Barcelona vs Real Madrid
Estadio Camp Nou, Barcelona
Wednesday, 18-12-2019 @10pm
Ref: Alejandro Hernandez
Rearranged from October due to civil unrest in Catalonia, this Wednesday’s showdown between Barcelona and Real Madrid is easily the biggest and most eagerly awaited game of the La Liga season so far; not least because both sides are currently neck-and-neck at the top of the table, with a two-goal difference the only advantage held by Ernesto Valverde’s charges over Los Blancos.
There’s effectively a six-point swing on the line at Camp Nou alongside the usual bragging rights, and although we’re only halfway through the campaign, Wednesday night’s result could prove pivotal in this season’s title race.
Real Madrid finished a mile behind champions Barca in 2018/19 after losing 12 league matches, including a 5-1 drubbing here, so they will be delighted to be on terms going into this week’s encounter, losing just once in 16 matches this time around. This will undoubtedly be their toughest assignment to date, though, with Barca back to their ruthless best on home turf this season. The Catalans have also dominated the head-to-head in recent meetings.
It’s fair to say Barca haven’t quite been at their best on the road this season, with three defeats suffered and just 14 points accrued from nine La Liga games – Real Sociedad being the latest team to take the game to Valverde’s side as they fought back to earn a 2-2 draw in San Sebastian at the weekend.
The Catalan giants have been a different animal altogether at home, however, winning a perfect seven from seven and smashing in 30 goals in total. Valverde’s men have won all but one of those matches by a three-goal margin or more, including successes against Valencia (5-2) and Sevilla (4-0).
That’s pretty frightening form, even by Barca’s exceptionally high standards, and they will be in bullish mood going into Wednesday’s game, having won four and drawn two of their last six meetings with Los Blancos. Alongside their aforementioned 5-1 trouncing of Real in last season’s corresponding fixture, they also dumped them out of the 2018/19 Copa Del Rey at the semi-final stage, netting 17 goals in the last half dozen clashes between the teams.
Only goal difference separates these two heavyweights of Spanish football at the top of La Liga going into the first El Clasico of the campaign. Leaders Barcelona have a perfect home record so far this term, winning seven from seven and netting 30 goals in the process. Real haven’t tasted victory over their arch-rivals since lifting the Supercopa de Espana in August 2017; Barca are unbeaten in the last six meetings, winning four and drawing two.
Lionel Messi will be hoping to add to his record tally of 26 Clasico goals, while Ousmane Dembele remains sidelined while Arthur continues to struggle with injury – something with which the club are understood to be particularly unhappy after a couple of snowboarding sessions impacted his recovery. Nelson Semedo is available having returned from injury off the bench at the weekend, and his inclusion could be the only change from the draw with Sociedad if Jordi Alba is deemed ready to start two matches in quick succession following his own recent absence.
Real Madrid will still be without their marquee summer signing Eden Hazard for this match, with the former Chelsea player forced to wait for his first taste of the Clasico due to a foot injury. Hazard is one of a number of absentees for the visitors, with Marcelo, James Rodriguez, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez also sidelined through injury for this match. Zinedin Zidane will have Ferland Mendy back available after suspension, though, with the full-back expected to replace Nacho in the side. Casemiro will also come back into the team after being rested at the weekend, while Vinicius Junior and Gareth Bale are among the other players pushing for a start.