Saturday 3rd December 2016
Here we go again in perhaps the world’s biggest domestic club game. A win for the visitors would extend their unbeaten start to 14 games and see their lead at the top stretch to nine points. It may only be December, but that is a big deficit for Barcelona to claw back, and after a rather inconsistent term to date, the home side will be looking to show their great rivals that they are up for the chase ahead.
Rather surprisingly in November, Barca won only two of six matches. Both of those wins came in La Liga, but were combined with draws at home to Malaga and away at Real Sociedad, a team they have now failed to beat away from home since 2007. Barcelona’s league return of 8 wins, 3 draws and 2 defeats is hardly catastrophic, but when your greatest rivals are on a 13 match unbeaten run and have won ten of those games, the margin for error is somewhat reduced. Quite simply, and understandably, Luis Enrique’s men are not the same proposition without the talismanic Lionel Messi, who has started only eight of his side’s Liga games this season, yet has already contributed nine goals and a further three assists. The two games Barca have lost in La Liga this season both coincided with an absent Messi from the starting line-up. Defensively, La Blaugrana have been at times suspect, and an unsettled team selection, mostly due to injuries to the likes of Messi, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba, has seen the side fail to fire on all cylinders quite regularly, at least domestically. The good news? Despite all that, Barca are comfortably through to the knockout stages of the Champions league, remain in the Copa Del Rey, and are second in La Liga, only six points behind Real.
If Barcelona can point to health issues to key players disrupting their campaign so far, then s Blancos have clearly suffered the same fate. Cristiano Ronaldo has had an injury-plagued season to date, while Luka Modric and Casemiro have missed many games in the real engine room in the middle of the park. Coach Zinedine Zidane will need to make do without Gareth Bale for at least four months as the Welshman has undergone ankle surgery after suffering damage in last week’s win in Lisbon, while Toni Kroos, Alvaro Morata, Keylor Navas, Pepe and Karim Benzema have all sat out long periods. Bale’s injury may yet count against the side from the capital as he has been arguably the team’s driving force this season, but Real’s squad has so far coped admirably with the loss of key players, and it is perhaps this rather than any other factor which has seen them embark on an unbeaten league run which has put daylight between Real and the likes of both Barcelona and Atletico.
Head-to-head and team news
The last time the two sides met in Catalonia in April, Ronaldo scored a late winner which pushed the title race all the way to the wire and at the same time ended Barcelona’s 39-match unbeaten run. That was the first time Los Blancos has won at the Camp Nou in La Liga since Ronaldo had scored the winner once more in a 2-1 win back in April 2012. In between those games, Real have also claimed victory at the home of their great rivals twice in the Copa del Rey, which equates to three wins in their last five visits across all competitions, and four wins from their last ten.
For the hosts, Andres Iniesta could be fit to return after a knee injury, and Gerard Pique should also be available after sitting out the Copa Del Rey game against Heracles with a sore ankle. The home side have no new injury concerns, but have a number of players, Messi included, still playing themselves back to full fitness. The visitors have been rocked by the news that Gareth Bale will miss months rather than weeks after suffering a serious ankle injury in the Champions League win in Lisbon. Another key loss is Toni Kroos. The midfielder has been a symbol of consistency in the Real midfield but look set to be out until the new year with a hairline fracture of the foot. Alvaro Morata also remains out with an Achilles issue. On a more positive front, Casemiro will once again be available after recently returning from a broken leg.
The stats that matter
- Unsurprisingly this game features La Liga’s two most prolific teams in scoring terms, with Real leading Barca by three goals (36 to 33).
- Defensively, only Villarreal (10) have conceded less frequently than Zidane’s men (11).
- Unsurprisingly again, Cristiano Ronaldo (10) and Lionel Messi (9) lead the list of La Liga’s most prolific marksmen, that despite both players missing games with injuries this term.
- Real’s next two highest scorers this term, Gareth Bale (5) and Alvaro Morata (4) will both miss out through injury. Fortunately, the visitors boast 14 different goalscorers in the league this season, more than any other side. In comparison, only eight different Barcelona players have scored.
- Barcelona have now scored in 21 consecutive El Clasicos – the second best run in the history of the match-up (Real scored in 22 consecutive games between 1959 and 1969).
- Messi is the all-time El Clasico top scorer, with 21 goals. Ronaldo sits third in that list, with 16 goals. In La Liga terms, Messi once again leads the way with 14 goals (equal with Alfredo Di Stefano), while a total of seven players boast more goals than Ronaldo’s eight.
A Real Madrid win seemed much more likely before injuries ruled out both Gareth Bale and Toni Kroos, two of the side’s most consistent performers this term, yet Real have a decent record of late in Barcelona, and the Catalans have been far from their fluent best in La Liga this season. Defensively the home side have been far from solid, and unlike the visitors, have failed to share the goals around the team – relying heavily on their three star forwards. The visitors seem to have a better-balanced squad, and in Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema boast two players with proven El Clasico goalscoring pedigree.
Asian Handicap Real Madrid +0.5 – 2.11 (188Bet)
Total goals Under 3.5 – 1.81 (Marathon Bet)
Anytime goalscorer – Karim Benzema – 3.15 (Unibet / 32Red / 888sport)