In a LaLiga special Matthew Connell and Andre Dixon Preview the El Clasico with LaLiga’s Semra Hunter and Andrea Orlandi
A winner in Saturday’s eagerly awaited LaLiga Santander ElClasico between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona will go temporarily top of the Spanish league table just as the season reaches its conclusive stages. Both Real Madrid and Barcelona go into the game at the Estadio Alfredo di Stefano in outstanding form – with neither having lost a LaLiga game since mid-January.
Atletico de Madrid have topped LaLiga’s standings through recent months, but Diego Simeone’s side have stumbled lately, including their 0-1 defeat at Sevilla last weekend. This allowed Barça to draw within a single point of them at the top by beating Real Valladolid 1-0 on Monday evening at the Camp Nou. Ronald Koeman’s team have now won 16 and drawn three of their last 19 LaLiga games.
Blaugrana captain Lionel Messi has hit top form during that run, and now has 23 goals and 8 assists in his 26 LaLiga appearances in 2020-21. Messi has accelerated since the winter break, with 16 of those goals coming since January 1. The Argentine has a (record) 18 goals and (also record) 9 assists in 28 career LaLiga ElClasicos – although his last strike in the fixture came back in 2018.
Ousmane Dembele was Barça’s match-winner against Valladolid, with a fine late strike for his fifth LaLiga goal of the season. 18 different blaugrana players have scored in LaLiga already this season, including US international Sergiño Dest who hit a double in the recent 6-1 win at Real Sociedad.
Real Madrid sit three points back in third spot, with last weekend’s 2-0 win at home to SD Eibar making it nine wins and two draws in their last 11 LaLiga games, as Zinedine Zidane’s reigning champions have shifted into top gear.
Karim Benzema comes into the game in the form of his career – with the French striker having scored eight goals in his last six LaLiga games to move to 18 in total for the season. Midfielder Casemiro has also been hugely influential – with five goals and two assists so far – including an excellent set-up for in-form Marco Asensio’s opener against Elche CF last weekend. Asensio and Vinicius Junior (twice) scored in Madrid’s 3-1 Champions League quarter-final first leg win over Liverpool at the Alfredo di Stefano on Tuesday evening.
Both coaches have had to deal with significant injury challenges all through the 2020-21 campaign. Zidane will again be without defenders Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal on Saturday, while Raphael Varane misses out due to COVID 19, but midfielder Fede Valverde and attacker Eden Hazard could return. Koeman is hopeful of welcoming back the versatile Sergi Roberto and centre-back Gerard Pique for ElClasico, although Philippe Coutinho and Ansu Fati remain long-term absentees.
Real Madrid have won the last two LaLiga ElClasicos – 3-1 at the Camp Nou last October, and 2-0 at the Bernabeu last season, ending a run of four Barça LaLiga victories at that stadium. Los Blancos now lead the historical head to head record by 74 to 72, with 35 draws since the fixture was first played in 1929-30. Returning Barça president Joan Laporta has often enjoyed ElClasico – with the Catalan team winning seven and drawing two of 14 ElClasico meetings during Laporta’s first term in charge.
COVID restrictions mean that no fans will attend Saturday’s game will be the first ever LaLiga ElClasico played at the tidy 6,000-seater stadium at the Real Madrid City training ground, Zidane’s side’s temporary home while their Estadio Santiago Bernabeu is being renovated. But hundreds of millions of supporters around the world will tune into the state-of-the-art TV coverage of domestic club football’s most watched fixture. As usual, there is so much to play for in LaLiga’s ElClasico.