Ernesto-Valverde Barcelona

El Clasico remains the biggest football match in Spanish football. When Barcelona and Real Madrid square up it’s always a cracker. Add to that a long-term rivalry between the two sides and the game takes on even more significance. But what gives it a global appeal is the star power usually on showcase.

However, there’s something unique about the encounter this time around. The key men that have consistently made the headlines for the two clubs in the last decade are set to miss out on the latest edition. Cristiano Ronaldo left Real Madrid this season for the Serie A. After nine vastly successful years at the Spanish capital, he decided to seek a new challenge in Italy.

Many felt that has ensured a power shift. With Lionel Messi still at Barcelona, the Blaugranes are now considered favorites even before a ball is kicked. That is also understandable when one considers the fact that Barcelona have dominated this fixture in recent times as far as league football is concerned. Last season, Ernesto Valverde’s men humbled the Champions League holders 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabéu. That was despite the presence of their former talisman.

The return leg ended in a draw meaning that Barcelona took four out of the six points available. This good form continued throughout the season resulting in a single loss for the whole campaign. The club went on to win the league with relative ease added the Copa del Rey to complete the double.

But Ronaldo’s goalscoring exploits in the Champions League propelled Real Madrid to victory in Kiev. Lifting the trophy for the third year in succession made up for any failure Les Merengues had experienced on the domestic front. After making a change in the dugout, and starting the season on fire, expectations were raised about Madrid’s chances this term.

A 3-0 loss to Sevilla at the end of September, however, came out of the blue. As if that was not enough, Real failed to score a single goal in the next three games before ending the drought with a consolation goal against Levante in a 2-1 home loss.

That defeat made it four losses in five games. That has put Julen Lopetegui’s job at risk. It remains to be seen if Tuesday’s 2-1 Champions League win over Viktoria Plzen will be enough to save him from the sack. Another loss in the El Clasico (of all games) could prove catastrophic for the manager.

On their own part, Barcelona have had a similar experience with their rivals in the league. After four consecutive wins, the reigning champions also went four games without a win before ending it in the last match by beating Sevilla 4-2 at the Camp Nou.

So both sides are coming into the game on the back of a poor run of form. With both Ronaldo and Messi also missing for different reasons, the onus is now on the remaining players to give us a that will live up to the match’s billing.

After all, for Los Blancos several players in the FIFA Best XI will feature, including the best player in the world at the moment according to UEFA and FIFA, Luka Modric. And for Barcelona, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho have been in top form recently.

Also, apart from the three points at stake in the quest for another league title, a contest between these two sides is also about pride and bragging rights. Those are enough reasons to give us an explosive encounter. None of the players or managers will like to be on the losing end for sure.

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