Sunday sees the season’s first instalment of El Clasico as Xavi and FC Barcelona travel to the Spanish capital to play archrivals Real Madrid in a do-or-die clash for the Blaugrana after their recent European exploits.
Despite sitting top of La Liga and conceding only a single league goal this campaign, Barça boss Xavi has been put under pressure by the Club’s hierarchy after a poor showing in this year’s UEFA Champions League, with the Club are all but guaranteed to drop down into Europe’s second-tier competition, the Europa League.
The Catalans were held to a damaging 3-3 draw against Inter Milan at the Nou Camp on Wednesday, essentially confirming their UCL elimination. But the result is even more damaging to Barcelona than it seems on the surface of things, especially since they exited the competition at the same stage last season.
Barcelona president Joan Laporta was reportedly livid following the midweek performance and has demanded the team bounce back immediately at the Bernabeu on Sunday.
Xavi made a truly bizarre statement in his pre-match press conference, expressing his excitement for the upcoming Clasico.
“I don’t know if it makes me horny, I don’t know if it’s the right word. But I like playing against Real Madrid,” said the Barça boss. “I’m competitive. I’d like to continue being a footballer to play this type of match.
“It’s spectacular to play a match like this. Motivation is maximum, it’s an opportunity to emerge as leaders of the competition.”
The legendary former midfielder has only been in charge of his two El Clasicos, including a 4-0 victory in the same fixture last campaign.
However, the Blaugrana are experiencing a bit of an injury crisis, particular in defence. Ronald Araujo, Hector Bellerin and Andreas Christensen have all been ruled out the derby. But Xavi received a slight boost as new signing Jules Kounde was declared fit and is available for selection.
Opponents Real Madrid have had a strong start to the season, despite sitting below Barcelona in the La Liga standings on goal difference. However, Los Blancos are still unbeaten across all competitions, and have their spot in the next round of the UCL pretty much secured.
The Spanish and European champions head into the Clasico off the back of a
1-1 draw with Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk, courtesy of a last-gasp equalizer from Antonio Rudiger.
When questioned if he would deploy different tactics in order to stop Barcelona, Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti stated he wouldn’t set up his team much differently to how they usually play. The Italian coach added that the last time he utilized a different gameplan, Barça ran out 4-0 winners at the Bernabeu.
“I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, you can count on that,” Ancelotti said in a press conference on Saturday.
“Last time I tried to play the inventor, they gave me a beating. So I don’t expect we will be doing anything out of the ordinary on Sunday.
“We will play like we usually do. They are a great rival and we need to be on top of our game.”
Ancelotti also mentioned that he doesn’t believe Barcelona’s midweek result against Inter will have an adverse effect on the Catalan’s ahead of Sunday’s derby.
“Barcelona have won all their LaLiga games except for their debut. They have had problems in the Champions League but it’s a different competition with a different outlook. In LaLiga they have been extraordinary,” clarified Ancelotti.
“We are going to enjoy ourselves, we want to win – but there is still a long way to go.”
A win would take Los Blancos three points ahead of their rivals and back into top spot in La Liga.
Real Madrid 3 – 2 FC Barcelona
Despite the thrashing Barcelona gave Madrid at the Bernabeu in March without the new summer signings, Los Blancos have generally had the upper hand in El Clasicos in recent years.
Madrid hitman Karim Benzema has missed chunks of this season through injury and will be aiming to make a statement with another imperative performance. Especially considering his Barcelona counterpart Robert Lewandowski has set La Liga alight since his arrival from Bayern Munich in the summer.
The Blaugrana have a few too many injury issues in defence which makes us think there will be goals in this game, on both ends.
We predict both Robert Lewandowski and Karim Benzema will find the back of the net on Sunday in what is the most heavily anticipated El Clasico since the days of Ronaldo and Messi.