Barcelona vs Real Madrid: preview, team news, line-ups
After the initial October fixture date was postponed, the first Clásico of the season will finally take place tonight (Dec 18), with Barcelona and Real Madrid level at the top of the table.
Barcelona and Real Madrid face off in one of the most hotly anticipated Clásicos of recent years, with the two teams both level on points (35) and number of head-to-head LaLiga victories (72 each, although overall Barca tip the balance at 96-95).
After the initial October date for the fixture was postponed due to fears of disruption by coinciding political protests in Barcelona, the first Clásico of the season will finally take place this Wednesday, December 18, kicking off at 20:00 CET at Camp Nou (find out here what time the match starts wherever you are in the world).
Having picked up a draw against Valencia this weekend thanks to a 95th-minute equaliser by Karim Benzema, Zinedine Zidane’s side will look to once again channel their never-say-die spirit in a stadium where they have not won since 2014. And this season’s fixture will likely see Los Blancos receive a particularly frosty reception amid the currently heated political backdrop and reported plans by Catalan independence activists to gather in large numbers around the stadium.
However, with little fear surrounding security, both teams will be completely focused on the game at hand and securing the coveted three points that will edge them ahead on the extremely tight leader board.
Barcelona go into the game knowing they are unbeaten in their last six consecutive meetings with Los Blancos. Last year's fixture at Camp Nou ended 5-1 to the home side, with Luis Suarez scoring a hat trick to send Madrid home with their heads firmly between their legs as then-coach Julen Lopetegui was sacked as soon as they got back to the Spanish capital.
But more than one year on, Zidane is back on the bench and carries a very different Madrid side to the one that limped to defeat last October. And perhaps no other player symbolises Madrid’s recent resurgence than 31-year-old striking stalwart Benzema, who is currently enjoying a rich vein of form and finds himself level on 12 goals with Lionel Messi in the race for the Pichichi.
Barcelona confirmed XI vs Real Madrid
Starting XI: Ter Stegen, Semedo, Piqué, Lenglet, Jordi Alba, Sergi Roberto, Rakitic, De Jong, Messi, Suárez, Griezmann
Subs: Neto, Busquets, Aleñá, Vidal, Umtiti, Carles Pérez, Ansu Fati
Real Madrid confirmed XI vs Barcelona
Starting XI: Courtois, Carvajal, Ramos, Varane, Mendy, Casemiro, Valverde, Kroos, Isco, Benzema, Bale
Subs: Areola, Nacho, Militao, Modric, Vinicius, Rodrygo, Jovic
El Clásico veterans and debutants
Zidane hands a Clásico debut to in-form left-back Ferland Mendy, who starts in the absence of the injured Marcelo, while Brazilian starlet-of-the-hour Rodrygo must wait for his first appearance in the fixture from the bench.
Lining out with his three veteran defensive partners (Ramos, Varane, Carvajal) that have been tasked with stopping the unstoppable Lionel Messi on many occasions, Mendy is to get his first experience of facing the Argentine superstar. The six-time Ballon d’Or win will play his 42nd Clásico on Wednesday night and will be eager to add to his tally of 26 goals against the eternal enemy in white. Madrid captain Ramos, set for his 43rd Clásico, will be equally eager to stop him.
Like Zidane, Valverde also likely gives Clásico debuts to some of his players, namely Frenkie de Jong (who along with Madrid’s Fede Valverde represents the Blaugrana half of a newly forming Barça-Madrid duel in midfield) and Antoine Griezmann, who already has first-hand experience of playing out the bitter Madrid-Barcelona city rivalry from his Atlético days. Like Rodrygo, La Masia academy product Ansu Fati has been another unexpected teen sensation this season and could be in line for a first clash with Madrid off the bench.
Busquets initially in XI, then dropped to substitutes' bench
Sergio Busquets was initially named in the Barça midfield alongside Sergi Roberto and De Jong, before dropping to the bench and being replaced in the line-up by Ivan Rakitic. AS understands that Busquets came down with a fever overnight and, although the 31-year-old received treatment from club doctors in the hours leading up to the game, it was finally decided that he has not recovered sufficiently to start.
Barcelona vs Real Madrid: Injuries and suspensions
Ernesto Valverde will be without the injured pair of Brazilian midfielder Arthur (adductor) and French forward Ousmane Dembélé (hamstring).
The visitors, meanwhile, have travelled without veteran full-back Marcelo (calf injury), new star Eden Hazard (who, with a hairline foot crack, will have to wait until 2020 for his first taste of Clásico football), and the long-term injured trio of Marco Asensio, Lucas Vázquez and James Rodríguez.
Barcelona vs Real Madrid: What the managers said:
Ernesto Valverde (Barcelona): “There are small [security] changes [Barça have had to make], but they are not significant. It's the same thing we do when we play away from home. It's no problem. We are at the end of it all, but we are used to having a lot of expectation around our games. We know what is being said, but what concerns us the most is the game. The other stuff is things we can't impact and we just worry about the 90 minutes, which is what we have to do."
Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid): “We know who we are up against. We know they have Messi but we also have our own weapons. We just want to have a good match… [the Bale controversy] is a thing of the past. Bale is with us and is one of us. He is an important player for us and has already shown this. Tomorrow he will be prepared like everyone else. I have no doubts about it.”
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