They say every game is a new one and the last one is history. But when it comes to football and this month where games are coming thick and fast, each game has its toll on the next one – in terms of pressure, confidence, and most importantly personnel. With one sixth of the La Liga season packed into April with Champions League quarterfinals in it too, injuries and switching the squad around doesn’t become an option but a necessity.
Doesn’t help at all when the teams are fighting for the league, have a bitter rivalry and come after a tough tie in Europe. But that is exactly the case with Real Madrid and Barcelona who face each other on Sunday in a potential title decider.
Los Blancos come into the ‘derby’ having progressed to the Champions League semi-finals after beating Bayern Munich 4-2 at home and 6-3 on aggregate. Meanwhile Barcelona couldn’t do a comeback repeat and lost 3-0 to Juventus on aggregate.
As far as the complexion of the league is concerned, Real have a three point lead over Barca with a game in hand (against Celta Vigo at Balaidos).
Between the two, Real are unlikely to be under that much pressure considering their advantage and the fact that they’d be playing at the Bernabeu. Barcelona, however, have things to prove to their retractors and gap to bridge with six games to go into the season. Having said that, Real won’t take it easy because they’ve not won the league since 2011-12.
Real Madrid can take plenty of confidence going into the Clasico – from the win against Bayern Munich and also the sublime run they’re on at home. Their last defeat came in February, 2016 when Zinedine Zidane’s first Derbi Madrileño didn’t go as planned. Since then, Real have drawn five times and lost once at home. Barcelona would lack the momentum after drawing blank against Juventus and managing just one shot on target. But then again, this would be just the kind of game Barcelona need to get their confidence back.
Gareth Bale suffered a calf injury in the first leg against Bayern Munich and missed the league game against Sporting Gijon and the return leg against the Bavarians. On Thursday, he returned to training and was part of drills with the ball. His inclusion, though, still remains questionable. Moving to Friday’s training, Raphael Varane returned to the training pitch but won’t be under consideration for selection due to lengthy injury absence. Zidane would have to keep under consideration that many of his stars who are likely to start against the Catalans come into it on the back of a game that went to extra time.
On the other side, Barcelona would be without Neymar with his appeal to have the sanction lifted turned down by the Sports Tribunal ahead of the all-important game.