A winner in Saturday’s eagerly awaited LaLiga Santander "El Clasico" between Real Madrid and Barcelona will go temporarily top of the Spanish league table just as the season reaches its conclusive stages.
Both Real Madrid and Barcelona go into the game at the Estadio Alfredo di Stefano in outstanding form - with neither having lost a LaLiga game since mid-January.
Atletico Madrid have topped LaLiga’s standings through recent months, but Diego Simeone’s side have stumbled lately, including their 0-1 away defeat by Sevilla last weekend. This allowed Barca to draw within a single point of them at the top by beating Real Valladolid 1-0 on Monday evening at the Camp Nou. Ronald Koeman’s team have now won 16 and drawn three of their last 19 LaLiga games.
Lionel Messi has hit top form during that run, and now has 23 goals and 8 assists in his 26 LaLiga appearances in 2020-21, with 16 of those goals coming since 1 January. The Argentinian has a record 18 goals and nine assists in 28 career El Clasicos - although his last strike in the fixture came back in 2018.
Ousmane Dembele was Barca’s match-winner against Valladolid, with a fine late strike for his fifth LaLiga goal of the season. Eighteen different Barca players have scored in LaLiga already this season, including United States international Sergino Dest, who hit a double in the recent 6-1 win at Real Sociedad.
Real Madrid sit three points back in third spot, with last weekend’s 2-0 win at home to Eibar making it nine wins and two draws in their last 11 LaLiga games, as Zinedine Zidane’s reigning champions have shifted into top gear.
Karim Benzema comes into the game in the form of his career - with the French striker having scored eight goals in his last six LaLiga games to move to 18 in total for the season. Midfielder Casemiro has also been hugely influential - with five goals and two assists so far - including an excellent set-up for in-form Marco Asensio’s opener against Elche CF last weekend.
Both coaches have had to deal with significant injury challenges all through the 2020/21 campaign. Zidane will again be without defenders Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal on Saturday, while Raphael Varane misses out due to COVID-19, but midfielder Fede Valverde and attacker Eden Hazard could return.
Koeman is hopeful of welcoming back the versatile Sergi Roberto and centre-back Gerard Pique for ElClasico, although Philippe Coutinho and Ansu Fati remain long-term absentees.
Real Madrid have won the last two El Clasicos - 3-1 at the Camp Nou last October, and 2-0 at the Bernabeu last season, ending a run of four Barca victories at that stadium. Los Blancos now lead the historical head-to-head record by 74 to 72, with 35 draws since the fixture was first played in the 1929/30 season.
Returning Barca president Joan Laporta has often enjoyed El Clasico – with the Catalan team winning seven and drawing two of 14 meetings during his first term in charge.
COVID-19 restrictions mean that no fans will attend Saturday’s game will be the first ever El Clasico played at the tidy 6,000-seater stadium at the Real Madrid City training ground, Zidane’s side’s temporary home while their Estadio Santiago Bernabeu is being renovated. But hundreds of millions of supporters around the world will tune into the state-of-the-art TV coverage of domestic club football’s most watched fixture. As usual, there is so much to play for.
Watch El Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona this Saturday on your local broadcasters.