One of the biggest fixtures on the football calendar will take place at Bernabeu on Sunday afternoon, with Real Madrid welcoming bitter rivals Barcelona for the latest instalment of El Clasico.
Both teams have collected 22 points from their opening eight matches of the 2022-23 La Liga season, with Barcelona at the head of the table due to their superior goal difference.
Real Madrid proved to be far too strong for Barcelona and indeed the rest of the competition in La Liga last term, ultimately finishing 13 points clear of the Catalan giants at the summit, but it does appear that this season’s title race will be a lot closer.
Carlo Ancelotti‘s side have won seven and drawn one of their eight league matches this season to collect 22 points, but the total is not enough to sit at the top of the table, which is an indication of the level that will be required to finish at the summit in 2022-23.
Real Madrid’s only dropped points came at home to Osasuna on October 2, and they managed to return to winning ways in the league last weekend, recording a 1-0 victory over Getafe, before drawing 1-1 with Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on Tuesday night.
Ancelotti admitted after the match that he was disappointed with his team’s display in the European affair, but the point was enough for the reigning European champions to book their spot in the knockout round of the competition with two games to spare.
Real Madrid will play another five times before the end of the month, facing Barcelona, Elche, Sevilla and Girona in Spain’s top flight, in addition to a trip to Germany to take on RB Leipzig in the Champions League.
Los Blancos have won four of their last five league games against Barcelona, but they suffered a 4-0 defeat to their bitter rivals in the corresponding fixture at Bernabeu last season.
While Real Madrid have comfortably progressed to the knockout round of the Champions League, Barcelona face a serious fight to avoid failing to qualify for the last-16 for the second year in a row.
The Catalan outfit’s 3-3 draw with Inter Milan on Wednesday night left them third in Group C, three points behind second-placed Inter, who only need to beat Viktoria Plzen at home next time out to ensure that they qualify for the knockout round alongside Bayern Munich.
Barcelona’s Champions League form has been disappointing, but they have been perfect in the league since opening their 2022-23 campaign with an underwhelming goalless draw with Rayo Vallecano.
Xavi‘s side have been victorious in each of their last seven league fixtures against Real Sociedad, Rayo Vallecano, Sevilla, Cadiz, Elche, Mallorca and Celta Vigo, and they have scored 20 goals and conceded just once during an excellent start to their domestic campaign.
Barcelona have not actually won La Liga since the 2018-19 campaign, which is incredible considering their recent success, and it might well be that their full focus goes on the league if they are unable to book their spot in the next round of the Champions League.
The league title will not be won or lost this weekend, but a victory for either team would leave them full of confidence at a relatively early stage of the campaign.
Real Madrid will again definitely be without the services of Dani Ceballos due to a hamstring injury, while Thibaut Courtois has lost his battle to overcome a back problem in time for El Clasico.
As a result, Andriy Lunin is set to continue between the sticks, while Antonio Rudiger is fit despite suffering a nasty head injury when scoring his side’s leveller against Shakhtar in the Champions League.
Real Madrid will not be at full strength due to the absence of Courtois, but there are not expected to be any surprises in terms of the 10 outfield players, with Federico Valverde set to again feature off the right of a front three.
Eder Militao is set to get the nod over Rudiger to start alongside David Alaba, while Real Madrid’s first-choice midfield of Luka Modric, Aurelien Tchouameni and Toni Kroos should take to the field.
As for Barcelona, Jules Kounde is expected to make a timely return from injury for the Catalan side, with the Frenchman set to line up in the middle of the defence alongside Eric Garcia, replacing Gerard Pique in the process.
Memphis Depay, Hector Bellerin, Ronald Araujo and Andreas Christensen remain on the sidelines through injury, but Xavi’s side have no fresh fitness concerns for the contest.
Alejandro Balde could come into the side at left-back, while Ansu Fati might get the nod over Raphinha to start alongside Ousmane Dembele and Robert Lewandowski in attack.
Frenkie de Jong is an option for change in the middle of midfield, but it seems likely that Sergio Busquets will again be joined by youngsters Gavi and Pedri in a midfield three.
Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Lunin; Carvajal, Militao, Alaba, Mendy; Modric, Tchouameni, Kroos; Valverde, Benzema, Vinicius
Barcelona possible starting lineup:
Ter Stegen; Roberto, Kounde, E Garcia, Balde; Gavi, Busquets, Pedri; Dembele, Lewandowski, Fati
Real Madrid will have had an extra day of recovery ahead of this match, which could be crucial, and Barcelona were involved in an energy-zapping contest with Inter during the week. Xavi’s side are difficult to back against in the league at the moment, though, and we have a feeling that a tight match could end with the spoils being shared, which both managers would likely accept if that were offered ahead of kickoff.
For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.