In a game that could very well make or break his time in the Camp Nou dugout, Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona play host to Real Madrid in El Clasico on Sunday.
La Blaugrana find themselves seventh in the table after eight matches, while Carlo Ancelotti’s men have slipped off top spot after taking just one point from their last two games.
Having seemingly hung onto his job by the thinnest of threads for several weeks now, Koeman was widely expected to depart following the defeat to Atletico Madrid just before the international break, but the Dutchman has retained the faith of Joan Laporta for El Clasico.
A 3-1 win over Valencia – during which Ansu Fati, Memphis Depay and Philippe Coutinho found the back of the net – set the Blaugrana up nicely for their midweek Champions League tie with Dynamo Kiev, where Gerard Pique’s finish would propel his side to their first points of the European campaign.
By sinking the Ukrainian champions on their own turf, Barcelona posted back-to-back wins for the first time since April, and the success over Valencia has elevated Koeman’s side to seventh in the rankings – one point behind Rayo Vallecano and two adrift of Osasuna – both of whom have played a game more.
Koeman’s side have hardly covered themselves in glory since the first season of the post-Lionel Messi era kicked off, but one defeat from their opening eight La Liga games is hardly an abysmal record, and they have also taken 13 points from a possible 15 at home in the league this term.
With only two points separating Barcelona from Los Blancos – as well as Sevilla and Atletico Madrid in third and fourth respectively – Koeman’s side need no added incentive to prevail in the Clasico, lest they risk the pressure growing even heavier on the shoulders of the under-fire coach.
Despite seeing their near-perfect start to the La Liga season come to an end before the international break, Real Madrid’s attacking guile came to the fore in their Champions League battle with Shakhtar Donetsk, which saw Los Blancos run out 5-0 winners on the day.
Finally coming into his own at the Bernabeu, Vinicius Junior continued his remarkable start to the campaign with two goals and an assist on the day, while ageless talisman Karim Benzema netted his 11th strike from as many matches in all competitions to put the cherry on the icing on the cake.
However, defeat to a resurgent Espanyol side after a goalless stalemate with Villarreal has seen Ancelotti’s side cede their place at the top of the rankings to Real Sociedad – who have played a game more – and the second-placed Blancos are now three points behind the table-toppers ahead of El Clasico.
Sociedad must prepare for battle against champions Atletico Madrid a few hours after El Clasico, though, so top scorers Real Madrid – whose tally of 22 goals is by far the most in the division so far – travel to Catalonia in the knowledge that a priceless three points could very well see them return to the top of the pile.
Prior to defeat at Espanyol, Real Madrid had posted an 18-game unbeaten run away from home in La Liga and have also strung together a three-game winning run in El Clasico, but precedent will count for nothing in front of a fired-up Camp Nou faithful here.
Barcelona La Liga form:
Barcelona form (all competitions):
Real Madrid La Liga form:
Real Madrid form (all competitions):
We say: Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid
With Benzema on song and Vinicius Junior finally living up to the hype, Real’s status as top scorers in the division is hardly a surprise, and their three-game winning run in El Clasico will certainly inspire confidence within the ranks.
Barcelona have posted a set of strong results at home and are more than capable of giving Los Blancos a good run for their money, but Koeman’s side have looked convincing in very few matches this term, and we expect them to fall short in front of their own fans.