the questions that may decide the Clasico

We’re little greater than 24 hours away from a Clasico that stands to have appreciable implications on this season’s LaLiga title race. Barcelona lead Actual Madrid by 9 factors within the desk and have received the previous two conferences between the perimeters, and a 3rd straight victory would all however wrap up the league title for the Catalan membership.

On the again of a powerful Champions League last-16 win over Liverpool, although, there’s each purpose to recommend that Madrid are starting to hit their stride on the marketing campaign’s inflection level. They’re Spain‘s defending home champions and received the October assembly between the golf equipment in convincing style.

What do you have to anticipate when the 2 well-known rivals line up on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, stream reside on ESPN+)? ESPN’s Barcelona and Madrid correspondents Sam Marsden and Alex Kirkland lay out the largest storylines forward of the match and make their predictions.

How related is the previous Clasico, and the way can Madrid change the result?

Barcelona’s 1-0 win on the Santiago Bernabeu within the Copa del Rey semifinal first leg on March 2 wasn’t a whole fluke — though their purpose, Franck Kessie‘s shot hitting the online through Thibaut Courtois‘ save and Eder Militao’s unwitting deflection, undoubtedly was — however it was uncommon. Madrid “dominated” the sport, within the phrases of Courtois. Barcelona had a traditionally low 35.4% possession, compelled to sit down again and defend deep. Madrid had 13 pictures to Barca’s 4. The distinction in xG, or anticipated objectives, was minimal: 0.57 for Madrid and 0.63 for Barca. Madrid’s downside was the ultimate ball and creating high-quality possibilities. None of their pictures have been on course.

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Barca vs. Madrid: Sunday at 3 p.m. ET, stream reside on ESPN+

For coach Carlo Ancelotti, the thought for Sunday’s LaLiga Clasico — and the return leg within the Copa on April 5 — is easy: play the identical manner, whereas being extra medical within the closing third.

“We merely should repeat this recreation in Barcelona,” he mentioned after the Copa recreation. “Defensively, with a excessive press, this was considered one of Madrid’s finest video games. If we are able to play with this depth, we’ll have extra possibilities.”

Anticipate Madrid to stay with that prime press, with the midfield — whether or not it is Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Federico Valverde or Eduardo Camavinga — pushing as much as disrupt Barca’s passing. Will probably be all the way down to Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior to be extra incisive in assault. Benzema had only one shot in that final assembly and Vinicius was restricted to 2, unable to interrupt away from the attentions of Ronald Araujo.

In fact, Barcelona can even look to enhance on that Copa show. It is onerous to think about Xavi’s group having so little of the ball at Camp Nou. — Kirkland

Are the 2 goalkeepers crucial gamers right here? In that case, what does that say in regards to the state of the Clasico?

The Clasicos of the previous 15 years have largely been outlined by the purpose scorers and the aptitude gamers. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Modric and Andres Iniesta. Nevertheless, ask supporters of both of the 2 golf equipment who’re at present their most vital gamers and Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Courtois would possible rank close to the highest. It means that the standard of this fixture has maybe dipped lately, however ought to take nothing away from the 2 goalkeepers.

German stopper Ter Stegen is having arguably his finest season since he joined Barca 9 years in the past. By way of 25 LaLiga video games, he has conceded simply eight objectives, retaining 19 clear sheets, each league highs for this stage of the marketing campaign. These eight objectives conceded have come from an xGA (anticipated objectives in opposition to) of 20.56. He has made 51 saves, a few of them spectacular, together with heroic performances in a number of 1-0 wins. Holding objectives out is barely a part of his job, thoughts. He’s additionally the primary line of Barca’s assault and has accomplished 82.5% of his 699 tried passes in LaLiga. No goalkeeper within the league has tried extra or has a better success charge.

On paper, Courtois’ statistics do not evaluate this season, however his worth to Madrid is analogous. Within the large moments, he’s there. Simply ask Liverpool. He stored them out once more on Wednesday as Madrid progressed in Europe, and he was the participant of the match in final season’s Champions League closing between the identical two sides. Latest highlights embrace a positive save in opposition to Actual Valladolid at 0-0 as Madrid went on to say three factors and an enormous cease from Borja Iglesias within the current goalless draw in opposition to Actual Betis. — Marsden

Why do Madrid beat all comers within the Champions League however typically wrestle in opposition to Barca?

Whereas Madrid have crushed a few of Europe’s finest prior to now 12 months — dispatching Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, Manchester Metropolis in heroic style on their solution to profitable the Champions League — Barcelona have proved a harder check. Earlier than Barca’s backs-to-the-wall 1-0 win within the Copa, there was their convincing 3-1 victory within the Spanish Supercopa closing on Jan. 15. Sure, Madrid got here out on prime in LaLiga, with a cushty 3-1 win on Oct. 16, however earlier than that, Barca put collectively one of the vital convincing performances by an away group at Bernabeu in years final season, beating Madrid 4-0 on March 20.

Look again a little bit additional and Madrid’s report is significantly higher, although. They went six Clasicos with out a defeat till that 4-0 drubbing, together with 4 consecutive wins in LaLiga in 2020 and 2021, for the primary time for the reason that Sixties. The arrival of Xavi at Camp Nou, and Barca’s subsequent enchancment — no less than domestically — has seen the fixture turn out to be unpredictable as soon as extra. The comparability with final season’s Champions League win can be considerably deceptive. These epic comebacks have been solely vital due to simply how dangerous Madrid have been of their 1-0 first-leg loss to PSG, and for a lot of the 3-2 residence and 4-3 away defeats to Chelsea and Manchester Metropolis.

In abstract: this Actual Madrid group is able to greatness, and of being very common, and we have seen loads of each in Clasicos, and in Europe, in current seasons. — Kirkland

How is the Negreira case hanging over this recreation and affecting the connection between these two golf equipment?

Barcelona’s funds to the previous vice chairman of the refereeing committee in Spain are testing the bond developed between the 2 Clasico rivals in current seasons. They’re companions within the European Tremendous League venture and have been among the many solely groups to reject LaLiga’s take care of non-public fairness agency CVC for an prompt money increase in trade for a future share of their tv cash. Presidents Joan Laporta and Florentino Perez are each capable of see that, even when they all the time wish to win, each groups profit if the opposite stays sturdy.

Madrid have been the one LaLiga facet to not condemn the revelation of Barca’s funds to ex-referee Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira in a letter launched by Spanish golf equipment two weeks in the past. Final weekend, although, following a call from prosecutors to hunt corruption expenses in opposition to Barca, Madrid determined to hitch the criticism. Experiences recommend Barca anticipated that to occur due to the mounting fan stress on Perez to behave, however that also they are disillusioned — with TV3 suggesting Laporta will even cancel Sunday’s conventional pre-game administrators’ lunch as a consequence.

Barca proceed to state their innocence in opposition to the allegations, with Laporta saying they by no means “purchased referees or affect.” For a lot of, although, their picture is already stained regardless of there being no judgement but. And what occurs on the pitch is even being seen by means of the prism of the case. Followers of opposition groups, in the meantime, are throwing faux financial institution notes throughout Barca video games and chanting for them to be relegated.

“It was unhappy to see,” Xavi mentioned following such incidents throughout the win over Athletic Membership final weekend. “Barca are being judged earlier than time, which isn’t good for society.” — Marsden

Actual Madrid participant to look at

Vinicius. His misplaced battle with Araujo was the story of the final Clasico. However Vinicius is on kind, scoring and starring in Madrid’s LaLiga win over Espanyol final weekend, and might be decided to come back out on prime this time. — Kirkland

Barcelona participant to look at

Raphinha. Nonetheless settling following a summer time change from Leeds United, he has been Barca’s standout attacker in 2023 since Ousmane Dembele bought injured. He scored the winner in 1-0 victories in every of Barca’s previous two LaLiga matches. In whole, he now has 5 objectives in his previous 10 video games and eight in 20 after scoring simply as soon as in his first 17 appearances. — Marsden

Predicted Actual Madrid beginning XI

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

Predicted Barcelona beginning XI

Ter Stegen; Araujo, Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen, Alejandro Balde; Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong, Kessie, Gavi; Raphinha, Robert Lewandowski. — Marsden

Rating predictions

Barcelona 1-2 Actual Madrid: A Madrid win won’t put them proper again within the title race, however a six-point hole would guarantee leaders Barca cannot take it straightforward between now and the top of the season. — Kirkland

Barcelona 1-1 Actual Madrid: A draw is nice sufficient for Barca to keep up their nine-point lead on the prime, whereas Madrid may accept some extent and reserve their efforts for upcoming challenges within the Copa del Rey and Champions League. — Marsden

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