La Liga – Real Madrid v Barcelona – El Clasico Preview
It’s Cristiano Ronaldo versus Lionel Messi, Jose Mourinho versus Pep Guardiola and probably the most eagerly-awaited El Clasico for several years. Barcelona have dominated their arch-rivals over the last few seasons, though Real did momentarily enjoy some respite from the torment when beating Barca in last year’s Copa del Rey and have been making the running in La Liga this season. Going into this week’s big clash at the Bernebeu, Real have a three-point lead over the Catalans having played a game less. Mourinho’s team have won 12 of their 14 games so far in the league and have been equally impressive in the Champions League, winning a group that also contained Ajax, Lyon and Dinamo Zagreb with two games to spare. That equates to a 14-game winning streak in which only one victory was by less than a two-goal margin.
Along with Barca’s Messi and Xavi, Ronaldo has recently been nominated for the prestigious Ballon d’Or and the former Manchester United winger has been in terrific form for club and country recently. He’s found the net seven times in Real’s last four league games and is only 15/8 to score his side’s first goal against Barcelona. That could be still be some value, however, as the Portuguese is his side’s penalty-taker and will also step up should Real get a free-kick within shooting distance of their opponent’s goal. There’s no doubt that Real are a much more complete outfit this season and their attacking options are frightening. Karim Benzema, Mesut Ozil and Gonzalo Higuain are all ready and able to step into the breach should Ronaldo be shackled – so is the balance of power about to shift in Spain?
Not if Lionel Messi has anything to do with it! The Argentinian maestro has scored 10 goals in Barca’s last 11 games against Real and has been dazzling crowds across Europe again this season. Cesc Fabregas has also been among the goals since his summer move from Arsenal and Barcelona’s midfield continues to operate like a well-oiled machine. They have, however, occasionally looked short of ideas when hard-working teams close them down quickly. Just a hint of vulnerability, therefore, and that may be enough incentive for Real to go for the jugular in what is always a passionate contest. The home side are taken to edge a hard-fought affair at 7/5 and a 2-1 correct score can be backed at 15/2. Madrid to score a penalty can be backed at 5/1.