Avoiding pre-Clasico potholes
– Barcelona and Real Madrid could be playing to be first in La Liga over the Christmas break next Wednesday but both are at risk of pre-Clasico defeats if their focus wavers this weekend.
There are few tougher fixtures in the league than Barca’s away clash at free-flowing Real Sociedad today or Madrid’s trip tomorrow to a revived Valencia, who have won three games on the bounce and beat Ajax in Amsterdam in the Champions League.
Already qualified in Europe, Barcelona and Real Madrid had the luxury of rotating key players in midweek but as the emphasis shifts towards their crunch meeting at Camp Nou, the danger is that they underestimate the tasks in front of them.
Both have hit their stride in recent weeks, pulling away from the chasing pack while leaving behind early-season bumps that had placed the futures of their coaches in doubt.
Barcelona have won 13 of their last 15 games and seven out of their last seven, a run that has coincided with the return to form and fitness of Lionel Messi (pictured), who has 14 goals and two hat-tricks in his last 11 matches.
Madrid, meanwhile, have won nine out of their last 12 If their own surge has been slightly less consistent than Barca’s in terms of results, their performances have been more convincing. In their last 10 games, they have scored 28 goals and conceded only five.
In normal circumstances, both might therefore have been expected to come away from Anoeta and Mestalla with victories but each have reason to be wary.
Off the pitch, the threat of political unrest around the Clasico lingers, with Catalan independence demonstrations expected at Camp Nou before and during the game next week.
Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu called for calm this week and insisted the match would not be postponed again. – AFP