FC Barcelona (1st, 65pts) vs Real Madrid CF (2nd, 56pts)
Competition/Round: 2022-23 La Liga, Matchday 26
Barcelona Outs & Doubts: Pedri, Ousmane Dembélé (out)
Real Madrid Outs & Doubts: David Alaba (out)
Date/Time: Sunday, March 19, 2023, 9pm CET/WAT (Barcelona & Nigeria), 8pm GMT (UK), 4pm ET, 1pm PT (USA), 1.30am IST (India, Monday)
Venue: Spotify Camp Nou, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Referee: Ricardo De Burgos Bengoechea
VAR: César Soto Grado
How to watch on TV: ESPN Deportes (USA), Not Available (Canada), Viaplay Sports 1 (UK), SuperSport (Nigeria), Sports18 (India), Movistar LaLiga (Spain), others
Following a hard-fought win away to Athletic Bilbao and a full week of rest and preparation, Barcelona play the biggest game of the season when they welcome their rivals Real Madrid to the Greatest Stadium on Earth for their second La Liga meeting of the season on Sunday Night Fútbol.
Madrid won the first battle between them at the Bernabéu but Barça have won the last two in Cup competition, with the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final still to come after the international break. But without a shadow of a doubt, this is the biggest, most consequential El Clásico of the season.
Simply put, this one decides who wins La Liga. Barça enter this one with a nine-point advantage over their rivals, and will go 12 points clear with 12 matches to go if they win which would in effect be the fatal blow to Los Blancos’ chances. But if Madrid win, they’ll shrink the gap to six points and go into the last eight weeks of the season with all the momentum and the all-important head-to-head tiebreaker over the Blaugrana.
For Carlo Ancelotti and his troops, this is their last chance to deliver a direct blow to their rivals and make it a real title race. Even a draw is not the worst result in the world for the visitors, but it’d certainly make their job more difficult. A Barça win essentially kills all hope, and Madrid know that.
For Xavi Hernández and his men, they know how crucial three points can be and are not approaching this with the mentality of just salvaging a point and keeping the nine-point lead intact. They want all three points at home with a convincing performance and a victory that will put nine fingers on the trophy, and Xavi certainly wants his first home Clásico to end with a memorable win.
But Barça will once again have to do it without their two most creative weapons: Ousmane Dembélé had already been ruled out with an injury, and Pedri suffered a setback in his own recovery during training this week and could miss up to a month with another hamstring problem.
Barça did win without Dembélé and Pedri at the Santiago Bernabéu in the first leg of their Cup tie, but they withstood a lot of punishment and could have easily conceded a goal or two on the night. They were very defensive and got lucky multiple times, and there’s very little guarantee luck will be on their side again if they choose to stay back and defend.
The Blaugrana must show championship intentions with the way they play, but they also have to be smart against what will undoubtedly be a desperate, hungry Madrid team that will treat this like a final. The first 15 to 20 minutes will be crucial, and if Barça can survive the initial onslaught and establish their game, they can use the energy from the home fans, who always bring their best for Clásicos, to attack, be bold and find enough goals to win this one.
It’s El Clásico.
With La Liga on the line.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Araujo, Kounde, Christensen, Balde; Kessie, Busquets, De Jong; Raphinha, Lewandowski, Gavi
Real Madrid (4-3-3): Courtois; Carvajal, Militão, Rüdiger, Mendy; Modric, Tchouaméni, Kroos; Valverde, Benzema, Vinicius
Madrid know this is their last chance and will play like it. Barça need to stay calm, weather the early storm and be efficient with their opportunities when they come. I expect a tense, tight match with very few mistakes and lots of intensity, and the good guys will find a way to be victorious in the end: 2-1 Barça, and a giant step towards the title.