Real Madrid 2.30, draw 3.70, Barcelona 3.00 – Saturday 17.00 GMT
Even for a clasico this is hard to call.
Real Madrid have won all of their last eight games in all competitions, scoring 35 goals and conceding five. But Barcelona come into the game four points ahead of Los Blancos in the Primera Division table, having started the season going a club record eight games without conceding a goal.
The home side’s talisman Cristiano Ronaldo is in amazing form, with 18 goals in 10 Champions League and La Liga games so far. New galacticos James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos have settled well, while Gareth Bale’s absence through injury is seen as a positive by many pundits given the excellent form of Isco deeper in midfield.
“We're in good form and in good shape, focused and playing really well,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said after Wednesday’s comprehensive 3-0 Champions League group win at Liverpool. “We go into the ‘clasico’ in great shape."
Ancelotti also warned that Barca were in equally good form, and he had a point. Luis Enrique’s team have seven wins and a draw in La Liga so far. Up front Lionel Messi and Neymar are both flying too - the Brazilian with 10 goals in his last 10 games, the Argentine with nine goals and 10 assists over that period.
“It’s hard to predict what we’ll happen on Saturday, often these games all come down to little details,” Blaugrana midfielder Andres Iniesta says of the game. “There is a lot of quality in both teams and it could go either way. We’re just thinking about playing well, winning and stretching our lead in the table.”
While the two sides have looked good recently, it’s worth pointing out that many of these wins, goals and clean sheets have come on flat-tracks - including arguably Madrid’s win at Anfield this week. And both teams have actually lost their most difficult games so far this season.
Barca’s defence did not look too solid when they were beaten 3-2 at Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League. Ronaldo could do little up top as Madrid’s new-look midfield was comprehensively outplayed when Atletico Madrid won 2-1 at the Bernabeu in La Liga.
Both coaches had excuses for those defeats - Luis Enrique blamed individual Barca errors in Paris, Carlo Ancelotti said his side started the season slowly due to a short pre-season. But those performances are still worth bearing in mind.
The evidence from past clasicos is also mixed. Towards the end of Jose Mourinho’s time at Madrid his team appeared to have gained the upper hand by out-battling Barca, but Ancelotti’s current team with Luka Modric, Kroos and Isco in midfield is not really set-up to do that.
Last season Barca won both La Liga games - and were much the better team as Messi scored a hat-trick in the 4-3 win at the Bernabeu in March. However Madrid then deservedly won the Copa del Rey final a few weeks later, as Bale’s sprint from halfway decided things late on. Ronaldo missed that game injured, allowing Ancelotti to play an extra body in midfield, as he will again on Saturday.
Through recent years there’s often been plenty of goals in clasicos – over 2.5 in 14 of the last 15 clasicos – something which the oddsmakers have taken into account for this weekend. There’s also been very few draws - just two of the last 12 meetings have finished all square. Away wins are also perhaps surprisingly common, with Barca having won three of the last six at the Bernabeu, and Madrid two of last five at Camp Nou.
So - as Iniesta said - it’s really difficult to call, and little details will likely be decisive. Such as whether Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets or Sergio Ramos are fit and ready to start. Or how clasico debutants including Claudio Bravo, Jeremy Mathieu, Ivan Rakitic and James Rodriguez deal with the occasion., and how Luis Enrique will handle his first clasico as coach in front of fans who have never forgiven his defection to Barca as a player.
All in all there’s more doubts over Barca, just about, especially in defence [despite the clean sheet record]. So Madrid to shade it. Just about. Perhaps. Maybe.
Prediction: 2-1 to Madrid at 9.00
Best bet: Madrid to win at 2.30
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