How best to overcome their respective team’s excessive reliance on a sole superstar without compromising overall quality is to be at the forefront of managers Zinedine Zidane and Ronald Koeman when Real Madrid host eternal rivals FC Barcelona at the Estadio Alfredo di Stefano in Europe’s biggest match this weekend. Record champions Real Madrid are unbeaten in their last ten La Liga outings and have lost just once in 18 fixtures but the club’s hierarchy is restless about the inability of Los Blancos’ supporting cast to bolster lead striker Karim Benzema’s goals input.
Talismanic Frenchman Benzema has already bagged 17 league goals and 23 in all competitions, but no one else has gotten into double figures. Real’s second highest net buster is midfield holder Casemiro on six goals, the same number as Marco Asencio and Vinicius Junior, whose half dozen strikes include the brace he bagged midweek against Liverpool. An identical scenario portends at the Camp Nou club where Lionel Messi’s 23 Liga Santander goals and 28 overall by far outstrips the combined tally of Antoine Greizman (10), Ousmane Dembele (8) and Martin Brathwaite (5).
Messi’s prolific form has allowed Blagruana to plug a nine point deficit on leaders Atletico Madrid in a space of eight weeks. Barca have won 16 out of their last 18 La Liga outings to move within striking distance of Atleti. They go into El Clasico two points ahead of Real Madrid and one behind Diego Simeone’s stuttering leaders. The absence through injury of Los Blancos’ first choice defenders Dani Cavarjal (hamstring), Sergio Ramos (calf), and Raphael Varane (Covid-19) gives Koeman the confidence his team can avenge a 1-3 setback in the reverse fixture.
Club record signing Joao Felix (ankle) is an injury doubt for Atletico Madrid when they visit on form Real Betis as they seek to correct a dodgy run of form that has confined the 2014 champions to winning just thrice in their last eight league fixtures. The battle against relegation is equally enthralling, with just ten points separating bottom club Deportivo Alaves from twelveth placed Valencia. It will thus be all or nothing for Alaves in their trip to face an Athletic Bilbao side still smarting from last week’s Copa del Rey final loss to Basque rivals Real Sociedad.
Sparks should fly at Huesca’s Estadio El Alcoraz on Friday night as prolific forward Rafa Mir aims to improve on his impressive nine-goal tally against another newly promoted side, Elche. Two more mouthwatering relegation six pointers take place on Saturday with Getafe at home to Cadiz and Eibar hosting Levante, who have lost their way after causing ripples by taking four points off leaders Atletico Madrid. Valencia’s home encounter with Real Sociedad and Sevilla’s visit to Celta Vigo complete the Liga Santander fixture list.
Huesca v Elche
Real Madrid v Barcelona, Getafe v Cadiz, Athletic Bilbao v Alaves, Eibar v Levante
Celta Vigo v Sevilla