Every Clasico has its story, no matter how benign or massive it is. On this grand scale, the meeting this weekend is perhaps more on the benign side. As much as Carlo Ancelotti and his players try to affirm the Madrid faithful about their fight for the league being still alive, the reality of the matter suggests otherwise. Xavi Hernandez’s Barcelona can practically take out the champagne that’s already on ice and grab their glasses if they can beat Real Madrid a third time this season on Sunday. For Real Madrid, the challenge is bigger and stranger.
Xavi’s Barcelona has been near perfect in La Liga despite getting knocked out of two European competitions this season. As seen in the passing receptions areas below, Barcelona’s dominance comes from the uncompromising shape. There is an even distribution on the two flanks. Barcelona’s impressive depth in the roster has allowed Xavi to persist and make this scheme almost perfect.
Real Madrid is exactly the opposite. There are pros and cons to Madrid’s chaotic, lopsided approach. No team has scored more goals than Madrid in La Liga this season. However, the predictability that comes with this approach has been Real Madrid’s bane against low blocks.
The story of Pass Origins is almost the same. Barcelona starts from central areas but the uniformity in their approach remains intact. Real Madrid is once again dependent on the left flank (mostly Toni Kroos) to drive things from the interior position.
Barcelona have conceded just eight goals in 25 league games this season. They have not conceded any goals in four out of their last five La Liga matches. Three out of the eight goals they conceded in the league came in the previous La Liga Clasico this season which seems like a lifetime ago now.
Xavi’s team engages in defensive actions high and wide up the pitch. At times, pressing in the opponent’s defensive and mid-block has been key for them. The xG against Real Madrid this season is 22 in La Liga. They have conceded 19 goals. The xG against Barcelona is 20.3 but they have only conceded eight. The inhuman form of Marc-Andre ter Stegan and some bizarre finishing from La Liga strikers have aided Barcelona in this case.
In the half-spaces and zone 14, Karim Benzema has been a more involved figure than Robert Lewandowski although the Poland Captain is currently leading the Pichichi race. Benzema picked a knock against Liverpool at the Bernabeu. His presence or absence can make a huge difference in this game.
Barcelona’s Pedri leads the league in through-balls and is one of their best players. Barcelona would be eager to confirm his presence in the Clasico. Pedri’s ability on the ball and overall football IQ is not something Xavi would want to miss.
After a magnificent performance in yet another big night of the Champions League, the resounding verdict on Eduardo Camavinga is — it doesn’t look like he is 20 years old. He is handling these situations with the calmness of a veteran. Could the Clasico be Camavinga's next big night?
It will be interesting to see this one plays out.