Pressing questions that will determine Sunday’s Clasico

We are just over 24 hours from Clasico this could have major implications for this season’s La Liga title run. Barcelona are nine points ahead of Real Madrid in the table and have won the last two meetings between the teams, with a third win in a row nearly ending the Catalan club’s league title.

However, with an impressive Champions League round of 16 victory over Liverpool, there is every reason to believe that Real Madrid are starting to gain momentum at a turning point in the campaign. They are the defending champions of Spain and won the October meeting between the clubs convincingly.

What should we expect when the two famous rivals line up on Sunday? (3:00 pm ET, live on Sportzshala+)? Sportzshala correspondents in Barcelona and Madrid Sam Marsden and Alex Kirkland talk about the main storylines before the match and make their predictions.

How relevant is the past Clasico and how can Madrid change its outcome?

Barcelona’s 1-0 win at the Santiago Bernabéu in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final on March 2 was no coincidence – although their goal, a Frank Kessy shot that went into the net thanks to a save by Thibault Courtois and an unwitting deflection by Eder Militao, was definitely — but it was unusual. Madrid “dominated” the game, according to Courtois. Barcelona had a historically low ball possession of 35.4%, so they were forced to sit back and defend in depth. Madrid had 13 shots to Barça’s four. The difference in xG, or expected goals, was minimal: 0.57 for Madrid and 0.63 for Barça. Madrid’s problem was the final goal and creating quality chances. None of their blows hit the mark.

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For manager Carlo Ancelotti, the idea behind Sunday’s Clasico in La Liga – and the second leg of the Copa Cup on April 5 – is simple: play the same but be more reasonable in the final third.

“We simply have to repeat this game at Barcelona,” he said after the Cup match. “On defense, with a lot of pressure, it was one of Madrid’s best games. If we can play with that intensity, we’ll have a better chance.”

Expect Madrid to stick to that high pressing, with midfield – whether it’s Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Federico Valverde or Eduardo Camavinga – pushing in to derail Barça’s pass. Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior should be sharper in attack. Benzema had only one shot in that last meeting, and Vinicius had only two, and he could not tear himself away from the attention of Ronald Araujo.

Of course, Barcelona will also try to improve the results of the Cup. It’s hard to imagine Xavi’s team having so little ball at the Camp Nou. — Kirkland

Are the two goalkeepers the most important players here? If so, what does that say about the state of the Clasico?

The Clasico of the last 15 years has been largely defined by the scorers and the talent of the players. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Modric and Andres Iniesta. However, ask fans of either club who their most important players are currently and Marc-André ter Stegen and Courtois are likely to come out on top. This suggests that the quality of this fixture may have deteriorated in recent years, but this should not detract from the merit of the two goalkeepers.

German stopper Ter Stegen is having perhaps his best season since joining Barça nine years ago. In 25 La Liga games, he conceded just eight goals, keeping 19 clean sheets, a league record at this stage of the campaign. Those eight goals conceded were due to an xGA (goals expected) of 20.56. He made 51 saves, some of them impressive, including heroic performances in multiple 1-0 wins. Keeping the target off target is only part of his job, mind. He is also Barça’s first line of attack and has completed 82.5% of his 699 pass attempts in La Liga. No goaltender in the league has attempted more or has a higher success rate.

On paper, Courtois’ stats this season are no match, but his value to Madrid is similar. He is there for important moments. Just ask Liverpool. He kept them out again on Wednesday as Real progressed in Europe and he was a player in last year’s Champions League final between the same two teams. Recent highlights include a great save against Real Valladolid in a 0-0 draw with Real Madrid on three points and a massive stoppage of Borja Iglesias in a recent goalless draw against Real Betis. — Marsden

Why do Madrid beat everyone in the Champions League, but often fight with Barça?

While Madrid beat some of Europe’s top clubs last year – heroically thrashing Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City to win the Champions League – Barcelona proved to be a tougher test . Prior to Barça’s back-to-the-wall victory 1-0 in the Copa Cup, there was their convincing 3-1 victory in the final of the Spanish Super Cup on 15 January. Yes, Madrid came out on top in La Liga with a comfortable 3: the first victory came on 16 October, but before that, Barça had one of the most convincing away performances at the Bernabéu last season by beating Real Madrid. with a score of 4:0 on March 20.

Look back a little and you will see that Madrid’s performance is much better. They went six Clasicos unbeaten until they were crushed 4-0, including four consecutive La Liga wins in 2020 and 2021, the first time since the 1960s. Xavi’s arrival at the Camp Nou and Barça’s subsequent improvement – at least domestically – made the game unpredictable again. The comparison with last year’s Champions League win is also somewhat misleading. These epic comebacks were only needed because of how bad Real Madrid were in the first leg against PSG 1-0 and also because most of them lost against Chelsea and Manchester City. with a score of 3:2 at home and 4:3 away.

To sum it up, this Real Madrid team is capable of being great, but also very average, and we’ve seen a lot of them both in the Clasico and in Europe in recent seasons. — Kirkland

How does the Negreira affair hang over this game and affect the relationship between the two clubs?

Barcelona’s payments to the former vice-president of the refereeing committee in Spain test the link that has developed between the two Clasico rivals in recent seasons. They are partners in the European Super League project and were among the only teams to turn down La Liga’s deal with private equity firm CVC for an instant cash increase in exchange for a future percentage of their TV money. Presidents Joan Laporta and Florentino Perez understand that even if they always want to win, both teams win if the other remains strong.

Madrid were the only La Liga team not to condemn the revelation of Barça’s payouts to ex-referee José María Enríquez Negreira in a letter published by Spanish clubs two weeks ago. However, last weekend, after the decision of the prosecutor’s office to file accusations of corruption against Barcelona, ​​Madrid decided to join the complaint. Reports say that Barça expected this to happen due to growing fan pressure on Pérez, but they are also disappointed as TV3 suggests that Laporta will even cancel the directors’ traditional pre-game Sunday dinner as a consequence.

Barça continue to maintain their innocence regarding the allegations, with Laporta saying they have never “buyed referees or influence”. For many, however, their image is already tarnished, despite the fact that there is no trial yet. And what happens on the field is even seen through the prism of the case. Meanwhile, supporters of opposition teams are throwing counterfeit banknotes during Barcelona games and chanting for them to be relegated.

“It was sad to see that,” Xavi said after similar incidents during his victory over Athletic Club over the weekend. Barça are judged prematurely, which is not good for the society.” — Marsden

Real Madrid player to watch

Vinicius. His lost battle with Araujo became the history of the last Clasico. But Vinicius is fit, scoring and starring in Madrid’s La Liga win over Espanyol last weekend and this time he will be determined to come out on top. — Kirkland

Barcelona player to look out for

Rafinha. Still settled after a summer move from Leeds United, he has been Barça’s standout striker in 2023 since Ousmane Dembele was injured. He has won 1-0 in each of Barça’s last two matches in La Liga. In total, he now has five goals in his last 10 games and eight in his 20, after scoring just one goal in his first 17 games. — Marsden

Forecast of Real Madrid in the starting lineup

Courtois; Dani Carvajal, Militao, Nacho, Ferland Mendy; Eduardo Camavinga, Kroos, Modric, Valverde; Vinicius, Benzema. — Kirkland

Barcelona starting lineup prediction

Ter Stegen; Araujo, Jules Kundet, Andreas Christensen, Alexander Balde; Sergio Busquets, Frankie de Jong, Kessy, Gavi; Screenwriter Robert Lewandowski. — Marsden

Point predictions

Barcelona 1:2 Real Madrid: A win over Madrid may not put them back in the title race, but a six-point gap ensures that leaders Barça can’t relax for the rest of the season. — Kirkland

Barcelona 1:1 Real Madrid: The draw is good enough for Barca to keep a nine-point lead, while Real can settle for one point and save their efforts for the upcoming Copa del Rey and Champions League challenges. — Marsden


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