CLÁSICO PREVIEW | FC Barcelona v Real Madrid
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Sunday night brings yet another meeting between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid in this Clásico packed season. And this is a huge one. A win for the Catalans would open up a huge 12-point gap at the top of the table. That wouldn't guarantee the league title, but it would leave Barça in such a strong position with just 12 games left to play that it is extremely to difficult to imagine that they wouldn't go on to lift the trophy in May.
Should things go horribly wrong and Barça end up losing, their lead would be cut to six points. That's still a big difference, but a far less decisive one. So this could either be the game that practically decides the Liga, or it could be the one that throws the whole thing open again. It's huge.
Curiously, although Xavi has already faced Madrid six times since taking over as coach, this is the first time he has faced them at Spotify Camp Nou. And it's going to be a more Spotify stadium than ever this Sunday, with the players coming onto the pitch wearing the Motomami logo of Catalan singer Rosalía's international hit album that came out exactly one year ago.
The big story in the build-up to this game was the potential return from injury of Pedri. The Canary Islander has been training with the squad this week and there was considerable hope that he'd be ready in time to line up against Madrid. Sadly that has not proved to be the case, and he and Ousmane Dembélé will both be absent from the squad announced on Saturday morning.
🚨 The squad for #ElClásico! pic.twitter.com/yYVyzJK0Tu— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 18, 2023
Real Madrid are coming with a near full-strength squad. The only absentee is the injured David Alaba.
Madrid form guide
Like Barça, Real Madrid got off to a strong start to the league, and their 3-1 win in the first Clásico of the campaign seemed to have put them in the driving seat. But while Barça picked themselves up after that defeat to enjoy some impeccable form, Real have been dropping so many points that they have only twice managed back-to-back wins since that game.
Their away form has been especially weak, with just two wins from their last seven road trip, including defeats at Rayo Vallecano, Villarreal and Mallorca.
But Real Madrid are still alive in the Champions League, where they were the only Spanish team to make it into the last sixteen. They have just seen off Liverpool 6-2 on average and in the quarter finals will again face Premiership opposition, this time manager Carlo Ancelotti's former club Chelsea.
Head to head this season
Pre-season friendly in USA: Barça 1-0 Real Madrid
This is the fifth meeting between the sides this season, if we also include the preseason friendly in Las Vegas, which Barça won by a solitary goal scored by Raphinha.
La Liga: Real Madrid 3-1 Barça
Real Madrid were worryingly comfortable winners in the league meeting at the Bernabéu. They led 2-0 at the break thanks to goals from Benzema and Valverde, and although a late Ferran Torres strike gave Barça a chance of sneaking a somewhat fortunate point, a Rodrygo penalty in injury time ended any chance of that.
Spanish Super Cup Final in Saudi Arabia: Barça 3-1 Real Madrid
In stark contrast, the Spanish Super Cup Final in Riyadh was utterly dominated by Barça. Goals from Gavi and Lewandowski had the Catalans 2-up at the break and Madrid never really looked close to mounting a comeback. Pedri made it three after the break, before Benzema nicked a late consolation goal for a thoroughly beaten Madrid.
Copa del Rey Semi-Final: Real Madrid 0-1 Barça
Then fate threw the famous rivals into battle against each other yet again in the Copa del Rey semi-finals. The first leg at the Bernabéu was another very different match. Madrid looked in charge, but a Militão own goal gave the visitors the lead. Barça then gave a masterclass in defending. Despite putting the blaugrana under constant pressure for what remained of the game, Madrid not only failed to score but didn't even manage a shot on target. The second leg of that encounter has yet to come on April 5 at Spotify Camp Nou.
What they are saying
Thursday was media day at the club and Robert Lewandowski and Marc André ter Stegen did the duties in the English language.
Meanwhile, Jules Kounde and Gavi gave their impressions in Spanish (subtitles provided in video):
And on Saturday, it was the turn of coach Xavi to field questions in his official pre-game press conference:
President Joan Laporta also has a special message for the fans ahead of such a big game:
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