December 2, 2022

Real Madrid will welcome arch-rivals Barcelona to the Santiago Bernabeu for the first El Clasico of the 2022/23 season.

One of football’s most anticipated fixtures, no love will be lost between the sides this Sunday as they line up for the 185th edition of the matchup.

Both Real and Barcelona might be lacking the big names of old but no quarter will be given in a tie that produced some breathtaking moments in history.

Both clubs are also the only unbeaten teams in the Spanish top flight this season. They are tied on points at the top of the table with the Catalans just ahead based on goal difference.

Carlo Ancelotti’s defending champions know they cannot drop any points on the night and will be hoping that home advantage can flip the result in their favour.

Real are coming off the back of a 1-1 draw against Shakhtar Donetsk. Despite being primed to qualify for the last 16, Carlo Ancelotti was unhappy with his team’s performance and there is no better opportunity than the El Clasico to make a point.

Barcelona go into the game on the back of a 3-3 draw against Inter Milan at the Camp Nou. Unlike Real, the Catalans could struggle to make it out of their group in the Champions League.

It is fair to say that both managers will be keen to go for the win and shake off the bitter taste of disappointment from midweek.

With just eight games played so far, the La Liga title will not be won this weekend. However, getting one over their arch-rivals will give either side more than just bragging rights.

It could very well also hand them the psychological edge to see through what could be a tightly fought title race.

The Hard Tackle looks at how both sides could line up on the night and what tactics they might employ.

Team News & Tactics

Real Madrid

The defending champions will be without last season’s UEFA Champions League final hero Thibaut Courtois. The Belgian is nursing a muscle injury and will miss out. Dani Ceballos is also ruled out.

Summer signing Antonio Rudiger was the hero against Shakhtar, drawing his side level in the fifth minute of stoppage time. He is nursing a head injury and despite being included in the travelling squad, is unlikely to start the game.

Ancelotti has an otherwise fully-fit squad to choose from and is likely to go with a 4-3-3 formation that is freely flexible. Andriy Lunin will start in goal behind a back four of Daniel Carvajal, Eder Militao, David Alaba and Ferland Mendy.

Aurelien Tchouameni will start in central midfield and will be tasked with his ability to shield the defence. The all-action Frenchman will be accompanied by the veteran duo of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.

The latter duo’s presence will be key, giving Tchouameni the freedom to play to his strengths and not let the occasion get to him.

Kroos and Modric’s ability to carry the ball forward could also wreak havoc in the Catalan defence. With Benzema available to run into channels, Real should craft several goalscoring opportunities.

Karim Benzema will continue up front and will be partnered with Vinicius Junior and Federico Valverde on the flanks. The Uruguayan can also drop into midfield and aim to cut out passing routes for the Barcelona players.

Having the extra person in the middle of the park could disturb Barcelona’s rhythm and help the home side retain possession.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Lunin; Carvajal, Militao, Alaba, Mendy; Kroos, Tchouameni, Modric, Valverde, Benzema, Vinicus Junior

Barcelona

For all of their defensive solidity in La Liga, Barcelona have been carved open regularly in the UEFA Champions League. To put it into perspective, Xavi Hernandez’s men have the 21st-best defence in the competition this season.

Despite securing 22 points from their first eight games in the league, one could argue that Barcelona struggled against elite opposition.

Real Madrid will be the first top side they will face in La Liga this season and will give Barcelona a clear idea of where they stand.

A major reason for the Catalan side’s weakness in Europe is their porous defence. Gerard Pique is not the player he once was and is slow on the turn. While he could make way for Jules Kounde, the Frenchman’s lack of match fitness could see him struggle.

A key member of Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola’s sides, Xavi is well aware of the importance of retaining possession. This could be his undoing as Barcelona lacks experience in the middle of the park.

The trio of Sergio Busquets, Pedri and Gavi are all products of La Masia and know full well what the picture means to the club and their fans. However they could struggle to keep Kroos and Modric, two wily customers quiet.

Another option would be to start Frenkie De Jong over Pedri, but the Dutchman hasn’t really enjoyed much playtime this season. It will come as a surprise should Savi throw him on for the titanic clash.

Barcelona are also likely to set up in a 4-3-3 formation. Memphis Depay, Hector Bellerin, Ronald Araujo and Andreas Christensen are all out injured, giving Xavi something to think about. Thankfully it is not all bad news as Kounde is deemed fit to feature.

Marc-Andre Ter Stegen will start in goal behind the back four of Sergi Roberto, Jules Kounde, Eric Garcia and Alejandro Balde. The backline is far from first-choice and could struggle against Real’s attacking trio.

Sergio Busquets should start as the defensive lynchpin in midfield alongside youngsters Pedri and Gavi. Ousmane Dembele is likely to start out wide on the left with Ansu Fati occupying the other flank.

Robert Lewandowski will lead the line for the Blaugrana and will represent Barcelona’s biggest attacking threat in the game.

Barcelona could also bring on Raphinha off the branch in the second half to put added pressure on the Los Blancos defence.

Meanwhile, at the other end, Barcelona will need to keep a tight leash on Vinicius Junior who has the knack to give his marker the slip and score some important goals.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Roberto, Kounde, Garcia, Balde; Gavi, Busquets, Pedri; Fati, Lewandowski, Dembele

Key Stats

With 184 matches between the sides, the El Clasico is the most played fixture in La Liga history. Real Madrid have won 76 matches while Barcelona have come out on top 73 times.

Real Madrid have won five of their last six matches against Barcelona.

A win on the night will see Barcelona win consecutive El Clasicos for the first time since 2019.

A clean sheet will see Barcelona keep consecutive shutouts against Real Madrid for the first time since 2009.

Real Madrid have won seven of their opening eight games in La Liga this season. This is their best start to a league campaign since the 1992/93 campaign.

Barcelona have conceded just one goal from their opening eight La Liga games this season. This is the second-best defensive record of any side ever in La Liga at this stage.

(Jointly held by Deportivo La Coruna in 1993/94 and Real Madrid in 1997/98)

Barcelona have the best attack in La Liga this season, scoring 20 goals so far. Real Madrid have the second-best attack with 19 strikes.

Player to Watch

Robert Lewandowski

The Polish superstar is used to finding the back of the net against Real Madrid and has a decent record against them. Lewandowski has faced off against Los Blancos eight times, scoring six goals and assisting once in that time.

He is arguably the best number nine in world football and is clinical to say the least. The ability to come out on top in clutch situations was clear midweek when he took two late half-chances to score for Barcelona.

Also blessed with intelligence, the Polish star is a difficult player to pin down and will make life difficult for the Real defence.

Should the game be a tight affair, the result could be decided by the smallest of margins. Lewandowski has few peers who can thrive in a similar situation. As long as Barcelona can provide their striker with opportunities, the Real defence will need to be on their toes.

Prediction

Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona

Both teams are yet to hit the stride this season and are coming off energy-zapping midweek duels. Real does have the luxury of another day of rest and are also playing at home on Sunday. More so, they have the advantage when it comes to the experience in the middle of the park.

Barcelona for all of their performances this season have failed to step it up against top-level opponents. It could be more of the same at the Bernabeu on Sunday, with Real Madrid narrowly edging it by a goal.

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