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Preview: Barcelona vs Real Madrid – prediction, team news, line-ups

Spotify Camp Nou forms the backdrop for the latest edition of the famous ‘El Clasico’ as Barcelona and Real Madrid face each other in a top-table La Liga six-pointer on Sunday night. 

Without the distraction of European football for the rest of the season after bowing out to Manchester United in the Europa League knockout play-off round, Xavi Hernandez’s men have solidified their domestic title pursuit. 

After firing his side to a narrow home win over Valencia a fortnight ago, Raphinha was decisive again last weekend, netting on the brink of half-time to fire Barcelona to a 1-0 triumph at Athletic Bilbao.

Madrid overhauled an early 1-0 deficit in an overwhelming 3-1 home victory over Espanyol before defeating Liverpool 1-0 in midweek Champions League action to seal a quarter-final berth. 

Both sides head into proceedings amid decent spells of form, with Los Merengues aiming to whittle down a substantial nine-point gap with a third successive league win at Camp Nou.

Match Preview

Barcelona boast a flawless home league record in 2023, having won all four matches without conceding, which has been the case in each of their ten top-flight triumphs at Camp Nou this season.

Xavi has turned the Blaugrana into a formidable defensive unit, with Joselu’s penalty in a 1-1 draw against Espanyol in December remaining the only league goal the Catalans have conceded at home.

Barca’s defensive prowess has been off the charts. In addition to keeping a league-high 19 clean sheets in the opening 25 rounds, they’ve conceded only eight times, setting an unprecedented feat in La Liga history.

They will have to rely on their rock-solid backline to deliver the goods again, considering the frontline has performed below expectations lately, netting one goal or fewer in five consecutive games in the build-up to this clash.

Despite losing five of their last six meetings with Madrid in La Liga (W1), including two in a row at home, Barcelona dispatched their arch-rivals twice since the calendar year flipped to 2023.

Inspired by Robert Lewandowski, they thrashed Carlo Ancelotti’s side 3-1 in January’s Supercopa de Espana final before picking up a 1-0 win in the first leg of their Copa de Espana semi-final tie earlier in March. 

However, the Catalan heavyweights stare down the barrel of three consecutive H2H home league defeats for only the second time in history, last experiencing that feat in 1965.

Recreating a piece of history is a necessity for Madrid, who, despite going unbeaten in their last five league matches (W3, D2), have a mountain to climb if they’re to defend the title. 

Ancelotti’s men have blown hot and cold five La Liga outings away from home in 2023 (W2, D1, L2), but back-to-back shutouts in the run-up to this trip can encourage their bid to stun Camp Nou again.

Unlike their hosts, Los Merengues have relied on their star-studded attack to do the heavy lifting, with last weekend’s triumph over Espanyol seeing Madrid become the first side in La Liga to hit a 50-goal landmark this season.

That said, they have failed to get on the scoresheet in two of their last three away league games, including a gut-wrenching 0-0 draw at Real Betis on their most recent travel.

Even those scoring blanks don’t change the fact Los Blancos are the only team in La Liga to have smashed double-digit figures in terms of away goals scored in either half of play. 

It’s also worth noting that they’ve drawn a blank only once on their last 12 top-flight visits to Barcelona, bagging at least two goals on the most recent two, highlighting the optimism in Ancelotti’s camp. 

La Liga Form

Team News

Barcelona will be without long-term absentee Ousmane Dembele, who has yet to overcome a muscular problem. But Xavi will be more concerned about Pedri’s unavailability. 

The Spanish whizz-kid is still in the treatment room with a thigh injury, which will likely open up space for Frenkie de Jong to register another league start. 

Barcelona will welcome high-performing defender Ronald Araujo back from suspension as the Uruguayan served a one-game ban against Bilbao last weekend. 

Araujo will face a challenging match-up against Madrid speed demon Vinicius Junior, who delivered an assist to Karim Benzema in the Champions League win over Liverpool on Wednesday.

However, the current Ballon d’Or holder was seemingly in discomfort in the late stages of that match, casting doubt on his fitness after struggling with recurring injury problems in 2023.

While Ancelotti should have his talismanic striker ready to take the field, he’ll likely have to deploy Eduardo Camavinga as a makeshift left-back again due to David Alaba’s muscular issue. 

The Italian tactician has lost faith in French star Ferland Mendy following an underwhelming first half of the season, making Camavinga his first-choice left-back in Alaba’s absence this calendar year. 

Madrid won’t have any injury concerns higher up the pitch, with Federico Valverde likely to complement the attacking trio alongside Vinicius and Benzema. 

Barcelona potential starting line-up:

(4-3-3): Marc-Andre ter Stegen; Alejandro Balde, Andreas Christensen, Ronald Araujo, Jules Kounde; Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong, Gavi; Raphinha, Ferran Torres, Robert Lewandowski.

Real Madrid potential starting line-up:

(4-3-3): Thibaut Courtois; Dani Carvajal, Eder Militao, Nacho Fernandez, Eduardo Camavinga; Luka Modric, Aurelien Tchouameni, Toni Kroos; Federico Valverde, Vinicius Junior, Karim Benzema.

We Say: Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid

Barcelona’s defensive resilience has squeezed them past sub-par opponents in recent weeks, but their attacking shortcomings could haunt them against a team of Madrid’s stature. 

As witnessed by their Europa League exit to Man United, staying strong at the back is not enough to overcome top clubs, a lesson Xavi had to learn the hard way. 

It’s not like Los Merengues are playing their best football. But their free-scoring performance at Anfield served as a reminder of their prolificacy and certain psychological fortitude in high-octane games. 

Ancelotti’s men must win to remain relevant in the title race, and there’s a feeling they deserved more in the abovementioned Copa del Rey loss at home, a result they’ll be looking to avenge on Sunday. 

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