So the day has finally arrived. El Clasico MK II is here.
And it’s been a long while since Barcelona and Real Madrid were so close in points terms going into the biggest club match in the world.
Just two points separate these La Liga behemoths, and the result could end up being decisive in the title race.Should the Catalans win an unprecedented fifth straight league game at the Santiago Bernabeu, it would leave Los Blancos five points behind and with games running out.
Should Real emerge victorious, however, they would leapfrog Barca at the top of the table and lead by a point.
So what’s likely to shape the contest? Let’s take a look…
Braithwaite to start
Though his signing for Barcelona has been much maligned, Martin Braithwaite gives the Catalans something they’ve been missing in Luis Suarez’s absence. Physical presence.
The Dane is an intelligent player, and as he showed in his debut cameo, he will work hard and look to disrupt the opposition defence.
Certainly, Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane will have their work cut out in dealing with Braithwaite, which should help the likes of Leo Messi to exploit the spaces left behind.
Pace from Real to unsettle Barca’s back line
If Barca do have an Achilles heel, it’s with their centre of defence.
Though Gerard Pique is excellent in the air and has distribution skills par excellence, time is beginning to weary him in the sense that if he comes up against a player with pace, he’s often floundering.
Ditto Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti, one of whom will be expected to partner Pique at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Though any pace from Real Madrid is likely to come from the flanks in the form of Vinicius Jr. and Gareth Bale, both players are adept at moving inside or getting on the end of balls over the top.
If they’re not contained for the full 90 minutes, Barca will come away with nothing from their trip to the Spanish capital.
Messi to extend his goals record
It’s been a little while since Leo Messi scored in an El Clasico fixture, and whilst he’s always maintained that personal records don’t concern him, the chance to extend his goalscoring record here will surely appeal.
Already the greatest ever scorer the fixture has seen, the likelihood of anyone reaching his mark as it stands is debatable. Were he to add more, the record will stand for decades.
He’s in good form and enjoys playing at the Bernabeu, so another in the goals for column wouldn’t be a surprise.