SANTA MONICA, Calif. – FC Barcelona will head into Saturday’s El Clasico against Real Madrid in need of a good result. The Catalans are in second place, six points behind leaders Real Madrid and a loss would leave them nine points behind, giving them little margin for error if they are to maintain their challenge for the La Liga title.
But a win against a Real Madrid side that’s currently on a 32-game unbeaten run could be a tall order. Especially for a Barça side that’s struggled of late. Luis Enrique’s team was held to a draw in the Copa Del Rey midweek by second division side Hercules. They also drew last weekend against Real Sociedad and were lucky to escape that match without losing.
Granted, the team that lined up against Hercules was mostly reserve players, but Barcelona have been far from consistent this season, losing La Liga matches to Alaves and Celta Vigo and drawing with Atletico Madrid and Malaga in addition to Sociedad.
There is some good news for Barcelona however. In addition to playing at Camp Nou in front of their home faithful, the Blaugrana have received a boost in the form of Andres Iniesta. The silky playmaker is on the verge of return after being out for a month with an ankle injury and should be fit to line up against Madrid.
Barcelona’s deadly attacking “MSN” trio – Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar – are also fit and firing to start Saturday.
The same can’t be said for Real Madrid’s “BBC” trio. Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema are both certain to start. While Gareth Bale is out with an ankle injury that could see him sidelined until April. Midfield anchor Toni Kroos will also miss the game due to injury.
While Madrid’s unbeaten run sounds formidable, it’s easy to forget that they drew four matches in a row earlier in the season. In addition to Saturday’s clash at the Camp Nou, Zinedine Zidane’s team faces a difficult run of fixtures that will see them face Valencia, Sevilla and Celta.
If Barça can manage a win, or even a draw Saturday, Madrid’s hopes of claiming just their second title in eight years could be given a serious dent. It’s true Barcelona haven’t really been playing to their standards of late. Normally, when you have someone like Messi in your team, you can count on him to haul you over the line when the going gets tough.
But surprisingly, the Argentine maestro hasn’t found the net against Real Madrid since the 2013-14 season.
Whether it comes from Messi, Neymar, Suarez, or a collective effort, a win Saturday would cut Madrid’s lead in the standing to just three points, reigniting the title race going into the second half of the season.
A loss on the other hand, could see Real Madrid pull nearly out of sight. Sure there’s still a long way to go and there’s bound to be twists and turns before the season ends. Most teams would be incapable of overhauling a nine-point gap after all. But then as we’ve seen time and time again, Barcelona aren’t most teams.