A victory in the first LaLiga ElClasico of the 2020/21 season on Saturday, October 24, will greatly benefit both FC Barcelona and Real Madrid as they come into the game highly-motivated for the 3 points.
With defending champion Real Madrid remaining a point below early LaLiga Santander leaders Real Sociedad and Villareal, Zinedine Zidane looks to avert their early crisis. (Rappler Talk Sports: LaLiga ElClasico pre-game show)
After losing 1-0 at home to Cadiz for the first time in the Los Blancos’ history last Saturday, Madrid fell 3-2 in the Champions League on Wednesday, to Shakhtar Donetsk, who had 10 first team players and 9 staff missing due to coronavirus infections.
It means it might not be a vintage Clasico this weekend but for Madrid it has become more important now, and for Zidane too.
Two defeats in a week is one thing but 3, the last of them against Barcelona, would alter the dynamic. (PROMO:Get a chance to win official FC Barcelona, Real Madrid jerseys)
"I'm the coach, I have to find the solution, I didn't find it today and it was difficult for my players," said Zidane on Wednesday night.
The demanding schedule appeals to Zidane's inclinations to rotate but he may have learned this week that his squad has its limitations.
Ferland Mendy has proven himself a significantly more reliable option at left-back than Marcelo. Casemiro is the only suitable defensive midfielder. Luka Jovic is not able to cover for Karim Benzema.
Sergio Ramos should return as well against Barcelona, after being left out of the loss to Shakhtar with a knee injury. Madrid have lost 7 out of their last 8 Champions League games without him.
If Zidane has Ramos and his best team available, it would not be a surprise to see them respond at Camp Nou, where Barca will have the pressure to assert themselves as the home team, but without the spur of a home crowd. (READ: No clear favorite in 'dramatic' ElClasico, says LaLiga legends)
But as much as cranking up the pressure on Zidane and gaining an early boost in La Liga's title race would be welcome, Ronald Koeman might claim the biggest rewards from a victory.
Barcelona's new coach, appointed in August, has overseen a middling start to the season, with 3 wins, a draw and a defeat meaning the trajectory of his project is not yet clear.
Most encouraging has been Koeman's faith in youth, which has been repaid handsomely as Ansu Fati, Francisco Trincao and Pedri have all delivered more than expected in attack.
Ansu is the most established of the three, the 17-year-old who set more records by scoring again in the Champions League on Tuesday and has been arguably Barcelona's standout performer so far.
"We go into it with the maximum motivation possible," said Fati. "It's a Clasico, a game I have always dreamed of playing in."
So impressive has he been that it would be a surprise if Ansu was not in the starting lineup this weekend.
But Trincao and Pedri would be braver calls, especially considering those they would replace.
Sure to banner Barca is club captain Lionel Messi, whose 18 goals in 27 LaLiga ElClasicos, remains an all-time record.
Koeman's approach with Messi, at least in public, has so far been straightforward. He has praised the Argentinian, but as much for his dedication and workrate as his creativity.
The strategy appears to be to appreciate Messi when it is warranted but to frame his performances more in the context of the team than his genius as an individual.
"His performances can be better," said Koeman on Monday. "But seeing the player every day, he is happy, training well, focused and wants to play and be the captain of the team. In that sense I have no complaints."
There have certainly been times when Messi has looked frustrated, not least in the 1-0 loss against Getafe last weekend when Barcelona managed only two shots on target.
Real Madrid’s 2-0 victory in the most recent LaLiga ElClasico, thanks to goals from Vinicius Junior and Mariano Diaz, means the Bernabeu outfit have moved just ahead in the all-time head to head record – 73 wins to 72.
There have also been 35 draws – the latest of which was a tightly fought 0-0 at the Camp Nou last December.
That game, though, was an outlier given the fixture has regularly produced goals in recent seasons, as well as lots of drama, including Barca’s 5-1 home victory in October 2018.
LaLiga targets 650 million fans around the world to tune in to the most-awaited matchup.
The staggered start to 2020/21 has made it difficult to judge the teams so far, but a winner on Saturday would immediately get a boost to become a favorite to win this year’s LaLiga Santander title. – with reports from Agence France-Presse