Real Madrid v Barcelona: Everything you need to know about today's El Clasico
Real Madrid go into the first Clasico of the season 11 points adrift of table-toppers Barcelona, albeit with a game in hand.
Losses to Real Betis and surprise package Girona as well as a host of draws have seen Los Blancos slip into fourth place in the table and in danger of conceding the title before the midway point of the season.
Barcelona are unbeaten in the league, winning 13 of their 16 games played. The Catalan club beat Deportivo de La Coruña 4-0 last time out with braces from Paulinho and Luis Suarez. The appointment of Ernesto Valverde as manager has seen a new emphasis placed on defensive solidity; an aspect of the game not necessarily associated with Barcelona. Valverde’s approach is working though, with his side boasting the best defensive record in the league, and with the best defensive record away from home in Europe’s top five leagues.
Zinedine Zidane, in contrast, is coming under increasing pressure from a frustrated Galactico fanbase. Trigger-happy club President, Florentino Perez, requires little temptation to fire those beneath him and recent goalless draws against Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid have done little to ease his undoubted unrest. Goals for Madrid have come in short supply this year for forwards Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and, when fit, Gareth Bale, with eight goals between them.
Zidane is boosted by the return of centre-back Raphael Varane who has overcome a muscle problem. Gareth Bale, maligned by injuries since signing for Madrid, is also available scoring at the Club World Cup last week. Ronaldo has missed training this week but is available and will want to add to his 17 goals against Barcelona.
Barcelona remain without long-term absentee’s Samuel Umtiti and Ousmane Dembele. Paco Alcacer and Gerard Deulofeu are both sidelined after picking up injuries last weekend.
What time does it start?
Real Madrid vs Barcelona is at 12:00pm on Saturday 23rd December.
Where can I watch it?
The game will be on Sky Sports Football with coverage starting at 11:30am.
It’s a big game for…
Gareth Bale. Frustrated by injury, having made only 12 appearances this season for Los Blancos, the Welshman is set to return for Madrid. Bale’s absence through various injuries has caused unrest amongst fans, with Spain international Isco taking his place in the side.
Despite struggling for fitness since moving to Real, Bale still possesses a strike rate better than a goal every two games, but the Madrid faithful lack patience and with an abundance of attacking riches at the club, want to see consistent performances. Bale must stay fit or he could face being moved on by the club to fund summer spending.
Real Madrid can become the first team to score 400 goals in the fixture if they score on Saturday, currently with 399 goals to Barcelona’s 384.
Player to watch…
Lionel Messi. Top scorer in La Liga with 14 goals and directly involved in 19, the diminutive Argentinian has been in excellent form, scoring and assisting two in his previous four games. His record in El Clasico, 24 goals in 36 appearances, speaks for itself.
Previous three La Liga meetings…
Real Madrid 2 Barcelona 3, La Liga, 23rd April 2017
Barcelona 1 Real Madrid 1, La Liga, 3rd December 2016
Barcelona 1 Real Madrid 2, La Liga, 2nd April 2016
Real Madrid WDWDW
Real Madrid 11/10
Independent News Service