Every edition of El Clásico is loaded with its own storylines, each strand adding another layer to the historic rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Described by La Liga as a “true cultural phenomenon, drawing the attention of millions of fans worldwide,” Sunday’s match at Barça’s Camp Nou stadium will be with fraught with significance, for the result could all but settle the title race.
A win for Barça would open up a 12-point lead at the top of the table, making the league title a high probability, if not quite a mathematical certainty, while a win for Real Madrid would keep the race alive with 12 matches remaining after Sunday’s game.
Los Blancos will travel to Camp Nou buoyed by defeating Liverpool 1-0 on Wednesday to seal their place in the Champions League quarterfinals with an aggregate 6-2 victory.
Vinícius Jr, who was dubbed “the best in the world” by Real coach Carlo Ancelotti on Wednesday, excelled in that victory, creating the only goal of the game for Karim Benzema, and his battle with Barcelona defender Ronald Araújo could be key to deciding El Clásico.
“He’s struggled a bit more in recent games, but Viní Jr. is always Viní Jr,” Ancelotti said on Saturday, according to the Real’s website.
“His mobility gives us so much, I’m thinking about putting him on the right because he’s capable, but we’ll see. That freedom and playing without a fixed reference point could be crucial.
“It’s another problem for the defenders. I’m kidding about him playing on the right … he’ll be on the left but with greater freedom.”
Benzema, another pillar of Real’s attack, will play on Sunday despite suffering a knock during the week, Ancelotti said.
While Benzema will take to the field for Los Blancos, Barça will be without Pedri and Ousmane Dembélé due to injury, two of its most impressive players this season.
La Blaugrana has already defeated Real Madrid twice this year, back in January to win the Spanish Super Cup final and in March to take a 1-0 lead in their Copa del Rey semifinal. The return match is at the Camp Nou on April 5.
However, Real did triumph in the league game back in October at the Bernabéu, Ancelotti’s team winning El Clásico 3-1.
Barça coach Xavi downplayed any notion that his team was the favorite to win Sunday’s game.
“They’re strong. Very strong, recently,” Xavi said, according to Barça’s website. “They’re physically much better than they were in January. I’m sure they’ll put our defense under pressure.”
“This Madrid team is the European champion and they won the last league comfortably. It’ll be a tight game, and I say we have a 50% chance.”
It has been a lopsided season for Real, lagging behind Barça in La Liga and facing that 1-0 deficit in their Copa del Rey semifinal, but remaining on track to defend its Champions League title.
Before Sunday’s match, Ancelotti addressed speculation about his future at the club, saying he “would stay at this club for the rest of my life but that’s impossible,” adding hat it’s “a decision for the club to make.”
“If they want me for three months, I’ll make the most of it and the same goes as if they want me for three years … Anyway, I’m certain we’ll win something this season and that will put the doubts at rest. We’re at a disadvantage in the Copa and La Liga but that’s not the case in the Champions League.”
Barça, meanwhile, once again fell short in Europe, failing to reach the knockout stages of the Champions League and losing to Manchester United in the Europa League, while the club is also embroiled in a referee payment scandal.
“”We are just focused on competing,” Xavi said on Saturday. “We try to keep natural with the players and not get distracted by all that can happen at a club like this.”
El Clásico will kick off at 4pm ET on Sunday afternoon at Camp Nou, Barcelona. It is available to watch on the following channels:
Canada: TSN, RDS
Brazil: Star+, ESPN
UK: Premier Sports, La Liga TV, ITV