Modric, Ronaldo
Prediction: Real know that a defeat and the prospect of falling 11 points behind Barcelona is unthinkable. The loss of Puyol could be key and Real look to be in the kind of form that could expose Barcelona’s weakened back line. Barcelona’s 100 percent record may well go, but the quality in their side should mean they still come away with a point.
Barcelona 2-2 Real Madrid
Coverage: The La Liga contest kicks-off at 1.50 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport, with a live stream, which you view at your own discretion, available here.