Real Madrid CF (2nd, 22pts) vs FC Barcelona (1st, 22pts)
Competition/Round: 2022-23 La Liga, Matchday 9
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Ronald Araujo, Andreas Christensen, Memphis Depay, Héctor Bellerín (out)
Real Madrid Outs & Doubts: Thibaut Courtois, Dani Ceballos (out)
Date/Time: Sunday, October 16, 2022, 4.15pm CET (Barcelona), 3.15pm BST/WAT (UK & Nigeria), 10.15am ET, 7.15am PT (USA), 7.45pm IST (India)
Venue: Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid, Spain
Referee: José María Sánchez Martínez
VAR: Alejandro José Hernández Hernández
How to watch on TV: ESPN Deportes (USA), TSN 3 (Canada), Premier Sports 1 (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), Sports18 (India), Not Available (Spain), others
Following a tragic result against Inter Milan in midweek to effectively end their Champions League dreams, Barcelona return to La Liga action this Sunday with the biggest game of them all as they travel to the Spanish capital for El Clásico against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Had Barça done their job against Inter, this would be a really exciting Clásico to look forward to. It’s undoubtedly the biggest one in years as Barça have rebuilt themselves into contenders in La Liga and both teams are top of the table, unbeaten and playing really well in the league.
But it’s impossible not to come into this game still scarred by the horrible European night on Wednesday that cast a huge shadow over Xavi Hernández, the team’s veterans and pretty much destroyed a very positive vibe in the fanbase. There was a small section of supporters that didn’t like Xavi very much, but the performances and results were keeping that a minority. Now, after two really bad games against Inter, the coach is under enormous pressure and scrutiny.
Plenty of fans have already turned on Xavi, and when a considerable portion of the fanbase turns on the coach things just get very ugly. They will be unable to acknowledge anything good that the coach does from now on, and they will overreact and be really loud when things don’t go well. Xavi is pretty much in a lose-lose situation right now, but his job is not to make fans like him.
His job is to win games, and winning El Clásico with a strong performance would be a massive boost to the squad’s confidence. Winning La Liga is more crucial than ever after the continental disaster, and leaving the Bernabéu as league leaders will be a big step in achieving that goal.
The players won’t be high on confidence but Xavi’s Barça have played very well against Madrid and the 4-0 destruction at the Bernabéu back in March is still fresh in the memory of fans of both sides. Madrid are in great form and will be favorites since they’re playing at home against a Barça team still picking up the pieces, but Carlo Ancelotti’s side has been vulnerable at the back this season and Barça will have chances to score and get at least a point.
It’s all about whether or not they are mentally strong enough to move on from Wednesday and compete at the highest possible level. The result on Sunday is not about tactics, or physical condition, or individual skills. It’s about the heart and the mind. Do Barça have both? We’ll find out.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Roberto, Kounde, Eric, Balde; De Jong, Busquets, Pedri; Dembélé, Lewandowski, Ansu Fati
Real Madrid (4-3-3): Lunin; Carvajal, Militão, Alaba, Mendy; Modric, Tchouaméni, Kroos; Valverde, Benzema, Vinicius
I am worried about the team’s mental state. It’s impossible to fully recover from that big of a disaster in three days, but it is a little easier when facing another huge game that requires your absolute best instead of playing a bad team that you might take for granted. Combine that with how well Barça have played against Madrid under Xavi and I’m confident that we’ll leave the Bernabéu still top of the table even if we don’t win: 1-1 draw.