Preview Of El Clasico and London Derby; Toast of European Football This Weekend – A Special Feature
Another Of Football’s Greatest Rivalry?
Match in a sentence: Both Barcelona and Real Madrid are coming off midweek Champions League defeats but on Saturday will shift their focus to La Liga, where Madrid lead the Catalan giants by four points ahead of one of the most hotly anticipated matches of the season.
Breakdown: This was only supposed to be the penultimate Clasico of the campaign, and while it still might be both Barcelona and archrivals Real Madrid will have some work to do next week to overturn losses to Chelsea and Bayern Munich in their respective Champions League semifinal first legs.
But that’s then, and this second Clasico of the Primera Division season could well determine the destination of the title. As it stands Madrid are four points clear of Barcelona coming into the schedule’s 34th round, but having dropped points in three of their last seven matches there’s no reason to believe they won’t suffer another stutter between now and May 13, which when combined with defeat at Camp Nou would hand the title to Barcelona for a fourth season in a row.
After all, Madrid’s recent wobbles are why this match matters in the first place. It was only a month ago that the gap atop the standings was more like a canyon, but draws with Malaga, Villarreal and Valencia trimmed six points off the 10-point advantage as Barcelona kept winning. They’ve won 11 on the bounce since a February defeat at Osasuna and, the Chelsea result aside, are playing their best football of the season at the time it matters most.
They also have an illustrious recent history against Madrid on which to draw. Since losing the Copa del Rey final to Los Blancos 12 months ago, Barcelona have gone seven Clasicos without losing. Ten different Barcelona players have found the back of the net in those matches, while only five Real Madrid players have managed to score in European football’s biggest rivalry.
This is where the Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo matchup comes into play. Messi, not surprisingly, is top-scorer in the Clasico over the past year with five goals, but he hasn’t scored in his last three outings against Real Madrid. Ronaldo, by comparison, has scored twice in those three matches.
Pedro and Karim Benzema are the only other players with more than one Clasico goal over that span.
Essentials: It’s rare at this time of year, but both sides will come into Saturday’s clash as close to full-strength as could be expected in late April. Barcelona are still without striker David Villa (he’s been out since December with a broken tibia) and Ibrahim Afellay (knee), who was only recently given clearance to resume full training.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, have only the absence of Ricardo Carvalho to worry about, although the defender has featured only seven times in the league this season due to a variety of injuries. Lassana Diarra (back) is fit again but will likely start from the bench.
Key matchup: Marcelo v Alexis Shanchez. We saw Madrid left-back Fabio Coentrao annihilated by Arjen Robben on Wednesday, and Sanchez will surely fancy his chances in a head-to-head against either the Portugal international or, more likely, Marcelo. The Brazilian’s hot-headedness could also become a factor if Sanchez gets too much of an upper hand. Marcelo is always a candidate to get sent off when Madrid face Barcelona.
Betline: Barcelona 4/6; Draw 3/1; Real Madrid 15/4. Madrid know they can all but seal the title with a result at Camp Nou. It will be interesting to see if that sort of desperation can turn the tide in what has been a rather dismal Clasico record of late.
Who Will Sing The Blue?
Before Chelsea can worry about a massive opportunity at the Nou Camp, they may have revenge on their mind as they face London rivals Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in Saturday’s Premier League lunch-time kick-off.
Chelsea won 1-0 at home over holders Barcelona in the first leg of a Champions League semi-final Wednesday night. The second leg is set for Tuesday in Spain.
“It will go down as one of our best performances,” said Chelsea captain John Terry, who has played with cracked ribs in recent weeks. “We had to be patient – we didn’t touch the ball in the first 10 or 15 minutes. It was a tireless performance.”
Didier Drogba scored just before half-time and the Blues held on from there despite being outshot 24-5.
“This group of players amaze me every time they go out on the pitch,” interim manager Roberto Di Matteo said. “It has been a great European night for this football club. It is good that we didn’t concede – we go into the second leg with a little advantage.”
Now the Blues must quickly shift their attention to trying to gain a spot in next season’s competition. Chelsea are in sixth place in the Premier League on 57 points – two behind Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United.
Arsenal are seeking their first double over Chelsea since 2003-04 after winning 5-3 at Stamford Bridge on Oct. 29. Robin van Persie had a hat trick with goals in the 85th and 90th minute breaking a 3-3 tie.
The Gunners, trying to solidify third place on 64 points, were shocked 2-1 at home to Wigan Athletic after conceding twice in the first eight minutes Monday night.
“Of course, we knew it anyway that the Chelsea game would be massive,” Wenger told Arsenal’s official website. “It is even more important now.”
The Gunners had won five straight home Premier League fixtures since a 2-1 defeat to leaders Manchester United on Jan. 22. They have not dropped back-to-back EPL home matches since November 2010.
“We were not sharp,” Wenger said. “It’s difficult to know why.”
Drogba may not feature Saturday with the return leg in Barcelona in mind. The Blues could turn to Fernando Torres, who has found the back of the net once in his last 11 Premier League starts. Torres’ lone appearance at the Emirates was with Liverpool in the 2008 Champions League quarter-finals.
The Blues have won their last seven league fixtures following midweek Champions League play.
“My players have shown the determination they have, with the courage to play against the top team in the world – they showed good quality,” Di Matteo said. “It was a collective performance by the whole team.”
Petr Cech’s clean sheet Wednesday was in stark contrast to his form on the road in the Premier League. He has allowed nine goals with no clean sheets over his last six road fixtures.
Defender David Luiz remains out for Chelsea with a hamstring injury suffered in Sunday’s 5-1 rout of Spurs in the FA Cup semi-finals.
Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta will miss the remainder of the season after suffering an ankle ligament injury against Wigan.
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