One of the biggest sporting rivalries in the world, one which has long crossed the sporting dimensions and stems from a rich history of political animosity between two football clubs and their regional as well as global fanbase, the latest edition of the El Clásico comes just two days after a meeting between these two clubs in the Copa del Rey.
Barcelona won the midweek fixture 3-0 in a humiliating defeat for Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu to secure a berth in the final of the Copa Del Rey, but as has always been the case with encounters between these two rivals, the game was so much more than what the scoreline suggested.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane's departures combined with Real Madrid's fumbling fortunes in the league this season may have taken away a bit of sheen off this glamorous fixture but the enthusiasm of the supporters, as well as the nostalgia surrounding the Clásico, is bound to make it an enthralling contest.
Barcelona have established a healthy lead at the top of the LaLiga table with 57 points, seven points ahead of the second-placed Atletico Madrid while Real Madrid are in third position, trailing Diego Simeone's side by two points. Real Madrid's poor form combined with injuries and decline of certain key players like Isco and Gareth Bale under current manager Santiago Solari has tilted the balance in favour of Barcelona.
Lionel Messi's consistent excellence may have been the crucial difference between these two sides in the league this season, but Barcelona's dominance can also be credited to Ernesto Valverde's tactical ingenuity and his ability to outsmart his opposition counterparts. For instance, in the midweek fixture, Valverde's decision to start Sergi Roberto in the midfield in Arthur's absence played a huge role in the eventual victory but more so in containing Vinicius Junior tormented Nelson Semedo in the first half.
Real Madrid's troubles have got to do a lot with their wastefulness in the penalty area, as evidenced during their close 2-1 win over Levante last week and in the midweek defeat in the cup competition. For a club which was adept at finding goals from a variety of midfield and forward positions, the drought has been exhausting yet not a surprise.
The fact that Real Madrid has stagnated in terms of their form as well as their playing style this season is a barely concealed fact, but Solari remains confident that his team are not underdogs for this massive fixture.
"We're back on our feet, wanting to pick up more points. The fixture list and destiny wanted us to be up against the same opponents, again the big Clásico of Spanish football. We're going into it with the same desire and the same spirit as in the previous match, trying to improve the things we must improve and to sustain the things we did well," Solari said during the pre-match press conference.
"We have to always think about the next game, regardless of whether it's LaLiga Clásico. The next game is always the most important. It's what the players are focussed on," the Real Madrid manager said.
Real Madrid's ambitions and current momentum may be in doubt, but Barcelona has been soaring on all fronts. Luis Suarez's return to goals and Ousmane Dembele's adaptation to Barcelona's system bode really well for the club challenging on multiple fronts. A win tonight will all but seal the title for Valverde's side, any other result as unlikely as it seems may give Real Madrid's flagging titular aspirations a timely boost.
"It's difficult to repeat a result against the same opponent, but we will try to win because the league demands it. When you win, you gain confidence, but when you lose you want to reverse that, so it will be a tough match," Valverde declared.
The rich history of El Clásico combined with Real Madrid's recent dominance in Europe has convoluted the story as Barcelona has held the upper hand in every game this season. Tactically, the visitors have been superior in all aspects, but the Bernabeu atmosphere will play a role, especially with Real Madrid hungry to avenge their midweek loss. The onus will be solely on the Madridistas as they try to find their feet again in a league which is constantly evolving, yet getting dominated by Barcelona.
Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.
Updated Date: Mar 02, 2019 17:02:15 IST