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Real Madrid vs. Barcelona Clasico preview

Sunday’s Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona at the Bernabeu might not be decisive in terms of LaLiga’s title race, but it’s still a fiery rivalry with plenty on the line. (The lines, from Caesars: +110 for Real Madrid, +225 for Barcelona, and +265 for the draw.) For Real Madrid, it’s the final real hurdle between them and winning the league, while for Barcelona, Xavi has a great opportunity to show just how quickly the Blaugrana revolution is going.

Which team has the edge? Which players will likely decide the contest? And which head-to-head matchups will be crucial? Alex Kirkland (Real Madrid) and Sam Marsden (Barcelona) break down the game from both angles.

How do Real Madrid approach a Clasico that kicks off with them 10 points clear at the top of the table, and 15 points above Barcelona?

This fixture always, always matters, but this time it won’t be decisive in the title race.

Sevilla, their nearest challengers, look like they’re slipping away, and with 10 games left it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Madrid don’t end up champions. So while a victory against Xavi’s resurgent Barca would be cause for celebration, a draw would be fine and a narrow loss would be no reason to panic.

The availability of Karim Benzema — at the time of this writing, a doubt with a calf problem picked up in Madrid’s 3-0 victory at Real Mallorca — will be a significant factor. Madrid rely on Benzema to dictate their forward play. In his absence last month, coach Carlo Ancelotti experimented with Marco Asensio, Isco and Gareth Bale in the role with varying degrees of success.

Barca have improved all three “Ps” (possession, positioning and pressing), but they remain far from the finished article. Without the ball, good counter-attacking teams can still exploit their weaknesses, and Madrid certainly fit that category. There were already signs of Barca’s improvement when the teams met in the Spanish Supercopa in January. Ultimately, though, Madrid picked them off on the break to seal an extra-time win in Saudi Arabia.

Barca’s upward trajectory has continued over the past two months and with some added efficiency in front of goal, they’ve comfortably dismantled Atletico Madrid, Valencia, Napoli and Athletic Bilbao, scoring four goals versus all of them.

The challenge against Madrid will be to really test how far they have come.If they can keep the ball away from Carlo Ancelotti’s side, win it back quickly when they lose it and limit counterattacks (things they’ve done in recent games against inferior opposition) there’s no reason they can’t end their barren run — Barca haven’t beaten their rivals in LaLiga since 2019 — in this fixture.

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