El Clasico: A new era begins with Cristiano Ronaldo gone and Lionel Messi injured
Clash will be the first since 2007 not to feature the two giants, and both teams are struggling
Barcelona vs. Real Madrid
- What: La Liga
- When: Sunday 28 October
- Where: Camp Nou, Barcelona
- Kick-off: 3.15pm (GMT)
- TV channel: live on Eleven Sports – also available on iOS and Android
A new era
The first El Clasico for over a decade not to feature Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi will take place on Sunday but, as ever, there are still plenty of reasons to watch the match billed as the biggest game in world football.
With Ronaldo gone and Messi nursing a broken arm, the spotlight will be on their understudies as both sides find themselves under pressure at the start of the season.
And the match could be make or break for Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui, who could lose his job if his team slip up again after a poor start to the season.
Pressure on Madrid
The La Liga champions are not adjusting well to life after Ronaldo, says the Daily Mirror.
“Real Madrid have struggled for goals, with Marcelo’s drive in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat by Levante the first they had scored in a club record eight hours of football without finding the net.”
That run leaves them seventh in the league and has put coach Lopetegui on the brink of the sack, months after he took over from Zinedine Zidane.
It is clear that Real are missing the genius of Ronaldo up front, says Andy West of the BBC.
“There is still an abundance of creative talent in the squad: any manager would love to be able to call upon Gareth Bale, Isco, Marco Asensio and Benzema. But none of those players are out-and-out scorers, they are players who do most of their best work outside the penalty area, supplying the ammunition rather than firing it,” he says.
“One statistic to illustrate the team's dramatic downturn in firepower is that last year they equalled a world record by scoring in 73 consecutive games, whereas this season they have already been scoreless four times.”
Barcelona have problems too
Could the clash with arch rivals Barcelona be just the fixture Real need? Barca are top of the table but have hardly been at their best this term.
“They have failed to keep a clean sheet in six games across all competitions and what was a rock-solid defence last season is being regularly cut open by opposition attackers like hot knives through butter,” says the Mirror.
With that in mind, Barca coach Ernesto Valverde “is likely to prioritise defensive stability over attacking flair”, says the Evening Standard.
The main question for Barcelona is who will replace Messi and if, as expected, Valverde errs on the side of caution Rafinha could get the nod ahead of the more mercurial Ousmane Dembele or Malcom.
Real Madrid coach Lopetegui badly needs a win, but could be without defender Dani Carvajal, although key man Marcelo is expected to be fit after picking up a knock in the Champions League.
He has decisions to make at the back, where goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has failed to shine since his move from Chelsea, and up front, as he struggles to find a way to get the best out of his forwards now that Ronaldo has gone.
Predicted starting XIs and formations
The Evening standard predicts Barcelona will play 4-3-3 and line up: Ter Stegen; Alba, Lenglet, Pique, Semedo; Busquets, Arthur, Rakitic; Coutinho, Suarez, Rafinha
The Daily Star believes Real Madrid will also go 4-3-3 and line up: Navas; Nacho, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Bale, Isco, Benzema.