20 Dec, 15:15
Christmas comes early this year for football fans as reigning La Liga champions Real Madrid welcome bitter rivals Barcelona to the Bernabeu this Saturday for the first installment of their highly anticipated El Clasico clash of the season.
Barcelona goes into the match with a chip on their shoulders having firmly placed themselves atop the league standings with an impressive 42 points in only 16 matches - 11 more than their perennial opponents.
Madrid will, on the other hand, be looking to make a statement after being counted down and out for the season by using the fixture as a platform to re-enter the title race amidst stiff competition from Atletico Madrid and Valencia.
Here are FIVE reasons why I believe that Barca will emerge victorious:
They have everything to lose
Barca failed to win any major title last season and only managed to bag the second rate Copa del Rey trophy as a consolation. A loss to the Los Blancos this weekend, therefore, becomes a luxury the Catalans cannot afford themselves since it would effectively blow the race for the league’s top honours wide open by handing second and third-placed Atletico Madrid and Valencia are only six and eight points adrift respectively, a most welcomed boost.
Ernesto Valverde’s side will undoubtedly endeavour to maintain their unbeaten run in order to further cement their position as league leaders.
A declining Madrid
Real Madrid currently look like a shell of the well-oiled machine that terrorised European football last season, with the likes of winger Gareth Bale and centre-forward Karim Benzema struggling to find their forms in the ongoing campaign, leaving FIFA Player of the Year winner Cristiano Ronaldo to bear most of the offensive load.
It can now be argued that in their current state, Madrid is a toothless dog who don’t inspire fear like they once did.
Barca is already 2-0 down this season, having lost in back to back Super Cup clashes to Madrid at the beginning of the season. The Blaugrana will be out to exorcise those demons when the two sides square off this weekend in order to appease their loyal fans, if not for any other reason.
Contrary to popular opinion, football and politics often converge because both provide platforms where issues can be brought up and discussed. Spain is currently engaged in a heated row with Catalonia since the latter is seeking independence from the former - a development that has further polarised supporters of the two clubs since Barcelona admittedly supports the secession movement whereas Real Madrid is proudly Spaniard and insist that Catalonia must remain so as well.
This current state of affairs makes the El Clasico clash not just an ordinary match between two fierce rivals but a matter of national or regional pride and a win on Barca’s part will undoubtedly send the desired message to the larger Spain on behalf of the passionate wantaway Catalonians.
When it is all said and done, the El Clasico will naturally come down to a duel between two of football’s biggest stars in Barcelona forward Lionel Messi and Real Madrid marksman Cristiano Ronaldo.
Messi, who has for a long time been considered to have the slight edge over CR7, will be out to prove a point after playing second fiddle to the Portuguese for majority of this year - a reality evidenced by Ronaldo’s personal silverware haul, which has seen the 32-year-old bag both the FIFA Player of the Year trophy and a fifth Ballon d’Or award to tie the Argentine for the most ever.
Leo, who has scored a mind-boggling 14 goals and assisted another five in 16 appearances, will certainly strive to establish himself as the better of the two juggernauts in order to put a fresh twist into their well-documented rivalry.