Barcelona Host El Clasico at Temporary Home, even as Atletico Madrid Loom in the Rear-View Mirror

Marc-Andre ter Stegen
Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Image: FC Barcelona)

Aatman Khedkar

The 255th meeting between the Spanish heavyweights Real Madrid and Barcelona, El Clasico for the watching world, will be played on Saturday night at the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, the main venue for the 1992 Olympic Games. The stadium in Montjuic is Barcelona’s temporary home as the Camp Nou is renovated, and both teams go into this pivotal game trailing Girona, La Liga’s shock leaders.  

Victory would take Real Madrid top on goal difference, at least temporarily, while Barcelona, a point behind Real at present, can leapfrog their bitter rivals with a victory. Girona aside, both teams will be wary of the threat posed by Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, who have won five on the bounce, while scoring more goals (23) than either Real or Barca.  

Beneath the hype, this edition of the Clasico is a meeting of two deeply flawed teams. Real Madrid are in transition, with Karim Benzema having moved on, and Luka Modric and Toni Kroos well past their best. Jude Bellingham’s stunning form since his summer move from Borussia Dortmund has papered over the cracks.

Bellingham has been in sensational form, scoring 12 goals and providing three assists in 12 games. His timely strikes have taken the attention off Rodrygo’s struggles in front of goal, and persistent rumours that the French midfied duo of Eduardo Camavinga and Aurilien Tchouameni are unhappy at being played out of position. The Madrid grapevine is also certain that Carlo Ancelotti, Real’s coach, will depart next summer to take charge of Brazil’s national team.

Barcelona, under Xavi’s shrewd coaching, may have won the title last season, but their ambitions of building on that are severely hamstrung by crippling levels of debt, even after another summer clear-out. Two of the players to have made a difference this season are Joao Cancelo and Joao Felix, both loan signings who may have to leave in the summer if funds can’t be found to make the signings permanent.  

Both teams have seen important players being injured before and during the season. Madrid are missing part of their spine, with Thibaut Courtois, the goalkeeper who was the star of their last Champions League win in 2022, and Eder Militao, key central defender, both missing. Barcelona will be without Robert Lewandowski, their prolific Polish striker, and Pedri, their midfield gem.

The key matchup to look forward to will perhaps be Vinicius Junior against Ronald Araujo down the left flank. Not too many right-backs have been able to keep up with Vinicius’s searing pace, but Araujo, a typically tough and uncompromising Uruguayan defender, has proved more than capable. Real’s defence will need to be on point against the creativity of Felix, and also stop Cancelo delivering telling crosses from the right wing.  

With Simeone having refreshed his Atleti side, this season’s La Liga title race will be no two-team procession. But as always, more than three points will be at stake when El Clasico kicks off. It may not decide the destiny of the title, but neither side will want to lose ground in a season that’s already shaping up to be as tense as the three-way classic a decade ago. The winner then? El Cholo Simeone and Atleti.

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