Who: Barcelona vs Real Madrid
When: Wednesday, December 18th @ 2:00pm ET
Line: Barcelona -143 | Draw +320 | Real Madrid +350
The long-awaited first Clasico of the ’19-20 season will finally take place Wednesday at Camp Nou at 2 p.m. Eastern. Barcelona face Real Madrid. A place solely atop La Liga’s table awaits the winner.
These teams are in good form both domestically and in Europe after shaky starts to the season — at least to their standards — but this weekend served as a reminder that they’re not Spain’s only quality sides.
Valencia recently showed us what they’re made of by winning their Champions League group – ahead of Chelsea and Ajax – and Real Sociedad has been one of Spain’s most pleasant surprises.
On Sunday, Valencia earned a draw vs. Real Madrid, and would have had three points if not for some last-second magic by Karim Benzema. And on Saturday, Real Sociedad played well against Barcelona en route to a deserved draw at home.
But this post is not about the appetizers leading into this week’s game, which was originally scheduled for October 26. Let’s start with the line, which favored Barcelona (-134) over RM (+320) prior to matchday 17, and now likes Barcelona (-143) even more — Real Madrid is now an even bigger underdog at +350.
Before I go any further, yes, these teams have far more differences than similarities. But they’re tied atop the table with 35 points apiece, and their records are also nearly identical: Barcelona is 11-2-3, while their rivals are 10-5-1. They even have similar results vs. Atleti, for what that’s worth (Barcelona won 1-0; RM drew that matchup 0-0).
And they’re on remarkably similar trajectories this season. The results throughout November and December have been impressive for both teams. In Barcelona’s last seven La Liga and Champions League games dating back to November 9, their record is 6-1-0, with the Real Sociedad draw the only “slip-up.” The total score in those matches: an impressive 19-8.
RM are arguably on an even better run that started on November 6, when they routed Galatasaray 6-0 in the Champions League. The club is 5-2-0 in its last seven, outscoring its opponents 23-6 (!). It’s been a hell of a turnaround for Zinedine Zidane’s squad, whose early-season results included draws vs. Valladolid (matchday 2) and Villarreal (matchday 3) as well as a loss to Mallorca on matchday 9.
Similarly – and there was no mystery in their case: look no further than Lionel Messi’s absence – Barcelona endured a rough start. The Catalans’ August and September stumbles included a season-opening loss at Athletic Bilbao, a draw at Osasuna (matchday 3) and a loss at Granada (matchday 5).
Options up top for both teams
We’re plenty familiar with the top attacking players for both squads. It (obviously) all starts with Lionel Messi for the Catalans, but Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suárez are both playing well at the moment. If all three are healthy and in sync, look out (obviously).
One more newsflash: Real Madrid does not have Messi. Benzema, though, is quietly enjoying a pretty ridiculous season in his own right. The Frenchman and the Argentine both have 12 goals this season, and Benzema has one more assist (6) than Messi. It’s ridiculous that it’s that close, though, when you remember that Benzema has played 400 more minutes than Messi this year. Benzema, we should note here, was also outstanding a year ago, with 21 goals and six assists.
In recent weeks, he’s gotten nice contributions from Brazilian forwards Rodryo and Vinicius – both scored in their team’s final UCL group stage match — particularly the former. Since notching a hat trick in the win over Galatasaray, the light has seemingly come on for Rodrygo. He had a goal and an assist vs. Club Brugge last week and caused problems for Valencia on Sunday.
But the edge in terms of secondary scoring options goes to Barcelona, and it’s not close: despite Griezmann taking a while (assuming he’s finally found a consistent role) to get acclimated, he’s already scored six goals and dished out four assists. And Suárez has nine goals to go with three assists.
On the other hand, Benzema’s highest-scoring teammate is Sergio Ramos, with a whopping three goals. RM’s top players in terms of assists are Dani Carvajal and Luka Modric, with just four apiece.
The bottom line
Based on the previous section, you can probably guess where I’m going with this. Barcelona has too much firepower for me to pick against them at home. And it doesn’t help that RM will be without Eden Hazard due to his ankle injury.
The scariest thing for Madridistas is that of Barca’s last nine goals over their last 270 minutes, Messi has accounted for only three of them. Of the other six, Griezmann and Suarez have two apiece, while youngsters Carles Perez and Ansu Fati have also both scored during the recent stretch. A healthy Messi + in-form players alongside him up top = a Barcelona nobody wants to see.
Barcelona has owned this rivalry lately. A year ago, they beat Real Madrid 5-1 (WITHOUT Messi) in their first match-up, which led to the sacking of Julen Lopetegui. The Catalans also eliminated Los Blancos from the Copa del Rey in the semifinals in February and beat them 1-0 in March.
If I have to pick a score in this one, I’ll say Barcelona wins, 2-1.
Where to bet La Liga in the US
In the US, you can legally bet on soccer in New Jersey, Indiana and Pennsylvania.