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Sunday brings the first El Clásico of the 2021/22 season, and also the first since the lifting of crowd restrictions, meaning the Camp Nou will be back to its glorious self, with the terraces packed and the traditional pre-game mosaic to welcome the teams onto the field for arguably the world’s biggest club football fixture.
The season hasn’t got off to the best of starts for Barça, but the team has returned from the international break with new verve, beating Valencia 3-1 in La Liga and finally registering their first Champions League win against Dynamo Kiev.
Real Madrid also hit a bad patch. It’s 20 days since their last Liga outing, a 2-1 loss at Espanyol following a 0-0 draw with Villarreal, with the utterly shocking 2-1 defeat at home to Sheriff Tiraspol in between. But their only game since the internationals was a 5-0 demolition job of Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League.
The cliché says that the form book goes out of the window for El Clásico. But that’s doubly true for this year’s game, with both sides having struggled to maintain consistent form anyway.
How it stands
With Real Sociedad topping the table and Osasuna a surprise second, Barça go into the game seventh, while Real Madrid are third. But only two points separate the two sides, who have both played the same number of games.
It’s far too early to consider this game decisive, but whoever loses it will be left with a lot of work to do to get back among the leading pack.
Eric Garcia is back after missing the game with Dynamo Kyiv through suspension. But Ronald Araujo, Ousmane Dembélé, Martin Braithwaite and Pedri all miss out through injury.
Jordi Alba left the field injured against the Ukrainians, but he is fine to play, while both Ansu Fati and Sergio Agüero will be expected to play some role, though whether either of them is ready for the full 90 minutes remains to be seen.
For Real Madrid, Dani Carvajal and Eden Hazard are both back from injury but manager Carlo Ancelotti is not giving any guarantees they will play.
Did you know?
Carlo Ancelotti has faced Barça eleven times as coach of various clubs, and although he has three wins to his name, he has never won at Camp Nou.
Sergio Agüero has played Real Madrid fourteen times over the years and has never won. But of course, those games were for Atlético Madrid and Manchester City, this will be the first time he’s been dressed in blaugrana for the fixture. And despite not winning, he has scored four goals against the all-whites.
Barça has nine players in the squad (Nico, Gavi, Eric García, Balde, Demir, Luuk de Jong, Memphis, Agüero and Iñaki Peña) who have never played in a Clásico before.
Barça have lost their last three games against Real Madrid. They haven’t lost four consecutive Clásicos since 1965 (a run of seven, including one in the cup).
Sergio Busquets could become the Barça player with the most Clásico victories of all time (20), and he’d be one short of the record-holder for either team, Paco Gento (21).
Barça’s last two goals against Real Madrid both came from Jordi Alba assists. Can he make it three in a row?
Only one Barça manager has ever lost his first three Clásicos as Barça manager, Patrick O'Connell (1935 to 1940). Let’s hope Ronald Koeman doesn’t become the second.
Ansu Fati, fresh from signing a new contract, could become only the fourth player to score in his first two Clásicos this century, following Samuel Eto'o (who scored in three), Ruud van Nistelrooy (the only case for Real Madrid) and Pedro Rodríguez.
Ronald Koeman says
"There is nothing either side can do to surprise the other, we have analysed each other far too well and know what we can expect. Possession will be important for us, and the counter-attack for them. We have to be well-organised about the way we get the ball forward and make sure they don’t hit us on the counter.”
“When we score first, we need to score a second to be able to take off the pressure. That’s where we’ve been failing recently.”
"I know important the Clásico is. I won and lost these games as a player. This will be my first Clásico as a coach and with fans, so it’ll be totally different to the others.”
"The main difference between the teams is experience, but that’s not to say that we don’t have experienced players too. It’s their job to help the newcomers, and get them to enjoy the atmosphere, play with personality and do their job.”
"I certainly don’t see this game a duel between Ansu and Vinícius. They are two young players who still have a lot to show. And I think we need to lay off Ansu a bit, and let him recover, rather than thinking it’s all about Ansu. He is part of a team, but is a player who can make a big difference.”
"I don’t know why people have lost confidence in us. We haven’t. We know what we can do. We are playing at home, there is nothing to fear.”
"This is a chance to go ahead of Madrid in the table. But we remember what happened last season. A lot can happen in these games but it will be a good indicator of where each of the two teams is at. But there is still a long way to go afterwards. The game with Bayern has nothing to do with this one. This is our chance to show people that we are on the right track. We have just won two games, our morale is strong, so hopefully the ground will be full or almost full with a great atmosphere.”
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