Real Madrid host arch-nemesis FC Barcelona in this week's crunch clash, as they jostle for advantage in the title race. Only two points separate the sides at the top of the table with just 12 games remaining after Sunday. So naturally, a victory for either side would be a shot in the arm as the season enters its home-stretch. However, both teams have been severely ravaged by injuries.
Also, neither team has been particularly impressive this season, making it a highly unpredictable campaign. But this El Clásico could give us some context of the eventual winner. Ahead of the much-anticipated kick-off, let's look into our crystal balls and make a few predictions:
El Clásico is seldom injury-free. The rivalry and intensity of the match takes a toll on the players, resulting into some of them trudging off after sustaining knocks or tearing the hamstring. Expect similarly unfortunate scenes on Sunday.
Real Madrid and Barcelona realise the importance of this tie, but have been severely hampered by injuries already. Both camps have several first-teamers on the injury-list and enter the contest with a tightly-stretched squad. Any further casualties might jeopardise the team entering the home-stretch of the campaign, but caution will be on the back-burner as victory takes precedence with only 13 games remaining.
#4 Penalty kick(s) for either sides
For a game of this stature, controversies are as traditional as turkeys on Thanksgiving. And even though the last match-up was relatively low on drama and histrionics, don't anticipate another cagey affair, for this is the clash that could probably dictate which stadium the trophy will be headed.
That means some more penalty drama might be on the cards. Both sides will probably go all out in search of the all-important three points, and that could result into penalty-box skirmishes culminating into a spot-kick or two.
#3 A Messi-Ramos altercation
Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos. Both El Clásico veterans have bumped into each other so many times in the past, but the rivalry has heated up only in the recent clashes after Messi's patience with Ramos and his roughhousing finally exhausted. The Barcelona and Real Madrid captains just can't seem to stand each other, and will probably be at the loggerheads again on Sunday.
If you tune into any highlight reel of El Clásico since probably, 2017, you'll notice that most of the acrimonious altercations have involved these two figures, while the hostility threatened to boil over last year when Ramos and Messi clashed heads in another heated exchange. Given the stakes of the latest tie, expect another show of animosity between the duo.
#2 Ramos to pick more cards
Whether that's after clashing with Messi or some other player is anyone's guess, but a card for the Real Madrid skipper is certain. Ramos is notorious for his antiques and brash challenges, especially in El Clásico where he's secured 15 yellow cards and another three red!
Ironically, the Spanish international was also sent off in the mid-week's Champions League defeat to Manchester City, the 26th of his career. So the omens are there. And with just two points separating the sides at the top of the table, the latest duel is going to be intense. So you know what that means for Ramos.
#1 Lionel Messi to score at the Bernabéu, again
The Santiago Bernabéu is arguably Messi's favourite stomping ground, having scored 15 of his 26 El Clásico goals in Real Madrid's own backyard, including a hat-trick in 2014. Some of his best performances in the recent years have been witnessed on this ground, so you can bet against him from producing yet more heroics at your own peril. The weight of the team on his shoulders is much more than what it has ever been given the long list of casualties, including that of Luis Suárez and Ousmane Dembele. And these are exactly the situations in which Messi thrives.
Published 28 Feb 2020, 22:38 IST