Real Madrid, Solari face make-or-break El Clasico

Already ahead by nine points in first place, Barcelona has a chance to end Real Madrid's hopes of winning back LaLiga with a victory tonight.

Defeat in the Copa del Rey semifinal has heaped the pressure on Real Madrid incumbent.   -  Getty Images

Three days after dumping Real Madrid out of the Copa del Rey, Barcelona travels to the Santiago Bernabeu again for another El Clasico — this time in La Liga.

Madrid has had a dismal league campaign, sitting third in the table nine points behind leader Barcelona — the fourth-biggest points difference going into a match at the Bernabeu. Another loss to Barcelona this week could all but end Los Blancos’ fading title hopes.

While Madrid has ruled the European scene lately, a sizeable gap has grown between the teams domestically. In five of the last six seasons, Barcelona has finished above Real Madrid in the league – with the Catalan club finishing a massive seventeen points ahead of its rival last season. Only a third Champions League title on the trot papered over its performances at home.

With the squad lacking in depth, a lot of the players have been overworked, something that’s evident in the handling of the World Cup stars this season. Players like Raphael Varane and Luka Modric were rushed back into the team, without adequate rest, and it has affected their form.

Joe Morrison, an expert who has been covering La Liga in India for the last decade, agrees on this. “Players who have played in the World Cup finals come back fatigued, weather they win or lose the title. It was evident in Luka Modric when he came back. It took him a lot of time to shake off the fatigue and get back to full fitness,” he says, adding, “It’s not just physical, there’s mental fatigue too. You play high pressure matches all the way to the World Cup final and then you come back immediately into similar situation [with the club].”

Read: 'El Clasico won't decide title race'

The reverse fixture in October saw Luis Suarez score a hat-trick in a 5-1 win for Barcelona, a match that cost Julen Lopetegui his job and saw Santiago Solari being appointed. While he has steadied the club since he took over, his management of the squad has raised questions more than once, and the Copa del Rey defeat has intensified the pressure on his position.

The attacking trio of Karim Benzema, Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius Junior have done well to fill the sizeable shoes of Cristiano Ronaldo following his departure to Juventus, but the rigours of the season are starting to take a toll. However, the mismanagement of Gareth Bale, Isco and Marco Asensio has left the Argentine with fewer options to shake things up. Isco, in fact, wasn’t even in the squad for the midweek Clasico defeat despite being declared fit.

Ernesto Valverde, on the other hand, has had an arguably easier ride this season. The odd blip and minor injuries to key players aside, Barcelona is well on course for a treble.

Lionel Messi has scored 15 goals at Bernabeu, four more than he has scored in the same fixture at Camp Nou, and is an obvious threat to Madrid on Saturday. Containing a fit-and-firing Suarez is another challenge for the Madrid defence. The Uruguay striker has had a hand in 16 goals from 14 matches in this fixture — scoring 11 and assisting five. He has scored five goals in three El Clasico games this season.

Watch the El Clasico live on Facebook Watch on March 3, 2019, with the kick-off set for 1:15 am. Joe Morrison will host the pre and post-match shows.

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