As we head towards the first Clasico of the campaign, which will not be shown on British television due to a rather annoying law that prohibits matches being shown between 14:45 and 17:15 GMT, Real Madrid are in a position that they would love to keep hold of – and one that they probably will.
Five points clear of Barcelona and Sevilla at the top of La Liga, having survived somewhat of an injury crisis in recent weeks, Zinedine Zidane’s side just seem to keep on winning.
Their 2-1 victory over Sporting Gijon at the weekend took their unbeaten run to 31 games, equalling Carlo Ancelotti’s record as Coach of Los Blancos, but the all-time club record stands at 34 games, set by Leo Beenhaker’s team of 1988-89. In order for Zidane to overtake that, he will need to avoid defeat against Borussia Dortmund, Deportivo and Granada, all at the Santiago Bernabeu. First, though, is a trip to Camp Nou.
In terms of form, Madrid are certainly favourites to win this game, even if their performance against Sporting was not a vintage one.
“It was a difficult game, in which the only good thing was the three points,” Zidane said after the match. “It’s a game for us to forget because things didn’t go as we wanted them to, but it is what it is. We were lacking a bit in everything, but we’re happy for the three points, they’re important.”
The game that will offer encouragement for Los Merengues is their 3-0 derby victory at Atletico Madrid two weeks ago. Deprived of a number of first-team players, Zidane’s game plan was executed perfectly by his players. The Frenchman showcased his tactical abilities in this match, giving his side superiority in the middle of the park, and he will surely have another plan up his sleeve to deal with Gareth Bale’s absence and the incisiveness of the Catalans.
The aforementioned loss of Bale will naturally be felt by Madrid, but the difference between them and their rivals is their ability to replace their star players adequately. Whether it be Isco, James Rodriguez, Marco Asensio, Lucas Vazquez or Alvaro Morata, who is currently getting back to full fitness, Zidane can call upon high-quality players and adjust his system to make their additions a seamless one.
Barca, on the other hand, have struggled since Andres Iniesta’s injury in October, with Andre Gomes especially struggling to adapt to his new way of playing since he signed from Valencia.
A player that you might have heard of, named Cristiano Ronaldo, is also scoring for fun at the moment, and you can expect him to be deployed centrally once more. Madrid will look to exploit the spaces in behind Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano, who could be exposed against the No 7 and Karim Benzema.
The old cliché that form goes out of the window in games like these does apply to a certain extent for this game, given Barca will be fired up to bounce back from their difficult trip to San Sebastian last weekend and desperately need the points to keep in touch with their arch-rivals.
A win for Madrid, however, would see them go eight points clear of Luis Enrique’s team, a lead that would surely result in the League title heading to the Bernabeu come the end of the season.