The Spotify Camp Nou will be the scene of a classic with decisive overtones in the fight for the conquest of La Liga Santander and will decide if the fight is prolonged or it is seen for the sentence in favor of the Barcelona, leader of the competition with nine points ahead, against a Real Madrid who craves a win to fuel the championship.
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After the long-suffering victory in San Mamés (0-1), the locals face the duel with a comfortable lead of nine points ahead of the white team, who only think of victory to be six points behind and feed the dream of the comeback.
With the atmosphere rarefied by the noise caused by the judicialization of the ‘Negreira case’but without the pressure of other occasions, Xavi Hernández’s men, who will play his first clásico in the Barça fiefdom as coach, have gotten used to winning against their eternal rival this 2023.
Two classics have been played this year and have resulted in two victories for Barca. The first in a football exhibition in the final of the Spanish Super Cup (1-3), and the second in a formidable exercise in survival (0-1) in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals. In the third episode of 2023 between the blaugranas and the whites -the fourth of the course-, the leader of LaLiga arrives with a somewhat empty fuel tank.
The absence of Pedro González ‘Pedri’, his beacon in the midfield, has left Barça without light in the engine room. Everything indicated that the canary would enter the call, but he ended the penultimate training session with bad feelings. The coaching staff of the Barça team does not want to take risks with one of his mainstays, who suffered an injury to the rectus femoris of his right thigh a month ago.
Without the Tegueste midfielder in the green and an earthy version of Robert Lewandowski, Barça has become strong at the back. With the best version of Ter Stegen under the sticks, Xavi’s pupils have only conceded eight goals in 25 games and have subscribed to adding victories by the minimum. If Ter Stegen shines in goal, Ronald Araujo has established himself as the undisputed foreman of the defense.
The Uruguayan, who returns to the squad after missing the game in San Mamés due to suspension, will be one of the stars of the match. Xavi has turned the international ‘charrúa’, who except for surprise will return to occupy the right side, in the best antidote to curb Vinicius Júnior’s imbalance.
Barça’s last three victories in a classic have coincided with Araujo being the shadow of the Brazilian winger. With the confirmed casualties of ‘Pedri’ and Ousmane Dembélé, it only remains to be seen if Xavi is committed to playing with four midfielders, with Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong and Pablo Páez Gavira ‘Gavi’, occupying the left wing, or if he dares to play with three points
The last letter from Madrid
Real Madrid has no choice but to respond with a victory to the obligation. Victim of his own mistakes, with two defeats and three draws so far this year, and the regularity of his eternal rival, he must extend the winning streak at the Camp Nou in the League to return the excitement to the fight for the title and not see her sentenced with more than two calendar months still.
He emerged victorious from his last two league visits at the Camp Nou and must forget the lack of hunger shown in the La Clásico Spain Supercup and the impotence felt in the last duel, in the Copa del Rey, when he was unable to score a goal against a Barcelona with major losses.
It is his challenge, to make a goalkeeper like Ter Stegen who signs a record from another planet earthly. He has scored 19 clean sheets in 25 games and conceded just one goal at the Camp Nou. A challenge for Karim Benzemawho arrives in time to play after overcoming a blow suffered against Liverpool, in a match in which despite scoring the winning goal, he lacked the physical finesse to be decisive, and, of course, for the great Madrid benchmark , Vinícius, who faces a new fight with Araujo wanting to free himself from the ties of marking and be decisive.
For this, Ancelotti has a plan, the mobility of his three attacking players and an offensive approach. That makes doubt about the presence in the trident of Fede Valverde and gives options to the entry of Rodrygo Goes. Although delaying the Uruguayan to midfield would cause ‘Carletto’ to doubt that he would have to do without one of his pillars, Luka Modric or Toni Kroos, whom he described as “the best midfielders in the world” the day before.
With greater physical exhaustion than his rival, due to the Champions League dispute, the idea of repeating Ancelotti’s team flies over but seems untenable. Although everything indicates that he will repeat defense.
Due to the loss of David Alaba and due to the better physical tone of Nacho Fernández than a recently recovered Ferland Mendy for the left side. In the midfield Eduardo Camavinga would leave his place to Aurélien Tchouaméni who was a substitute in the ‘Champions’ and is in full swing to show power in a key position in the coverage of a Real Madrid that will go for goals and meet the goal of extending life of the league.
FC Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Araujo, Kound, Christensen, Balde; Busquets, De Jong, Kessie; Leaf, Lewandowski, Gavi.
Real Madrid: Courtois; Carvajal, Militao, Rudiger, Nacho; Tchouaméni, Kroos, Modric O Fede Valverde; Rodrygo, Vinicius, Benzema. Referee: Ricardo De Burgos Bengoetxea (Basque Committee). VAR: César Soto Grado (Riojan committee).
Stadium: Spotify Camp Nou.
Time: 3 pm
TV: Star + e ESPN