“In Spain the dead are more alive than the dead of any other country in the world.”
In the build-up to LaLiga’s 181st version of El Clásico, Federico García Lorca’s famous line has never been more appropriate to the fixture.
Yes, Real Madrid are the reigning champions, and Barcelona were their nearest rivals, but both of Spain’s marquee teams are lumbering through periods of uncertainty.
We take a look at how both teams are shaping up before Saturday’s shootout at the Camp Nou.
After a summer overshadowed by Leo Messi’s failed departure from the club and a lack of incoming signings, Barcelona are entering a transition period under head coach Ronald Koeman.
The Dutchman’s side come into the fixture with seven points out of a possible twelve and sit in ninth spot, after a shock defeat to Getafe last time out.
Having failed to land main transfer target Memphis Depay from Lyon, Koeman has granted Philippe Coutinho more attacking licence.
This attacking injection is much needed given the misfiring form of Antoine Griezmann and the shadow hanging over the future of Messi.
Sergio Busquets played the final 14 minutes in Barça’s midweek Champions League win over Hungarian champions Ferencváros to make way for debutant Miralem Pjanić and looks set to start at Camp Nou.
Real Madrid joined Barcelona in losing 1-0 away in a shock home defeat against newly-promoted Cádiz last weekend.
Los Blancos were largely subdued by the Andalusian side, who before this outing had never even beaten Real Madrid Castilla (Real’s B-Team).
Cádiz coach Álvaro Cervera told reporters his team had not turned up “to swap shirts” with Zinedine Zidane’s side. Barcelona, while lacking in confidence, will enter the game with a similar lack of fear, after witnessing Madrid record a second consecutive home defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday night in Group B of the Champions League.
While dominating possession against Cádiz (74%), Madrid never mustered more than a whimper in front of goal. Their reliance on soon to be 33-year-old Karim Benzema is indicative of their lack of firepower in the post-Ronaldo era.
While limping off at half-time with a knee injury, Sergio Ramos remains in contention to start at the Camp Nou. He didn’t feature at the Alfredo Di Stéfano in Wednesday’s 3-2 defeat to Shakhtar.
Martin Ødegaard is likely to miss up to a month with a calf injury sustained on International duty for Norway.
Views from the Dugout
Koeman is no stranger to El Clásico having been a mainstay in Barcelona sides of the late eighties and early nineties.
31 years ago this month he scored two penalties in a 3-1 defeat of Madrid at the Camp Nou. Despite a rocky start to his tenure at the helm of the Catalans, he will be hoping for a repeat of that result.
The Dutchman’s success will rest heavily on his palindromic midfield duo of Sergio Busquets (32) and Frenkie de Jong (23). The dynamism of the latter will likely dictate the pace of the game against an ageing Luka Modrić.
Zinedine Zidane will be hoping for a repeat of his side’s 2-0 Bernabéu victory in March, which went a long way towards clinching the title for his side.
Head to Head
There is little to divide the two sides over the course of their head-to-head LaLiga history.
Of the 180 matches played to date, Madrid have the slender wins advantage at 73-72, with the remaining 35 games ending in stalemates.
Astonishingly, the goals tally for these encounters is dead even with 288 goals apiece. Expect this outing to be similarly even.
However, with the lack of supporters in the stands, this version of Él Clásico is likely to be played under slightly less duress than usual circumstances dictate.