FC Barcelona (3rd, 24pts) vs Real Madrid CF (2nd, 25pts)
Competition/Round: 2023-24 La Liga, Matchday 11
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Sergi Roberto (out), Robert Lewandowski, Frenkie de Jong, Pedri, Jules Kounde, Raphinha (doubt)
Real Madrid Outs & Doubts: Thibaut Courtois, Éder Militão, Dani Ceballos, Arda Güler (out)
Date/Time: Saturday, October 28, 2023, 4.15pm CET (Barcelona), 3.15pm BST/WAT (UK & Nigeria), 10.15am ET, 7.15am PT (USA), 7.45pm IST (India)
Venue: Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, Montjuïc, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Referee: Jesús Gil Manzano
VAR: Guillermo Cuadra Fernández
How to watch on TV: ESPN Deportes (USA), SuperSport (Nigeria), Sports18 (India), Not Available (Spain, UK, Canada), others
Following a hard-fought win over Shakhtar Donetsk to virtually guarantee a spot in the Champions League knockout rounds, Barcelona look to finish a crucial week on the highest of highs as they welcome their biggest rivals Real Madrid for the latest edition of The Greatest Game in the Game as the first El Clásico of the season takes place at the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Barça come into this one on the back of two valuable one-goal wins over Athletic Bilbao and Shakhtar that tested the team’s character and boosted their confidence for the biggest of all matches, and while the spirits are high and the team has proven they are capable of competing with anyone no matter who is missing, it is pretty evident that Barça come into this particular Clásico as underdogs due to the (crazy) current circumstances.
Even though all but one of the six injured first team players took part in the final training session before the game on Friday, it is very unrealistic to expect any of them to have a real impact in this game. We don’t even know who will be included in the squad to begin with, and Xavi Hernández is doing the smart thing and playing some mind games by waiting until the last possible second to reveal the list of names that will be in uniform.
But it’s safe to assume the starting XI will be very similar to the one from the last few games, which means Barça will probably be missing their best center-back, best midfielder and best goalscorer for most, if not the whole match.
Any team in the world facing their biggest rivals without those three key pieces cannot be realistically considered favorites, and everyone would understand if they just didn’t have enough to compete. As much as it hurts me to say it, a loss is absolutely possible and maybe even probable in this one, and Madrid will be hungry to take advantage of Barça’s absences to make a little bit of a statement as the early title favorites.
If Barça play a highly competitive 90-minute match and find a way to earn a point from this one, fans should be more than happy. If they somehow steal all three, no matter how ugly or werid it looks, it’s the biggest, most improbable win of the season. Expectations for the level of performance should be low, and avoiding a loss should absolutely be the priority.
Forget playing well, just see if you can get a point and plant that seed of doubt in Madrid’s collective minds. If they can’t beat us when we’re missing our best players, what happens when we’re at full strength next time? Make them ask themselves that question, take a point (or all three, somehow), and the weekend will be a success.
Barcelona (4-4-2): Ter Stegen; Araujo, Christensen, Iñigo, Balde; Cancelo, Gündogan, Gavi, Fermín; Ferran, Félix
Real Madrid (4-3-1-2): Arrizabalaga; Carvajal, Rüdiger, Alaba, Mendy; Valverde, Tchouaméni, Kroos; Bellingham; Rodrygo, Vinicius
It’s fun to go into a Clásico as a fan knowing it’s that rare occasion where your team is the clear underdog and you’ll be proud of them for putting up a good fight at home even if they lose, but I don’t think we’ll lose: 2-2 draw, an entertaining game for the neutrals, and a show of strength by an injured Barça.