Estadio Santiago Bernabeu hosts the 252nd El Clasico as the two top teams in football today face off in the first leg of a mammoth Copa del Rey semi-final tie on Thursday.
Both sides dropped points going into this meeting, with Real Madrid fighting back late to hold Atletico Madrid to a 1-1 home draw on Saturday and Barcelona succumbing to a shock 1-0 loss at Almeria the following day.
While the Catalans’ sub-par performance at Juegos Mediterraneos led to the Andalusians’ historic H2H win, Los Merengues must feel like they wasted a huge opportunity to blow the La Liga title race wide open again.
Despite having a man up for most of the second half after the expulsion of Angel Correa, Carlo Ancelotti’s side had to thank the debutant Alvaro Rodriguez’s late header for grabbing a point against bitter cross-town rivals.
A seven-point gap between arch-rivals puts Barcelona in the driver’s seat to land the title for the first time since 2018/19, but after years of suffering, Xavi Hernandez’s men want more.
The Blaugrana already pipped Madrid to the Supercopa de Espana crown in a Saudi Arabia-held showpiece in January, strolling to an overwhelming 3-1 victory at the King Fahd International Stadium.
It was a fitting way to avenge an identical league defeat in October as they now look to cut off Madrid’s Copa del Rey title defence at the knees, seeking their first triumph in the competition since 2020/21.
Despite barely helping them whittle down the gap on Barcelona, Madrid’s derby draw against Atletico extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to six games (W5, D1).
During that streak, Los Blancos became the FIFA Club World Cup winners for a record-extending fifth time, courtesy of a 5-3 romping of Al-Hilal, before thumping Liverpool 5-2 at Anfield in the Champions League.
With confidence streaming to Madrid’s veins again after a patchy opening to the new calendar year, the continuation of their flawless competitive home record in 2022/23 looks almost inevitable (W11, D4).
But if there’s a side able to take down the fortress that is the Bernabeu, it’s Barcelona, never mind their weekend collapse at Almeria, though a growing injury crisis in the Spotify Camp Nou suggests otherwise.
In addition to long-term absentee Ousmane Dembele, star first-team players Pedri and Robert Lewandowski won’t be at Xavi’s disposal on Thursday, casting doubt on Barca’s bid to recreate last season’s 4-0 destruction of Madrid in the capital.
Lewandowski’s muscle problem comes at the worst possible moment for Barcelona, who, after exiting the Europa League at the hands of Manchester United, failed to stem the bleeding on Sunday, suffering a first-ever defeat to Almeria.
Real Madrid vs Barcelona Potential Line-ups
Real Madrid (4-3-3): Thibaut Courtois; Dani Carvajal, Eder Militao, Antonio Rudiger, Nacho Fernandez; Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Federico Valverde; Marco Asensio, Karim Benzema, Vinicius Junior.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Marc-Andre ter Stegen; Sergi Roberto, Ronald Araujo, Andres Christensen, Jordi Alba; Franck Kessie, Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong; Gavi, Ferran Torres, Raphinha.
Real Madrid vs Barcelona Prediction
Without a leading playmaker in Pedri and a chief source of goals in Lewandowski, you’d assume Barcelona wouldn’t stand a chance in Madrid.
However, Los Blancos’ recent showings – except for a goalscoring parade at Anfield – lacked conviction, so even against the injury-hit Blaugrana, it’s hard to expect a one-sided affair.
We expect Ancelotti’s side to carry a narrow lead into the return leg, although the visitors should have enough quality to get on the scoresheet even without their talismanic figures.
Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona
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