THE biggest game on the planet pits La Liga powerhouses Barcelona and Real Madrid together on Saturday night. European football fanatic Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his verdict on the Clasico.
Barcelona v Real Madrid | Saturday 19.30 | Sky Sports 2
El Clasico is number one. There’s no club game that can match the rivalry of Real Madrid against Barcelona whether it be footballing, political or ideological and Saturday night’s encounter should deliver the goods once more. If you’re uninterested in this bout, I doubt we’d get on…
But the build-up to this weekend’s blockbuster has been slightly subdued. Clasicos have a habit of proving decisive but with Barcelona already slipping another La Liga title in their back pocket and Real Madrid 10 points off the pace, next midweek’s Champions League fixtures take on extra significance.
That’s not to say Saturday’s showdown doesn’t matter; of course it does. Every Clasico matters but the harsh truth is, Tuesday’s tie between Barca and Atletico Madrid is bigger than the Clasico this weekend.
Of course, the lengthy international break has also played its part in dampening the hyped pre-match build-up too with a collection of the Catalans’ stars only arriving back from South America on Thursday. With little to lose, potential fatigued players and a majority focus on the Champions League, are the Blaugrana vulnerable? Very much so.
However, the recent tragic passing of Johan Cruyff should ensure Luis Enrique’s record-breaking hosts invoke the understandable emotional reaction and approach this fixture with full respect for the occasion.
Nothing focuses the mind quite like a Clasico and with the decades of history and tradition to uphold, the symbolism will feel even greater for the homage to Cruyff. It’s also an opportunity for Luis Enrique’s troops to pick-up lost momentum ahead of Tuesday.
It’s a fixture that Barcelona have flourished in, in recent seasons. The Catalans have claimed top honours in four of the last five meetings – including that stunning 4-0 rout at the Bernabeu earlier this season – and the Blaugrana have only been beaten in three of their last 15 head-to-heads with Real.
Without a defeat in 22 (W20-D2-L0) at the Camp Nou and a stunning 39-match unbeaten (W32-D7-L0) streak across all competitions, it’s perhaps understandable to see the hosts chalked up as short pre-match favourites. But I’m just unwilling to support a home success at the odds on offer.
Both Atleti and Sevilla have given the Catalans a stern examination in Catalonia in recent weeks and along with the fact Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez, Dani Alves, Javier Mascherano and Claudio Bravo were involved in World Cup qualifiers over the past 10 days, there are major doubts over Jordi Alba’s participation.
With Jeremy Mathieu and Adriano already sidelined, Barcelona may have to shoehorn Thomas Vermaelen back into the side at left-back, a disastrous proposal with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale fit and ready to fire from the flanks.
Madrid’s only hope of silverware this season is the Champions League but Zinedine Zidane’s men don’t face Wolfsburg until Wednesday. And with neither Bale nor Karim Benzema involved in international duty, and Ronaldo only going as far as Lisbon, the Los Blancos front-three should be fit, fresh and raring to go.
Now I’m not suggesting Madrid are a bet here but they do stand a better chance than the best-price (19/4 Coral) that’s offered on the away success. Still, the visitors have only claimed maximum points in half of their 14 away La Liga trips and have an ugly W14-7-L14 record travelling to top-half teams since their last La Liga title triumph, so we’ll look elsewhere.
There are signs that Zidane’s Real are adapting to a more possession-centric approach, utilising their marauding full-backs in attack and giving the side a more balanced and stable option in midfield with Casemiro shielding the back four.
Neither James Rodriguez nor Isco will start but Pepe and Sergio Ramos return to give the central defensive areas bulk and experience. And Los Blancos will look to expose Barca’s shortcomings in the air with plenty of balls into the box; the capital club have scored six goals from crosses in their last three games.
The 4-0 win against Sevilla slightly flattered Madrid but they’ve now churned out five successive victories and unlike Barcelona, their standout stars are primed and in peak condition. So lets have a look at a few of bets on offer…
Since Luis Enrique arrived, Barcelona have only led at the break in 5/17 (29%) of their La Liga outings against top-half clubs at the Camp Nou. And with Real Madrid netting the opening goal on 24 occasions this season, finding a way to get Los Blancos onside in the first-half markets makes most appeal.
Simply backing Real to score in the first 45 minutes is 23/20 (Betfair) and looks a corking options considering the Catalans have kept their sheets clean on just three occasions across their last 11 outings.
I’m also going to snap up even-money from Boylesports for Over 1.5 Goals to be scored in the first-half – five of the past seven Clasicos have featured at least two goals in the opening skirmishes with 18 of the past 19 head-to-heads producing profitable Both Teams To Score selections.
And finally, I just can’t resist snapping up the 29/20 on a Barcelona win and Both Teams To Score; accumulatively the two teams have recorded just seven clean sheets in their last 22 outings and should the Blaugrana rise to the occasion, they’ll prove too strong over 90 minutes.
Barcelona v Real Madrid – Real Madrid to score Over 0.5 Goals in the first-half (23/20 Betfair)
Barcelona v Real Madrid – Over 1.5 Goals in the first-half (1/1 Boylesports)
Barcelona v Real Madrid – Barcelona to win and Both Teams To Score (29/20 BetVictor)
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