By Calum Chinchen
Spain’s biggest two clubs face-off at The Bernabeu on Saturday evening, in the first El Clasico of the season. Meetings between Real Madrid and Barcelona rarely seem to disappoint and we expect Saturday’s game to be no different. Last season’s two La Liga clashes saw the sides share seven goals and an astonishing 17 yellow cards.
Hosts Real Madrid (2.50) are coming off a 3-2 away defeat to Sevilla last time out, and many of the Los Blanco’s faithful still seem unsure about manager Rafael Benitez. The former Valencia, Liverpool and Napoli boss was surprisingly handed the reigns at Real Madrid when his predecessor Carlo Ancelotti was relieved of his duties after failing to win a single major trophy last season.
In truth, Real had a fairly low-key summer in comparison to their usual activity. Former employees Kiko Casilla and Lucas Vasquez returned to the Bernabeu on permanent deals, while Casemiro and Denis Cheryshev were both re-included in the first team squad after season-long loan spells away from the club. Young talents Danilo and Mateo Kovacic were also bought in from Porto and Inter Milan respectively, signalising a potential change in philosophy for the Spanish giants. While many neutral fans seem to be applauding Benitez in his removal of the club’s Galactico policy, the Real Madrid natives aren’t too happy – and it’s beginning to show.
The iconic Real Madrid front three of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema don’t appear to be gelling as well as they have done in previous years, with Madrid attacks often looking hurried and forced so far this season.
Casemiro has been one of the bright sparks for Real since arriving back at the club after his loan spell at Porto. In previous year’s the club have lacked a defensive minded midfielder, but the Brazilian seems to be an ideal fit due to his positional awareness. The former Sao Paulo man appears to have learned from his loan spell in Portugal and now finds himself in an almost indispensable role for Los Blancos, as he seems to liberate the five players in front of him with some well needed defensive discipline.
Barcelona (2.75) have kicked on from where they finished last season and find themselves in a familiar position at the top of the La Liga table. The Catalan giants have been forced to promote from within after a transfer embargo was recently placed upon the club, with academy graduates Munir and Sandro Ramirez both playing a key role so far this season.
That said, the transfer embargo didn’t prevent Barca from adding to their squad over the summer, with two of last season’s most impressive performers in La Liga moving to the Camp Nou. Arda Turan joined from Atletico in a big money deal, while Aleix Vidal arrived from Sevilla after a fine season. However, neither will be able to feature in the game, as they cannot make their debuts until January due to the embargo placed on Barca.
Lionel Messi hasn’t played for Barcelona since injuring his left knee against Las Palmas back in September. Some reports are suggesting that Messi will be back in the squad for Saturday’s game, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see him absent once again. Luis Suarez and Neymar have taken on the goal scoring responsibility in his absence, sharing 20 of the club’s last 23 goals between themselves.
Discipline has always been an issue for both sides during previous Clasico games, however Luis Enrique and Rafa Benitez are both placid men, so we don’t expect to see any eye gouging (think Mourinho) or any pig head’s being thrown onto the field (think Figo) in this meeting. That said, we really wouldn’t be surprised to see a red card to be shown during the 90 minutes, especially with the likes of Sergio Busquets, Dani Alves, Pepe and Sergio Ramos being present.
In truth we fancy Barcelona here, and would be tipping the straight win if Messi was definitely fit, however we are erring on the side of caution in case of his absence.
VERDICT: REAL MADRID 2 BARCELONA 2 @ 11.50
BEST BET: BARCELONA (DRAW NO BET) @ 1.95