It is that time of the season in which Real Madrid and Barcelona meet for the first time in La Liga and the stakes are high already. With both teams once again in the first two spots, there is no better chance for Madrid to catch up or for Barcelona to open a wider gap.
The home side recently fell against Sevilla, losing an ten-game unbeaten streak and the lead of the league. Now with 24 points in eleven games, they are three behind FC Barcelona. At this point of the season, last year, it was Madrid who was still leading the competition.
Real Madrid will host a side that is ready for business with or without their star Lionel Messi. The Catalan side has only lost one game without the Argentinian sensation. Besides that, Neyamar and Luis Suarez have helped the team win in Messi’s absence.
Neymar Jr. will be walking into the Santiago Bernabeu with 11 goals and as the leading scorer of the Spanish competition. He is followed by Luis Suarez with nine and Cristiano Ronaldo is further down the line with eight. Between Messi, Suarez and Neymar they have scored 23 out of Barcelona’s 25 goals.
Offense vs Defense
It is the Catalan defense that may have Luis Enrique concerned at the beginning of this year. In only 11 games, they have already received 12 goals. That means they have averaged more than one goal per game so far. At this pace, they will finish with a worst record compared to last season (21 GA in 38 GP).
Meanwhile, Madrid’s backline has been pretty solid with Keylor Navas in charge. The Costa Rican stopper has only allowed three goals in 13 games combining La Liga and the Champions League. Without Navas, the team suffered a 3-2 defeat against Sevilla, which relegated them to second place in La Liga. Meanwhile, they still have the best offense in the league with 26 goals so far.
Kiko Casilla has had difficulties with the pressure that comes of being a goalkeeper for Los Merengues. Meanwhile, Navas had to wait in the bench almost in every game last season watching Iker Casillas take the starting job. Now, with Navas struggling to recover from a hamstring injury, Madrid fans may hope he is the one to guard the net on Saturday.
In Barcelona, they are happy that Ivan Rakitic should be available for El Clasico. Messi seems to be on the right path to be back after a close to two-month absence. Rafinha and Douglas still have a long recovery process before they can be considered elegible to play.
Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and Isco, who had been working separately and dealing with injuries in the past few days, got to work with the team on Tuesday’s practice. All three did not have to report with their national teams during the international break so they could recover from their injuries.
Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo
Lionel Messi started the week by training with Barcelona’s B squad but already underwent a full practice with the first team on Tuesday. The Argentinian striker has played in six games this season, missing the last five with a knee injury. Sevilla has been the only team able to defeat Barecelona Messi-less.
Cristiano Ronaldo was expected to take full advantage of Messi’s absence to climb up in the goal-scoring charts but has not been able to do so successfully. In the five games that Madrid has played during the absence of the Argentinian player, Ronaldo has only scored three goals and provided one assist.
For Luis Enrique, this will be his third El Clasico and for Rafa Benitez, his first as the head coach for Real Madrid. Lucho has a record of one win and one loss against Los Blancos and Benitez can’t think about anything else rather than winning this game if he does not want more pressure moving forward.