SUNDAY afternoon 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 28th October 2018, 15:15 | Eleven Sports
It’s been well publicised that this is the first Clasico since 2007 without the injured Lionel Messi or transferred Cristiano Ronaldo. Back then, Julio Baptista scored the only goal of the game as Real Madrid departed the Camp Nou with a 1-0 victory, pushing then head coach Frank Rijkaard to the brink.
Since then, the two Spanish giants have crossed swords 21 times in La Liga with a goals per-game average of 3.66. A huge 16 (76%) of those featured Over 2.5 Goals and 15 (71%) paid out for Both Teams To Score backers – the Over 2.5 Goals and BTTS combination was almost the go-to Clasico selection.
However, I think there’s enough reason to go against the grain and oppose goals here. Why? Well, the match is missing it’s two standout stars from the past decade with Messi and Ronaldo contributing 24 (31%) of the 77 goals plundered in that 21-game sample. Chuck in assists and that figure would be even larger.
Now if we look at Barcelona’s record under Ernesto Valverde during La Liga and Champions League action without Messi, the Blaugrana have managed just W4-D5-L1. But for a side that’s renowned for running up cricket scores, it’s telling that the Catalans only once notched more than twice in those 10 encounters.
What’s more, go back further and since 2013/14 without their skipper in the side, Barcelona have only won only 17 of their 30 outings (57%), losing six (20%) as they failed to score in 17% and only scored two more in 63%. They might be a global force but Messi is integral to everything they do.
Right, back to those 21 matches we mentioned at the beginning. Nine (43%) broke the Over 3.5 Goals barrier, although six produced exactly four goals – if we were to take out the immense contribution from the two GOATs, you could arguably say the goals tally could be reduced by at least one.
This term alone, Messi has averaged 1.67 goals or assists per-game for Barca and his exclusion is a big reason why Valverde’s team are available at an odds-against quote. If the diminutive Argentina was available, Barcelona would be chalked up at something shorter than 4/5, for sure.
Madrid in a mess
I felt a degree of sympathy for Julen Lopetegui after last weekend’s humbling home defeat to Levante. Los Blancos conceded from Levante’s first two shots and preceded to fire in 34 attempts of their own – 27 from inside the penalty area – hit the woodwork three times and generated 4.22 Expected Goals.
The European champions were atrocious in the opening 45 minutes but improved immeasurably once Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema were introduced. Nevertheless, the visitors have been really toiling in the offensive third and were only minutes away from breaking their club record for the longest goal drought.
Lopetegui’s a dead man walking. Defeats (and the manner of them) to the likes of Levante, CSKA Moscow and Alaves simply aren’t acceptable for a club with that stature of Real. And that midweek win was far from convincing – the team was whistled off at the Bernabeu with Marca claiming, ‘The agony continues’.
Rather alarmingly for Los Merengues – and good for my proposed bet below – is their lack of invention. The visitors are created just 1.00 Expected Goal from open play per-game in La Liga, which is way down on their standard average. So whilst a combination of poor finishing, excellent goalkeeping and luck has held Madrid back, they’ve also been their own worst enemies.
Barcelona yet to show their brilliance
Barcelona beat Sevilla 4-2 here last Sunday night – Messi the architect before his injury – and followed that victory up with a 2-0 triumph over Inter Milan on home soil. It means the Catalans come into this contest unbeaten in five and four points clear of their bitter enemies, but they’re hardly pulling up trees.
Valverde sprung a surprise on Wednesday night when selecting an extra-midfielder, Rafinha, rather than Ousmane Dembele to replace Messi, and that’s an option that could be explored again if the Barca boss wishes to add a bit more security to his side., particularly with Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet the only available centre-backs at his disposal.
Arthur should overcome a minor calf complaint to make his Clasico debut in midfield, although there’s enough doubt surrounding the Blaugrana from my side to overlook the odds-against offering on a Barcelona win.
Barca have managed to win 19 of 24 unbeaten Camp Nou matches since the start of last season, including six victories from seven unbeaten games against last season’s top six finishers and current top-six sides. However, I'll play it slightly safer and combine Barcelona in the Double Chance market with Under 3.5 Goals at 11/10 (Betfair).
The betting angle
I’d like to think we’ve already paint an encouraging picture of going against the goals grain earlier in this piece and the case grows stronger when viewing the two teams’ performance data.
Across La Liga and Champions League action this season, Real Madrid’s matches are averaging just 3.19 Expected Goals. That’s despite a fixture list that’s included games against Levante, Alaves, Plzen, CSKA Moscow, Leganes, Girona, and Getafe to name just a few. Ten of those 12 matches featured Under 3.5 Goals.
For the sake of balance, Barcelona’s La Liga and Champions League games are averaging 3.09 Expected Goals in total, although two matches – at home to Sevilla last Sunday and against minnows Huesca have pushed that average up quite significantly. Seven of their 12 matches have produced Under 3.5 Goals.
As well as the absence of Messi and Ronaldo, Real Madrid will be missing attacking full-back Dani Carvajal, with the more defensively-minded Nacho likely to fill-in. Just another reason to assume Sunday’s showdown might not produce the fireworks of yesteryear, and a lower-scoring encounter could play out.
Barcelona v Real Madrid – Barcelona double chance and Under 3.5 Goals (11/10 Betfair)