The El Clasico could not have come at a worse time for Real Madrid. Reeling from two consecutive shock losses to Cadiz and Shakhtar Donetsk respectively, the reigning Spanish champions have looked shorn of ideas and full of worrying weaknesses at the start of the 2020-21 season.
Real Madrid managed to wrestle the La Liga crown away from their eternal rivals last season. But they have already shown enough signs of not being as fool-proof a unit as the ones that regularly triumphed on the European stage during Zinedine Zidane 1.0.
5 reasons why Real Madrid might struggle against Barcelona
The Merengues face a Barcelona team who are themselves undergoing a revamp under a new coach, but it appears that the latter are the favourites entering the first El Clasico of the new season. Here's why Real Madrid will find the going tough in this classic rivalry this time.
#1 Real Madrid are in horrendous form and short on confidence
Let's get the obvious reason out of our way, shall we? Not many predicted Real Madrid to lose to newly-promoted Cadiz in the weekend, many of whose players were playing in the lower division just last season.
However, that loss was followed by another shocker. Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk, who were missing ten of their first-team regular players due to them being in quarantine, tore apart Real Madrid at the latter's home.
Let's not forget that Real Madrid have now only won one of their last seven Champions League home games. Though they won the La Liga title after the restart last season, often luck favoured them, and sometimes willpower shown by the likes of Sergio Ramos got them through.
Real Madrid have already dropped points in their league defence this season and as such enter this game after hitting a nadir.
#2 Defensive frailties
It's fair to say that Real Madrid won the league last season on the back of an impeccable defensive performance. Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos were at the peak of their powers at the heart of the backline and helped create a watertight rearguard that leaked few goals. But there were cracks visible in the formidable defensive partnership last season itself.
When Ramos did not play, most notably in the Champions League Round of 16 loss to Manchester City, Varane became error-prone. The Frenchman's own goal against Shakhtar Donetsk in midweek that came in a similar situation with Ramos out portends worrying times for the capital club.
In Ramos' absence, Eder Militao and Varane have not looked good together, and Real Madrid lack quality bench strength in this department.
More worryingly, the loss of Dani Carvajal to injury means that the whole Real Madrid backline has been imbalanced. Ferland Mendy has had to slot in on the right, with Marcelo getting his spot back in the left of the defence as the other regular right-back Alvaro Odriozola is also out with an injury.
Zidane himself has admitted that Real Madrid could have been down by two or three goals at half-time against Cadiz, something that did happen against Ukrainian opposition later.
However, for all of Marcelo's flair as an attacker, he seems to have lost some of his pace, and Real Madrid's defence looks very susceptible to counter-attacks right now. With Lionel Messi cutting in from the right, Barcelona will fancy their chances of slicing open Real Madrid more often than both Shakhtar and Cadiz did.