SUNDAY night sees Barcelona meet Real Madrid at the Camp Nou. European football boffin Mark O'Haire shares his punting approach to El Clasico.
Barcelona v Real Madrid | Sunday 6th May 2018, 19:45 | Sky Sports
With three full rounds of La Liga still to be played, a Clasico set so close to the campaign’s conclusion was supposed to be decisive in the race for the title.
But with Barcelona being crowned domestic kings last week and Real Madrid fresh from qualifying for their third successive Champions League final, you could be forgiven for thinking the latest instalment of this great rivalry had rather less at stake than past encounters.
Whilst you’d be right – to a certain extent – there’s still plenty to play for. Fortunately, this match still really matters to Barcelona with the Catalans looking to become only the second ever Spanish side to complete a full La Liga season unbeaten, after Real Madrid’s invincibles of 1932.
There’s also an intriguing pre-game sub-plot. It’s tradition for the newly crowned league champions to receive a guard of honour onto the field from their opponents, but on this occasion Los Blancos are threatening to ignore such festivities, a petty tit-for-tat after the Blaugrana snubbed Madrid’s World Club Cup triumph in December.
Barcelona’s excellent campaign
On the pitch, Ernesto Valverde’s are obvious and fair 8/11 (Unibet) favourites. Barca are unbeaten in league football since April 2017 – a 41-game streak – and boast a W14-D2-L0 Camp Nou record in La Liga this season, a return that includes beating all top-six opponents here.
The Catalan crew have plundered 45 goals on home soil this season and going back further, have won all bar two of their past 28 La Liga outings here, scoring two goals or more on 26 occasions.
Despite an extraordinary campaign that includes a Copa del Rey triumph and taking the league title at a canter, the feeling from some is that Barcelona have underachieved with their Champions League exit at Roma overshadowing what’s been quiet a remarkable first season for Valverde.
The Blaugrana were in the gutter in July so to recover so supremely deserves enormous credit. The dominant domestic force have even started to look even stronger of late with the form and understanding of the attacking trio of Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi and now Philipe Coutinho beginning to flourish.
Madrid’s eyes elsewhere?
I think we’ve all watched on with a bit of bemusement at Real Madrid’s achievements under Zinedine Zidane. Still unbeaten in Champions League knockout football, Los Blancos continually defy critics, as well as their own wretched defensive performances to find a way forward.
Obviously, Real would relish ending Barcelona’s attempts at an invincible season but the questions that requires answering are: 1) how much has their midweek exertions and celebrations against Bayern Munich taken out of them and 2) will Zidane opt to rest and rotate some of his squad?
I’d suggest the former is more quantifiable here but the latter could see the likes of Gareth Bale given a rare start – Madrid are hardly paupers with the talent in their squad. But arguably the more pressing issue is at right-back following the failed midweek Lucas Vazquez experiment and Dani Carvajal still doubtful.
Nevertheless, Real’s defensive issues remain in the spotlight. They lost the Expected Goals count 5.10 – 2.50 against Bayern over the two legs and both Malaga and Leganes carved out plenty of excellent opportunities in recent meetings. In fact, Madrid have conceded an average of 2.00 xG in their last 10 outings – a very worrisome return.
The betting angle
Barcelona have failed to assert their supremacy over Real in recent Clasico meetings at the Camp Nou but the Catalans have still claimed top honours in six of their last nine duels with Madrid. Even without their dominance of the fixture, the fixture variables make the hosts a solid bet at 8/11 (Unibet).
In Barcelona, the past six Clasicos have seen both sides score and a repeat is probably going to be on the cards. Only Atletico Madrid have stopped Zidane’s squad from scoring in their nine trips to top-six teams under the Frenchman, whilst Barcelona have leaked in all bar two against the same opponents.
Over 2.5 Goals has paid out in 22 of the past 25 Clasicos and should again go close although prohibitive pricing makes the punt unappealing so add in Barcelona to win to the equation and we’ll get a hunky odds-against offering of 21/20 from Ladbrokes.
Barcelona v Real Madrid – Barcelona to win and Over 2.5 Goals (21/20 Ladbrokes)