The most heavily awaited fixture on the La Liga calendar is on Saturday as Barcelona and Real Madrid go head-to-head in the first El Clasico of the 2023/24 season.
Despite lacking several significant first-team stars, Xavi Hernandez’s side made a potentially decisive step towards reaching the Champions League knockout stage after back-to-back group-stage eliminations on Wednesday.
Ferran Torres and Fermin Lopez were on the scoresheet as the injury-plagued reigning Spanish champions squeezed past Shakhtar Donetsk 2-1 at the Estadio Olimpico.
Virtually unplayable on their temporary home ground, the Catalan heavyweights have won all seven competitive games here this term, including a narrow 1-0 triumph over Athletic Bilbao.
If there’s a side capable of knocking Barcelona off their perch, it’s Madrid.
Los Blancos maintained their perfect Champions League start on Tuesday with a 2-1 victory at Sporting Braga, courtesy of another goal from Jude Bellingham.
The 20-year-old has been in red-hot form this season and tops the scoring charts in La Liga with eight goals despite firing a blank in a 1-1 draw at Sevilla last weekend.
Bellingham’s jaw-dropping exploits have massively contributed to Carlo Ancelotti’s team entering this round as the joint-league leaders alongside Girona, albeit only one point clear of third-placed Barcelona.
Madrid suffered a 2-1 defeat in this match-up last term, which swayed the title race in the Catalans’ favour, laying the foundation for their 27th La Liga title, so they’ll be out to settle the score.
Even though they start this matchday below Los Merengues in the standings, Barcelona remain the only La Liga side yet to lose a single match this season (W7, D3).
Like last season, the Blaugrana’s defensive solidity has been off the charts in 2023/24, with Xavi’s lads racking up an eye-catching five clean sheets in seven competitive home outings.
With all due respect to Barca’s capacity to shut out Bilbao, Sevilla and Real Betis, among others, form often counts for nothing in these high-profile derby matches.
Fending off Madrid’s star-studded frontline has proved a formidable task for Barcelona as they’ve conceded an average of 2.5 goals per game in their last four home clashes against eternal rivals.
Dani Carvajal’s late equaliser at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan last Saturday wasn’t enough to extend Madrid’s three-match winning league form beforehand.
It was also the only time Los Blancos failed to score more than once in their last six games across all competitions, a feat they’ve achieved on two of their three most recent top-flight visits to Barcelona.
Even without Karim Benzema, Ancelotti’s men have been prolific in front of goal, netting at least twice in three of their four away matches since a 3-1 loss at Atletico Madrid in late September.
However, Madrid’s defensive performances haven’t been this team’s strong suit, as witnessed by an underwhelming run of one clean sheet across their last five travels.
Barcelona head into Saturday’s derby without numerous prominent absentees, including Jules Kounde, Raphinha, Robert Lewandowski, Pedri, Sergi Roberto and Frenkie de Jong.
The injury crisis in the Madrid camp has recently subsided, but Ancelotti cannot call upon Arda Guler, Eder Militao, Thibaut Courtois, Dani Ceballos and Joselu.
Barcelona potential starting line-up:
(4-3-3): Marc-Andre ter Stegen; Joao Cancelo, Ronald Araujo, Inigo Martinez, Alejandro Balde; Ilkay Gundogan, Oriol Romeu, Fermin Lopez; Joao Felix, Ferran Torres, Lamine Yamal.
Real Madrid potential starting line-up:
(3-4-1-2): Kepa Arrizabalaga; Antonio Rudiger, David Alaba, Dani Carvajal; Eduardo Camavinga, Aurelien Tchouameni, Toni Kroos, Federico Valverde; Jude Bellingham; Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo.
We Say: Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid
Xavi’s injury-hit squad performed reasonably well against Shakhtar, though the Ukrainians’ quality is incomparable to Madrid.
Ancelotti’s side have hit their stride since losing the Madrid derby, and we expect them to take advantage of Barcelona’s shortcomings to avenge last season’s defeat.
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