You’ll never believe this, but the stakes when Barcelona and Real Madrid meet this weekend could not be higher.
That game, at Camp Nou on Saturday at 10 a.m. Eastern, is what this article is about. But out of respect for the weekly structure of this piece, I’ll mention the other Matchday 7 games involving Spain’s elite before moving on to the main event.
Sevilla (-225) hosts Eibar on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in a game that is unlikely to be close. The same can be said for both Atleti (-182)-Real Betis (+525) on Saturday at 3 p.m. and Real Sociedad (-175)-Huesca (+540) on Sunday at 4 p.m.
Yes, I’m mentioning Real Sociedad alongside LaLiga’s top clubs. They might be +10,000 to win the league, but they’re atop the table. So what if they have a game or two in hand on the current league favorite?
El Clásico Preview
Any time these teams clash, it’s a global event, but the implications this weekend are even more massive than usual.
Barcelona (+100) have experienced far more upheaval than their rivals throughout 2020, but Real Madrid (+250) enters this game in a world of hurt.
Los Blancos, who were preseason favorites (-134) to defend their La Liga title ahead of then-second-favorite Barcelona (+150), are now +140, with Barcelona taking over as the favorite at +110. A Barca win on Saturday would likely make the Catalans clear favorites, a remarkable possibility after everything that transpired last spring and summer.
Can Real Madrid Recover?
Somehow, the back-to-back losses this team has suffered — in La Liga to Cádiz last weekend and more recently, in the Champions League to Shakhtar Donetsk – are even worse than they appear on paper. In last Saturday’s loss to Cádiz, which spent last season in Spain’s second tier, Los Blancos registered just two shots on goal. That translated to an xG of 1.14 compared to Cádiz’s xG of 1.77 – in other words, that L was no fluke.
The real problem was what happened on Wednesday, though. There’s no world where it’s acceptable to fall behind Shakhtar Donetsk (!) 3-0 at halftime, but the circumstances this week made that showing even more embarrassing. I’m referring to Shakhtar being 13 players short due to a slew of positive COVID-19 tests.
European powers stumble in UCL group play every year, but it’s hard to remember anything like RM (the European champ in ’14, ’16, ’17 and ’18, in case you haven’t heard) not just losing to a team a long way from the continent’s Big 5, but to such a club’s M*A*S*H unit. Shakhtar Manager Luis Castro was literally quoted before Wednesday’s game talking about the “nightmare” of facing Real Madrid with so many top players unavailable.
The Real Madrid squad we saw Wednesday was disjointed defensively – and that characterization might be generous – as the absences of Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal were sorely felt. With 32-year-old Marcelo (looking beyond washed) at left back, unproven Eder Militao (looking “Raphael Varane vs. City in last year’s UCL quarters” lost) and Varane himself at center back, plus out-of-position Ferland Mendy at left back, a team that was impenetrable throughout ’19-20 looked completely hapless defensively for 45 minutes. And they weren’t great after halftime, either.
Sergio Ramos To The Rescue?
Maybe Ramos comes back – his status for Saturday seemingly remains completely uncertain as of late Thursday evening, East Coast time — and this back line looks more like it did a year ago, but that seems like wishful thinking for Madridistas.
We all know how reliable the RM offense has been against Spain’s best over the last year, so a massive bounce-back from the men in front of keeper Thibaut Courtois is a must for RM to pull the upset.
Big Showcase For Barcelona’s Newfound Balance
Few could knock the results of Barcelona’s “best player in the world + whatever else they get” formula over the last several years, but if you believe the early-season statistics, this version of Barcelona is far less Messi-dependent.
Yes, it’s early – I don’t think it’s possible to overstate how small the sample size remains at this point. Still, the fact that Lionel Messi is responsible for just one of his team’s eight goals through four games, with Ansu Fati (3 goals) the leading scorer and Philippe Coutinho (2 assists) the top assist man, is excellent news for Barcelona fans.
The best-case scenario going into this season involved Coutinho and/or Ousmane Dembéle rediscovering their mojo. A real dreamer would have also hoped for some combination of Fati, fellow teenager Pedri and/or 20-year-old Trincão breaking out to give this team the fresh legs and athleticism it has lacked since … who knows when.
The Champions League win over Ferencvaros on Tuesday – and yes, I’m aware the opponent wasn’t exactly Bayern Munich – saw Messi, Fati and Dembélé each record both a goal and an assist. If that wasn’t enough, Coutinho and Pedri also scored in a historic win.
The Bottom Line
Do I think Barcelona’s as good as they looked vs. Ferencvaros? No
Do I think Real Madrid’s as bad as they looked over their last 180 minutes? No
But do I expect a RM team that might be missing Ramos to take down Barcelona at Camp Nou?
No again. Barcelona at +100 is the move here, but my most urgent advice is to make sure you don’t miss a second of this one.
Where to bet El Clásico in the US
In the US, you can legally bet on soccer in New Jersey, Indiana and Pennsylvania.