With an incredibly close table in La Liga and plenty of drama off the soccer pitch, Saturday’s El Clásico between Barcelona and Real Madrid can be summarized in one word: Messi.
The Barcelona star has been at the center of a series of controversies this season, from his request for a transfer last summer to his claim that referee Jaime Latre was hoping to give him a yellow card in yesterday’s win over Real Valladolid (a fifth yellow card would have made Messi ineligible to play in Saturday’s crucial showdown). It’s understandable that the most iconic player in the world would drive the narrative for the game, but Messi is living up to his last name in what’s likely to be his final El Clásico for Barcelona.
There are other storylines to watch out for in Saturday’s match, which begins at 3pm ET and will be available on Sling with beIN Sports in both English and Spanish. Use the link at the bottom of this page to get beIN Sports on Sling and read on for more reasons why you won’t want to miss the 246th meeting between these two iconic clubs.
The Table Has Turned
A lot has changed in the La Liga standings since these teams faced off for the first time this season. When Real Madrid defeated a slumping Barcelona squad 3-1 on Oct. 24, they knocked Barca all the way down to the middle of the table. However since Dec. 5, Barcelona has gone unbeaten in La Liga, a 19-match streak that includes just three draws.
Real Madrid is riding their own nine-game unbeaten streak, including a 2-0 win over Elbar last weekend. Their recent surge has created an exceptionally close three team battle at the top of the La Liga standings, with crosstown rival Atletico Madrid currently in first with 66 points, followed by Barcelona with 65 points, and Real Madrid with 62. A second win over Barca would lift Real Madrid even with Barcelona in the standings as they head into the final eight games of the La Liga schedule.
Real or Fake?
The biggest challenge facing Real Madrid as they prepare for El Clásico is their health. On Tuesday, the team announced that star defender Raphael Varane tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss El Clásico. The announcement comes just days after team captain Sergio Ramos was injured in Spain’s World Cup qualifying win over Kosovo. Ramos is also expected to sit out Saturday’s contest.
With the two players sidelined, veteran Nacho Fernandez and 23-year-old Eder Militao are the team’s only healthy center backs. Madrid will also be without Dani Carvajal and Eden Hazard in Saturday’s game, leaving them extremely thin in key positions during the most important week of the season. The good news? Madrid looked just fine in their 3-1 win over Liverpool on Tuesday, the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal clash. Along with a goal from Marco Asensio, Vini Jr. scored twice, giving Real Madrid a boost of momentum ahead of their La Liga showdown with Barcelona.
Who’s Next For Barcelona?
It’s no surprise to see Messi atop the leaderboard in La Liga goals (he’s scored 23 times in 27 games), but with his contract up this summer, Barcelona is in search of a young successor. 18-year-old Ansu Fati has shown flashes, and with four goals, he’s the team’s fourth-leading scorer despite playing in just seven matches. There’s also 23-year-old Ousmane Dembele, who knocked in the game-winner in the 90th minute in Sunday’s win over Valladolid. There’s even an American in the mix: 20-year-old Sergiño Dest, who is expected in the lineup on Saturday.
But Barcelona’s greatest hope is 18-year-old Pedri. In March, he was called up to the Spanish national team for World Cup qualifiers and his performance has received rave reviews, with Graham Hunter of ESPN recently arguing that, “we are watching the blossoming of one of the world's great talents. Whether that is of modern times or 'all-time' is largely up to him.” With Messi likely to leave the club after this season, Pedri appears to be the future face of the team. His first win in the most famous rivalry in football would go a long way toward etching his legacy.
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