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El Clasico: FC Barcelona on the Rise and the Decline of Real Madrid

In the build-up to the final Clasico of the 2014/15 La Liga season, we partnered with SportsMatrix to look at the contrasting fortunes of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid in 2014 and 2015

David Ramos/Getty Images

You know what? I’m going to take a moment here to be honest. We, as a collective fanbase, as Culés, don’t do it often enough. Instead, we tend to live in a world of constant hyperbole – a world of superlatives, in which everything we under or over-play everything to suit our own agendas. I don’t know about you, but I find it quite tiring; so let’s embrace honesty and look back at 2014.

It sucked.

Simple as that, if we could strike one year from our history books, 2014 would certainly boast a strong case. On the field, Barcelona struggled to second-place in La Liga, crashed out of the UEFA Champions League to Atletico Madrid, and could only watch on in horror as Real Madrid crowned themselves the Copa del Rey champions, European Champions, European Super Cup champions and World champions.

Lionel Messi went another year without the FIFA Ballon d’Or, as Cristiano Ronaldo was widely recognised as the finest footballer on the planet, while our transfer of Neymar went from bad to worse, at least from a financial standpoint. Club captain and all-round legend, Carles Puyol retired. Victor Valdés left to go and sit on the Manchester United bench.

Then of course, we suffered through tragedy off the field as well. Tito Vilanova was cruelly taken from the world well before his time...for that reason alone the world was a better place before 2014 came along.

There was just about no way on earth that 2015 could possibly be worse, but one can’t help but be pleasantly surprised by the progress we have made in such a short time in this calendar year. Working in partnership with our new friends over at SportsMatrix, the infographic below helps demonstrate the areas in which Barça have improved.

We might be taking fewer shots per match, but we are hitting the target more often. Luis Suarez’ form not only passes the sight test, but statistically he is ticking all the right boxes as well. His goals per game ratio is through the roof, while he is also hitting the target with far more regularity as compared to 2014. Sure, we’ve seen a slight dip in Neymar’s goalscoring form – but much of this can be attributed to the "secondary" role he has taken behind both Lionel Messi and now Suarez too.

Indeed, the Brazilian is taking fewer shots per match which helps explain his relative drop in goals scored – but on the other hand, Neymar is creating more chances than ever before and his decision-making in terms of knowing when and where to play the final pass has improved markedly.

Oh, and then we have Lionel Messi. He’s taking fewer shots and an increasing percentage of his shots are ending up off target, but he is also scoring roughly 50% more goals per game. Further proof if any was needed that Messi simply defies logic.

In spite of what we witnessed against Manchester City in midweek, Barcelona are becoming increasingly clinical as well. We’re scoring more goals than ever before, despite creating fewer goalscoring opportunities per match – and we’ve got our fabled attacking triumvirate to thank.

Meanwhile, the rise and rise of FC Barcelona coincides with the continuing decline of Real Madrid – a look at similar stats for Los Blancos make for grim reading, at least if you are a Madridista.

Shots per game are down, not only across the team, but also across each of the front three – Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and even Cristiano Ronaldo, they’re all taking fewer shots per match and they’re all struggling for accuracy. Well, aside from Benzema, but the bad news is that he’s also the most selfless of the trio.

Consequently, Real Madrid are scoring fewer goals and the "BBC" trio aren’t helping. Devoid of ideas, Madrid often look lost out on the field and without that confidence, a team full of superstars have become, well, ordinary.

Can they find their magic touch once again in time for tomorrow’s match, or will Barça continue their upward trend and extend their lead at the top of La Liga, courtesy of "MSN"?

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