LaLiga Matchweek 30 preview: Real Madrid vs. Barcelona (Sat - 21:00h. CET; 20:00h. BST) - Team news, possible lineups
One of the biggest fixtures in the football calendar will take place in the Spanish capital on Saturday evening as Real Madrid welcome Barcelona for the latest edition of El Clasico.
Los Blancos are currently third in Spain's top flight, two points behind second-placed Barca, who now trail leaders Atletico Madrid by just a single point with nine games left.
There is no question that Madrid have had their problems during the 2020-21 campaign, but it has been a strong few weeks for Zinedine Zidane's side, and it could be a very successful end to the season.
Unbeaten in La Liga since the end of January, Los Blancos have won seven and drawn three of their last 10 league matches to leave themselves very much in the title picture. As mentioned, the reigning champions are third in the table, two points behind second-placed Barca and just three points behind leaders Atletico.
Madrid ran out 2-0 winners over Eibar in the league last weekend, with Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema on the scoresheet; Zidane's team have been strong at home this term, but three of their four league defeats in 2020-21 have arrived at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium.
Los Blancos were in Champions League action on Tuesday night, meanwhile, and recorded a 3-1 win over Liverpool in the first leg of their quarter-final contest to leave themselves in a strong position to advance ahead of the second leg at Anfield on April 14.
Madrid entered the clash with Jurgen Klopp's side without the services of their two first-choice centre-backs in the shape of Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos, but Vinicius Junior scored twice in a strong performance from the capital outfit, and they are now the favourites to advance to another semi-final.
Benzema has again been in excellent form during the 2020-21 campaign, finding the back of the net on 24 occasions in 34 appearances in all competitions, including 18 goals in 25 La Liga outings.
A defeat for Madrid on Saturday would see them lose precious ground, but a victory would leave them in a strong position leading into fixtures against Getafe, Cadiz and Real Betis before the end of April.
Zidane's team could, in theory, still win La Liga and the Champions League this season, and it is set to be a busy transfer window for the club despite the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak, with Borussia Dortmund's Erling Braut Haaland said to be a leading target.
Barca, meanwhile, were not in Champions League action during the week, with the Catalan giants losing to Paris Saint-Germain in the last-16 stage of the competition towards the start of March.
As a result, Ronald Koeman's side will have had longer to prepare for this match, with their last fixture bringing a 1-0 win over Real Valladolid in La Liga on Monday night.
Ousmane Dembele scored the only goal of the match in the 90th minute, and there is no downplaying the importance of the victory, which moved the Catalan giants back into second and just a point behind Atletico, who are wobbling at the business end of the season.
There is no question that Atletico will be feeling the pressure; Diego Simeone's side have a tough match away to Real Betis on Sunday evening, and there is every chance that they could be knocked off the top of the division by the end of the weekend.
Since losing to Cadiz at the start of December, Barca's league form has been excellent, and they will enter this weekend's contest off the back of six straight victories in Spain's top flight.
Koeman's side thumped Real Sociedad 6-1 in their last away league game on February 21, but they lost three times on their travels in La Liga this term, with Getafe, Atletico and Cadiz all triumphing in the first half of the campaign.
The Catalan giants, like Madrid, are planning to boost their squad this summer despite their financial issues, and it appears increasingly likely that Lionel Messi will sign a new contract; the Argentine is enjoying another excellent campaign at club level, scoring 29 times and registering 13 assists in 38 appearances.
Neither Madrid nor Barca would be out of the title race if they lose this weekend, but it is the perfect chance to strike a blow to a bitter rival, and Los Blancos have won the last two matches between the two sides, including a 3-1 victory at Camp Nou in the reverse fixture back in October.
Madrid will again be without the services of Ramos due to a calf problem, while the match will also come too soon for Dani Carvajal, who is still battling to overcome a thigh issue.
Varane is also unavailable due to a positive coronavirus test, and Eden Hazard has been left out of the squad despite making progress in his recovery from a muscular problem.
There is every chance that Zidane could decide to select the same XI that took to the field against Liverpool, with Asensio joining Vinicius and Benzema in the final third of the field.
Federico Valverde is an option as an extra midfielder, but the Uruguay international has only just returned from injury and could therefore be named on the bench.
As for Barca, Philippe Coutinho and Ansu Fati remain on the sidelines with knee injuries, while number two goalkeeper Neto Murara is still battling an ankle problem.
Gerard Pique has made huge steps forward in his recovery from a knee problem and should be on the bench, but the experienced defender is unlikely to start, meaning that Oscar Mingueza, Frenkie de Jong and Clement Lenglet could again feature as the back three.
Sergi Roberto, like Pique, has been named in the squad, but the Spaniard is unlikely to be in the XI, with Sergino Dest set to keep his spot in the starting XI as the right-sided wing-back.
There are not expected to be any changes further forward, meanwhile, with Dembele joining Antoine Griezmann and Messi as part of a front three.
Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Vazquez, Militao, Nacho, Mendy; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Asensio, Benzema, Vinicius.
Barcelona possible starting lineup:
Ter Stegen; Mingueza, De Jong, Lenglet; Dest, Pedri, Busquets, Alba; Griezmann, Messi, Dembele.
Head To Head
There have been 181 La Liga matches between these two teams throughout history, and Madrid lead the head-to-head record 74 victories to 72, while there have also been 35 draws.
Los Blancos have won the last two league meetings, including a 3-1 victory at Camp Nou earlier this season, and Barca have not actually triumphed in this fixture since a 1-0 success in March 2019.
In competitive matches, Madrid also lead the overall head-to-head record 97 wins to Barca's 96, but the Catalan giants have won four, drawn two and lost two of the last eight league meetings between the two sides.
Messi is the leading scorer in El Clasico fixtures with 26, including 18 in La Liga, while Benzema has managed nine goals, with six of those coming in Spain's top flight.
Source: Sports Mole / Matt Law