The biggest La Liga game of the season so far takes place on Saturday when world champions Real Madrid host bitter rivals Barcelona at the Bernebeu. Barca have raced into an 11 point lead over holders Real Madrid in La Liga after a superb unbeaten start to the season. They are defending better than they have in years, and Leo Messi and Luis Suarez are on fire up front. But Real have a game in hand, will be full of confidence after winning the Club World Cup last weekend and know they can blow the title race wide open with a win in this game. It should, therefore, prove to be an exhilarating contest between two titans of world football.
Real may bet a little jet-lagged after returning from Abu Dhabi at the weekend, but they have a full week to prepare for this pivotal game. They have started the season in sluggish fashion – played 15, won nine, drawn four, lost two – and that has left them fourth in the table. It is surprising to see them struggle so badly after they broke Barcelona’s La Liga monopoly and won a second consecutive Champions League title last season. But Cristiano Ronaldo has been misfiring and some shock results against the lesser opposition has seen Real playing catch up.
No such worries for Barcelona, who have been simply sensational since the new campaign began. A change of manager typically galvanises Barca and that has proved the case this season after Ernesto Valverde replaced Luis Enrique in the summer. He has made them far better organised and much more difficult to break down. Barca have conceded just seven goals in 16 games so far this season, which works out at 0.35 per game. Last season they conceded 0.97 per game and finished three points behind Real Madrid, so Valverde’s impact is clear.
But Barcelona also lead the league for goals scored: 42 in 16 games, an average of 2.63 per game. Real have scored two per game and conceded 0.73, so Barcelona are leading them in key metrics. But that often goes out the window when it comes to El Clasico, a pressure cooker of a fixture in which tempers run high, red cards are commonplace and drama lurks around every corner.
Ronaldo saw red the last time they met, in the curtain-raising Super Cup final, but Real still held on to win 3-1. Afterwards, Barcelona players made frank comments to the media about their inadequacy in comparison to their great rivals. But since then they have made a mockery of their own comments by excelling while Real falter.
Last season when they met at the Bernebeu, Sergio Ramos was sent off and Barcelona beat Real 3-2 thanks to a superb brace from Messi. You have to go back to the 2014-15 season for the last time Real beat Barcelona at home, so the Catalans could have a psychological advantage going into the game.
Despite that, Real are the favourites, which is typically the case when a team has home advantage. They are 23/20 with Bet Stars and Betway, 119/100 with Marathon Bet and 11/10 with most other bookmakers. Barcelona are 9/4 with Betfair and 21/10 with the likes of Bet Victor, while the draw is 3/1 with William Hill, Stan James and Bet Victor, and slightly more with Marathon and 888 Sport. That looks an interesting option as a draw would suit Barcelona, allowing them to preserve their lead ahead of the winter break. Real will have to pour forward and attack, and that could play into Barcelona’s hands as they are devastating on the counter-attack.
If you can get a good price on there being a red card, that looks a great option as it should prove to be another fiery clash between two teams that really hate each other. The current political situation in Catalonia will only add further fuel to the fire. Both teams to score is always a good option when these two meet, but only really worth it if you have a large stake to play with. A great play for your football betting is Messi to score at any time (42/41 with 888 Sport and Unibet). He seems furious that Ronaldo has usurped him in the World Player of the Year stakes and is playing like a man possessed as he seeks to reclaim his crown. There is no better stage on which to shine and Messi – who has scored 24 goals in 36 games against Real Madrid – will be a real handful for the home defence on Saturday.