Pressing questions that may decide Sunday's Clasico


We’re little greater than 24 hours away from a Clasico that stands to have appreciable implications on this season’s LaLiga title race. Barcelona lead Actual Madrid by 9 factors within the desk and have gained the previous two conferences between the edges, and a 3rd straight victory would all however wrap up the league title for the Catalan membership.

On the again of a formidable Champions League last-16 win over Liverpool, although, there’s each motive to recommend that Madrid are starting to hit their stride on the marketing campaign’s inflection level. They’re Spain‘s defending home champions and gained the October assembly between the golf equipment in convincing vogue.

What must you count on when the 2 well-known rivals line up on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, stream stay on ESPN+)? ESPN’s Barcelona and Madrid correspondents Sam Marsden and Alex Kirkland lay out the most important storylines forward of the match and make their predictions.

How related is the previous Clasico, and the way can Madrid change the result?

Barcelona’s 1-0 win on the Santiago Bernabeu within the Copa del Rey semifinal first leg on March 2 wasn’t an entire fluke — though their objective, Franck Kessie‘s shot hitting the web by way of Thibaut Courtois‘ save and Eder Militao’s unwitting deflection, positively was — however it was uncommon. Madrid “dominated” the sport, within the phrases of Courtois. Barcelona had a traditionally low 35.4% possession, compelled to take a seat again and defend deep. Madrid had 13 photographs to Barca’s 4. The distinction in xG, or anticipated objectives, was minimal: 0.57 for Madrid and 0.63 for Barca. Madrid’s downside was the ultimate ball and creating high-quality possibilities. None of their photographs had been on the right track.

Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, extra (U.S.)
Barca vs. Madrid: Sunday at 3 p.m. ET, stream stay on ESPN+

For coach Carlo Ancelotti, the thought for Sunday’s LaLiga Clasico — and the return leg within the Copa on April 5 — is straightforward: play the identical manner, whereas being extra scientific within the remaining third.

“We simply have to repeat this game in Barcelona,” he mentioned after the Copa sport. “Defensively, with a high press, this was one of Madrid’s best games. If we can play with this intensity, we’ll have more chances.”

Count on Madrid to stay with that prime press, with the midfield — whether or not it is Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Federico Valverde or Eduardo Camavinga — pushing as much as disrupt Barca’s passing. Will probably be right down to Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior to be extra incisive in assault. Benzema had only one shot in that final assembly and Vinicius was restricted to 2, unable to interrupt away from the attentions of Ronald Araujo.

After all, Barcelona may even look to enhance on that Copa show. It is onerous to think about Xavi’s workforce having so little of the ball at Camp Nou. — Kirkland

Are the 2 goalkeepers a very powerful gamers right here? In that case, what does that say in regards to the state of the Clasico?

The Clasicos of the previous 15 years have largely been outlined by the objective scorers and the aptitude gamers. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Modric and Andres Iniesta. Nevertheless, ask supporters of both of the 2 golf equipment who’re presently their most necessary gamers and Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Courtois would seemingly rank close to the highest. It means that the standard of this fixture has maybe dipped lately, however ought to take nothing away from the 2 goalkeepers.

German stopper Ter Stegen is having arguably his finest season since he joined Barca 9 years in the past. By means of 25 LaLiga video games, he has conceded simply eight objectives, protecting 19 clear sheets, each league highs for this stage of the marketing campaign. These eight objectives conceded have come from an xGA (anticipated objectives towards) of 20.56. He has made 51 saves, a few of them spectacular, together with heroic performances in a number of 1-0 wins. Retaining objectives out is barely a part of his job, thoughts. He’s additionally the primary line of Barca’s assault and has accomplished 82.5% of his 699 tried passes in LaLiga. No goalkeeper within the league has tried extra or has a better success fee.

On paper, Courtois’ statistics do not examine this season, however his worth to Madrid is analogous. Within the huge moments, he’s there. Simply ask Liverpool. He saved them out once more on Wednesday as Madrid progressed in Europe, and he was the participant of the match in final season’s Champions League remaining between the identical two sides. Current highlights embody a tremendous save towards Actual Valladolid at 0-0 as Madrid went on to assert three factors and a large cease from Borja Iglesias within the current goalless draw towards Actual Betis. — Marsden

Why do Madrid beat all comers within the Champions League however typically wrestle towards Barca?

Whereas Madrid have crushed a few of Europe’s finest previously 12 months — dispatching Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, Manchester Metropolis in heroic vogue on their option to profitable the Champions League — Barcelona have proved a more durable check. Earlier than Barca’s backs-to-the-wall 1-0 win within the Copa, there was their convincing 3-1 victory within the Spanish Supercopa remaining on Jan. 15. Sure, Madrid got here out on prime in LaLiga, with a cushty 3-1 win on Oct. 16, however earlier than that, Barca put collectively one of the convincing performances by an away workforce at Bernabeu in years final season, beating Madrid 4-0 on March 20.

Look again a bit of additional and Madrid’s report is significantly higher, although. They went six Clasicos with out a defeat till that 4-0 drubbing, together with 4 consecutive wins in LaLiga in 2020 and 2021, for the primary time because the Nineteen Sixties. The arrival of Xavi at Camp Nou, and Barca’s subsequent enchancment — at the very least domestically — has seen the fixture turn out to be unpredictable as soon as extra. The comparability with final season’s Champions League win can also be considerably deceptive. These epic comebacks had been solely obligatory due to simply how unhealthy Madrid had been of their 1-0 first-leg loss to PSG, and for a lot of the 3-2 dwelling and 4-3 away defeats to Chelsea and Manchester Metropolis.

In abstract: this Actual Madrid workforce is able to greatness, and of being very common, and we have seen loads of each in Clasicos, and in Europe, in current seasons. — Kirkland

How is the Negreira case hanging over this sport and affecting the connection between these two golf equipment?

Barcelona’s funds to the previous vice chairman of the refereeing committee in Spain are testing the bond developed between the 2 Clasico rivals in current seasons. They’re companions within the European Tremendous League mission and had been among the many solely groups to reject LaLiga’s cope with non-public fairness agency CVC for an prompt money increase in trade for a future share of their tv cash. Presidents Joan Laporta and Florentino Perez are each capable of see that, even when they all the time need to win, each groups profit if the opposite stays robust.

Madrid had been the one LaLiga facet to not condemn the revelation of Barca’s funds to ex-referee Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira in a letter launched by Spanish golf equipment two weeks in the past. Final weekend, although, following a call from prosecutors to hunt corruption prices towards Barca, Madrid determined to hitch the grievance. Stories recommend Barca anticipated that to occur due to the mounting fan strain on Perez to behave, however that also they are upset — with TV3 suggesting Laporta will even cancel Sunday’s conventional pre-game administrators’ lunch as a consequence.

Barca proceed to state their innocence towards the allegations, with Laporta saying they by no means “bought referees or influence.” For a lot of, although, their picture is already stained regardless of there being no judgement but. And what occurs on the pitch is even being considered by means of the prism of the case. Followers of opposition groups, in the meantime, are throwing pretend financial institution notes throughout Barca video games and chanting for them to be relegated.

“It was sad to see,” Xavi mentioned following such incidents through the win over Athletic Membership final weekend. “Barca are being judged before time, which is not good for society.” — Marsden

Actual Madrid participant to look at

Vinicius. His misplaced battle with Araujo was the story of the final Clasico. However Vinicius is on type, scoring and starring in Madrid’s LaLiga win over Espanyol final weekend, and shall be decided to come back out on prime this time. — Kirkland

Barcelona participant to look at

Raphinha. Nonetheless settling following a summer season change from Leeds United, he has been Barca’s standout attacker in 2023 since Ousmane Dembele received injured. He scored the winner in 1-0 victories in every of Barca’s previous two LaLiga matches. In whole, he now has 5 objectives in his previous 10 video games and eight in 20 after scoring simply as soon as in his first 17 appearances. — Marsden

Predicted Actual Madrid beginning XI

Courtois; Dani Carvajal, Militao, Nacho, Ferland Mendy; Eduardo Camavinga, Kroos, Modric, Valverde; Vinicius, Benzema. — Kirkland

Predicted Barcelona beginning XI

Ter Stegen; Araujo, Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen, Alejandro Balde; Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong, Kessie, Gavi; Raphinha, Robert Lewandowski. — Marsden

Rating predictions

Barcelona 1-2 Actual Madrid: A Madrid win won’t put them proper again within the title race, however a six-point hole would guarantee leaders Barca cannot take it simple between now and the top of the season. — Kirkland

Barcelona 1-1 Actual Madrid: A draw is sweet sufficient for Barca to keep up their nine-point lead on the prime, whereas Madrid may accept some extent and reserve their efforts for upcoming challenges within the Copa del Rey and Champions League. — Marsden

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