Two dethroned kings of Spain go head-to-head when Barcelona and Real Madrid contest El Clasico on Sunday at 3:15pm (UK time).
La Liga as a whole is already adjusting to life without both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the latter having departed for PSG in the summer. Now, we’re going to see the league’s biggest fixture (and arguably the world’s, at least in a club sense) played out without arguably the two greatest players ever to kick a ball.
Los Blancos head into Sunday’s clash second in the table, three points adrift of Real Sociedad but with a game in hand. Two points and five places further back are the Blaugrana who, despite all the talk of their demise, have still only lost one La Liga game this season.
This season’s first Clasico is also the first to be overseen by two former Everton managers, and very unsuccessful ones at that. Perhaps for a measure of Spanish football’s slump than anything else.
2021/22 La Liga title odds with William Hill…
- Real Madrid – 4/5
- Atletico Madrid – 9/4
- Barcelona – 6/1
- Sevilla – 8/1
- Real Sociedad – 28/1
18+ only. Be Gamble Aware. All odds in this article are correct at 10:00, 21/10/2021.
How will the two fierce rivals line up at the Camp Nou? Who will come out on top? Read on for five predictions.
1. Predicted Barcelona XI
Barcelona have a few lasting injury concerns with Pedri, Martin Braithwaite and Ronald Araujo sidelined and Ousmane Dembele a serious doubt, but should still be able to field a strong XI on Sunday.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen obviously starts in goal with Gerard Pique, who scored the winner against Dynamo Kyiv in the week, partnering Eric Garcia, whose recent suspension only applied to Champions League play. Jordi Alba will provide thrust and experience at left-back, while Oliver Mingueza will look to give Barca some defensive bite down the right.
Sergio Busquets will be the one in charge of conducting possession and keeping Barcelona ticking at the base of midfield. His lack of mobility will mean Frenkie de Jong and Gavi will have plenty of physical work to get through, while also needing to progress the ball to the forwards.
Sergino Dest has been a surprise pick at right-wing recently and may well continue in that role. The United States international can deliver deadly shots and crosses with both feet and having him further up the pitch should cover for any defensive misgivings.
Ansu Fati is very quickly becoming a crutch for this Barcelona team despite his inexperience and the fact he’s coming back from long-term injury. He and Memphis Depay through the middle hold the key to unlocking Real Madrid’s backline.
2. Real Madrid will line up like…
Like Barca, Real have a number of fitness concerns. Gareth Bale and Isco are both sidelined, while Eden Hazard, Marco Asensio and Dani Ceballos are highly unlikely to play much of a role, if any. Dani Carvajal says he “hopes” to be back, but starting him could be a stretch. Still, they’re packed with experience and enough quality to do serious damage to Koeman’s side on their day.
Thibaut Courtois will continue in net, most likely protected by Eder Militao and David Alaba, the latter moving back inside from the left-back berth he occupied against Shakhtar in midweek. Ferland Mendy and Lucas Vazquez would offer industry, but also attacking endeavour at full-back.
Age is creeping in, but Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro are among the most decorated midfielders in the world and have seen it all. That experience could be vital in the middle against what could be a younger Barcelona side, not to mention their superb ability on the ball.
Brazilian widemen Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo will look to drive inside and take advantage of a lack of mobility through the middle from Barcelona. They have the pleasure of flanking Karim Benzema, who remains Real Madrid’s primary goal threat and will also create space for his younger counterparts to wreak havoc. It’s a tough ask for Barcelona to keep a clean sheet against this attack.
3. Can Ansu Fati join esteemed Clasico goalscoring company?
Though Barca came out on the losing side, Ansu Fati made an immediate impact on El Clasico last season, scoring an eighth-minute equaliser in an eventual 3-1 defeat, on his very first start in the competition.
Only three players in Clasico history have ever scored in each of their first two starts in this monumental clash: Samuel Eto’o in 2005, who scored in his first three, Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2007 (two) and Pedro Rodríguez in 2010 (two). That’s some incredible company to be kept in if Fati can hit the net again.
And given his start to the new season, don’t bet against it. Returning to fitness, he already has two goals to his name in just 94 minutes of La Liga action this campaign, starting once and coming off the bench twice. Only Memphis Depay has scored more for the Blaugrana with four (and he’s played 720 minutes!). During what was an injury-hit 2020/21 campaign, Fati hit the net four times in seven appearances.
Fati is going places and many are tipping him as Messi’s true successor. El Clasico is the perfect place to prove that.
William Hill are offering odds of 11/8 for Ansu Fati to score at any time, while you can back him to score first at 9/2.
4. Rodrygo forces his way into Ancelotti’s Clasico plans
Rodrygo has been somewhat inconsistent in La Liga this season, failing to find the net in six appearances so far. But in the Champions League, he’s really shown his potential with two goals in three appearances, most recently adding the fourth in Real Madrid’s 5-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday. He was a terror in that match, completing two dribbles and creating two chances, while trying his luck with three shots.
Rodrygo’s last two league appearances have been one-half cameos, coming off the bench after the break in the 2-1 defeat to Espanyol last time after not emerging from the tunnel for the final 45 minutes against Villarreal. But Carlo Ancelotti has admitted it’d be hard to drop the Brazilian after his excellent European exploits in midweek.
“He did well too and I liked his defensive work,” he said. “I don’t know [if he’ll start vs Barcelona], but it would be tough to make a change. We’ll need to look at things over the coming days. It’s a different game.”
Should he start, this would be Rodrygo’s first go in the Clasico bear pit. The Brazilian could take inspiration from Ansu Fati’s exploits so far, offering Real Madrid the cutting edge they need to return to the Spanish capital with a monumental victory.
William Hill are offering odds of 11/4 for Rodrygo to score at any time, while you can back him to score first at 17/2.
5. Score prediction
Koeman has lost both his Clasicos as a manager so far and is looking to avoid becoming only the second manager of all time to lose his first three (the only other was Patrick O’Connell back in 1940). But in Ancelotti, he faces a tactician who has failed to win in any of his five trips to the Camp Nou, losing three and drawing two. All three losses came during his previous spell as Real Madrid manager and he could become the second Los Blancos boss to lose on his first four visits to Barcelona, Leo Beenhakker being the other in 1988.
In short, a very stoppable force is meeting an easily movable object — going by historic records, at least. And given just how negative both managers can be, don’t be surprised to see this one play out as a tepid draw.
Barcelona 1-1 Real Madrid (6/1 with William Hill)