Decisive but tarnished: the most important Liga Clasico in recent years, Sunday (9 p.m., 8 p.m. GMT), will also be the least attractive, while Real Madrid and FC Barcelona will try to restore the image of the club match on more followed by the world.
Two points separate the Liga leader duo (Barca 55 pts, Real 53 pts), which makes this Clasico return to the Santiago-Bernabeu, counting for the 26th day, a pivotal match for the end of the season of the two behemoths of Spanish football … especially if Barca expands its lead to five points.
It will certainly be more sporting than last season, where Barca already had nine points ahead of Real Madrid, or that of 2018, where the Catalans had a mattress 15 points ahead … But this year, the two teams arrive at the Clasico with broken dynamics, on the edge of the abyss.
– “lame ducks” –
“This Clasico is a lame-duck race. The two teams are going badly,” ex-Real Jorge Valdano striker said on Spanish radio Onda Cero on Wednesday. “Barca owes its recovery more to Real than to itself,” he added.
“Real have no choice but to win. They have a lot more to lose than Barca,” said ex-Zinedine Zidane’s teammate at Real Madrid, center-forward Fernando Morientes.
The “White House” arrives at the Clasico particularly affected by the 8th finals of the Champions League lost 2-1 against Manchester City by Catalan Pep Guardiola on Wednesday and by the absence of its star striker Eden Hazard (victim of a relapse of his fractured right ankle in Levante last Saturday).
Barca, who recovered first place in Liga in favor of their brilliant victory against Eibar last weekend (5-0, with a quadruple of Messi), and the backhand of Merengue to Levante (1-0), is for its part more affected by the extra-sports concerns that have shaken the Catalan institution in recent weeks (Abidal – Messi dispute, case of manipulation of public opinion …).
The express recruitment of the Danish center Martin Braithwaite also highlights the shortcomings of the Blaugrana at the outposts (Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele being injured until May and August), mitigated by the cover-up, Lionel Messi.
– The end of the golden age? –
At Real, the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo continues to hover: first because despite the good start to the season of Karim Benzema, Zinedine Zidane lacks a real scorer to assist the ex-Lyonnais; secondly because the historic rivalry of the Portuguese (transferred to Juventus Turin in the summer of 2018) with Messi is sorely lacking at the Clasico.
A feeling of the end of a golden era, and a declining Clasico.
Before La Roja’s triumph at the 2010 World Cup, eleven Spanish internationals participated in the Clasico preceding the World Cup. In December, during the last Clasico to date (0-0 on December 16 at Camp Nou), they were only five, half less.
The international aura of the two clubs is less since their European results are at half-mast: Real (triple winner under “Zizou” in 2016, 2017 and 2018) was eliminated by Ajax Amsterdam in the eighth-finals of C1 last year, and Barca has not won the competition since 2015.
And the financial fair play has restricted the financial strike power of the two clubs, which are now overwhelmed by the treasures of the “new rich” like Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.
The proof: last summer, Eden Hazard was the first Real recruit to more than 60 million euros since James Rodriguez in 2014. And the executive director of Barca Oscar Grau affirmed this season that Barca must imperatively reduce its payroll of 18 M €.
Despite the prospect of a declining Clasico, hope persists: at 32, the magician Messi, top scorer in the Spanish championship (18 goals), continues to panic, and the Clasico remains the most popular club match tracking the planet, with more than 650 million potential viewers worldwide.
Both teams are injured, of course, but Barca and Real are never as good as when they are injured. The Sunday Clasico could start to bury one of the two or give a taste of the exciting battle that the two giants could wage for the national title.