Any weekend featuring a Clásico is a good one in Spain. This late in the season — each team has just eight games remaining after this weekend — with Barcelona and Real Madrid both red-hot, we’re looking at one of the highest-stakes match-ups between these clubs in a while.
- Real Madrid (+188) vs. Barcelona (+125) Saturday, 3 p.m. Eastern
- Real Betis (+220) vs. Atlético Madrid (+140) Sunday, 3 p.m.
- Celta Vigo (+240) vs. Sevilla (+120) Monday, 3 p.m.
Elsewhere in La Liga, first-place Atleti, whose lead has nearly disappeared, has another pivotal trip to Seville, this time to meet sixth-place Real Betis. A team that has suffered one setback after another got more bad news this week, as it learned that Luis Suárez will miss an undetermined number of games with a “muscle injury to the left leg.”
Now would be a great time for Joao Felix, who will play alongside Angel Correa up top as long as Suárez is out, to take over. Atleti has not only seen its lead atop La Liga trimmed from 10 points (with a game in hand) to just 1 point on Barcelona – RM is also just three points back – it is now +180 to win the title, with Barcelona the current favorite at -134.
Real Madrid, Villarreal get wins during a solid week in Europe
It’s mostly been a European season to forget for La Liga enthusiasts – having just one team in the UCL quarterfinals does not exactly scream “best league in the world.” But Real Madrid’s impressive 3-1 win over Liverpool and Villarreal’s 1-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb in the Leg 1 of the Europa League quarterfinals mean Spain could still have one team apiece in the semifinals of both the UCL and UEL. No one can be too disappointed in Granada, which was in Spain’s second tier in ’18-19, falling 2-0 to Manchester United.
One last note before we get to the main course: we now have a winner of last year’s Copa del Rey. Congrats to Real Sociedad, which defeated Athletic Club last weekend to take home the ’19-20 Copa. Athletic Club gets a shot at this year’s Copa next Saturday against Barcelona.
Does anything sum up the weirdness of the last two seasons better than a team playing in two different Copa del Rey finals in the same month?
About Barcelona-Real Madrid
Obviously an empty Valdebebas is far less advantageous than a full Santiago Bernabéu, but I nevertheless find it interesting (tempting) that RM is +188 at home. I’m as in as anyone on Barcelona based on recent form, but Real Madrid has been excellent as well for a while — they’re unbeaten in their last nine in La Liga — and feels like a good bet at this price.
Yes, Real Madrid have had their struggles this season, but those have come almost exclusively against seemingly overmatched opponents. Zinedine Zidane’s team has actually played well — shockingly well, in a few cases — against quality opponents. They’re undermanned, with the absences of Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos obviously concerning against an attack like Barcelona’s, but this team has been missing multiple key pieces seemingly all season long.
As of last weekend, I’d have really liked Barcelona here. But the Catalans’ performance against Valladolid last Monday — though they did get all three points thanks to a late winner from Ousmane Dembele — made you wonder whether the international break halted the momentum they’d been building since December.
Who wins the pivotal midfield battle?
The real reason I have my doubts about Barcelona, though, has to do with Real Madrid’s showing against Liverpool in the Champions League on Tuesday. It wasn’t just the final score — though winning 3-1 was certainly impressive in its own right — that got my attention. What was most notable was the way the stellar midfield of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro controlled everything, particularly in the first half.
Barcelona has been outstanding since shifting to a 3-4-3 (sometimes a 3-5-2) several weeks ago. One of the biggest keys to their success has been the offensive contributions they’ve gotten from both Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest, as both have wreaked havoc for opposing defenses.
Do those two have as much success with that against a superior midfield like Real Madrid’s? I’ll admit I don’t have the answer to this one.
2) Can Barcelona stifle the suddenly potent Real Madrid attack?
Barcelona’s three-man back line has held up admirably, and could get even better, as Ronald Koeman may be able to use Gerard Pique and/or Ronald Araujo on Saturday. That would allow Frenkie de Jong to return to the midfield, where he’s spent most of his career. Regardless of who mans the defense for Barcelona, they face a stiff test against a Real Madrid team that has gotten a huge lift since Karim Benzema’s return.
Crucially (and to everyone’s surprise — when is the last time we’ve been able to say the following?) Benzema is not the only attacking piece in good form for Zidane. Marcos Asensio and Vinicius (two goals against Liverpool) are both in form. Asensio has goals in four games in a row (!). Will Real Madrid do the unthinkable and once again score multiple goals? They’ve piled up in 11 in their last four games after slogging through most of February and March, but somehow winning anyway.
Ultimately, it feels safe to predict solid offensive showings from both clubs, as Real Madrid will miss Varane and Ramos, while Barcelona’s three-man back line faces a legit threat in Benzema and Co. With that in mind, the Over 3.5 total goals (+145) feels like a good idea.
As mentioned earlier, if the odds were even, I’d be stumped, and would probably lean toward a draw (+280). In a game that feels like a coin flip, I like RM coming off that win over Liverpool at +188.
Barcelona, though, feels ever so slightly more likely to pull this off. Let’s call the final score 3-2, Barcelona. As much as anything, I’m probably leaning toward the Catalans due to their upcoming schedule. They don’t play again until next Saturday’s Copa del Rey final. Los Blancos, on the other hand, have to travel to Anfield for Leg 2 of the UCL quarters on Wednesday.