Real Madrid v FC Barcelona – Santiago Bernabéu at 12:00 Live at Sky Sports
The first Clasico of the 2017/18 La Liga season takes place on Saturday lunchtime with Real Madrid locking horse with Barcelona in a festive affair to savour from the Bernabeu.
Real Madrid may have claimed their second successive Club World Championship in the UAE last weekend but Barcelona was busy chalked up their 13th league victory of the campaign to extend their advantage over their fiercest rivals to 11 points.
Even with a game in hand, anything other than three points for Los Blancos here could all but end their title defence. It feels like make or break for Zinedine Zidane’s men who are at least now unbeaten in their last 10 outings having claimed four successive wins.
The first of those four triumphs was probably the most impressive result of Real’s season, a 5-0 demolition of Sevilla. Although a 4-4-2 worked well in that encounter, the likelihood is that Madrid will deploy a 4-3-1-2, using Isco to pressurise Sergio Busquets, while Casemiro offers support to Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, giving Madrid control through the midfield, while still having the pace and ability of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema on the break.
Los Blancos’ injury worse have certainly begun to ease. Gareth Bale might be available for the contest meaning Zidane has a fully fit and available squad to select from for the first time this season.
In contrast, with their injuries in forward areas, Barca may end up using a 4-4-2, with Paulinho and Busquets together in the middle, which may allow them to combat the Kroos-Modric pairing. Up front, Lionel Messi will operate in his usual floating role with Luis Suarez spearheading the attack.
In La Liga, Barcelona boasts a dominant record in the Clasico in recent times, with a W5-D1-L2 return since 2013/14, and at the Bernabeu, it’s an even more impressive W6-D1-L2 over the last nine seasons. Considering Real have travelled to the UAE to play twice in the last week, plus the gap between the two teams, Madrid don’t deserve to be as short as they are in the betting.
Nevertheless, the Catalans still don’t feel like they’ve hit top gear yet, but they’re six points clear of Atletico at the top of the table, unbeaten all season in the league having dropped points in just three games (W13-D3-L0).
Sunday’s 4-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna was their third in a row without conceding a goal and it easily has been close to a double-figures win – Barca hit the woodwork on five occasions. Luis Suarez, after a much-criticized start to the campaign, also appears to be returning to form, scoring four goals in his last four games.
The betting angle
The sides have already met twice this season, Madrid winning both legs of the Spanish Super Cup by a 5-1 aggregate. Back then, Barcelona seemed in crisis, struggling to cope with the loss of Neymar while Madrid seemed to have worked out a way of balancing Galactico signings with developing young Spanish talent.
But the Catalans have improved immeasurably, showing real consistency in their performances and head coach Ernesto Valverde will be targeting at least a point from Saturday’s showdown.
Barcelona has certainly been more cautious under Valverde on their travels and interestingly, none of their away matches has seen more than three strikes so this match might not be the goal-fest we’ve gotten used to and opposing goals could be the best angle of attack. Therefore, backing Under 3.5 Goals at 1.94 holds plenty of appeals.
Asian Total Goals Betting Recommendation: Under 3.5 Goals at 2.070
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We have another La Liga match on preview, Valencia v Villarreal. Check out the Asian handicap preview and get our writer’s best betting pick.