Champions Madrid await shaken Barcelona in Clasico

Carlo Ancelotti, Head Coach of Real Madrid reacts during the UEFA Champions League group F match between Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Madrid at Wojska Polskiego Stadium on October 11, 2022 in Warsaw, Poland.

Real Madrid showed their immense mental strength under pressure in their stunning run to Champions League glory last season.

They came from behind against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City on a wild run to the final, winning when it seemed nearly impossible, when all hope was extinguished.

On Sunday, they host Barcelona in the Clasico, both sides unbeaten in La Liga, but their opponents arrive in a state of wildly contrasting fragility, bruised from another harrowing night in the Champions League against Inter Milan.

The 3-3 draw at Camp Nou left Barcelona on the verge of another humiliating group stage elimination, while Madrid have already wrapped up qualification to the last 16.

League leaders Barcelona, who also beat Madrid 4-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu last season, somehow arrive as underdogs, bearing fresh wounds.

From being drawn in the toughest European group, to controversial refereeing decisions in Milan, as well as having multiple players injured, it has been a rough ride for the Catalans.

“It’s a cruel, hard blow, very cruel,” said Xavi after the Inter draw. “Now we have to think about Madrid, the Clasico, recover, and on Sunday try to beat Madrid at the Bernabeu which won’t be easy.

“Let’s leave the Champions League to one side and focus on La Liga, we’re leaders and want to stay there. We hope that it doesn’t affect us psychologically, or the morale of the players.”

Barcelona need to face Madrid with the right mentality. Turning their frustrations into righteous anger and steely determination would help them, but if that spills over into desperation they are at risk of collapse.

Against Inter Milan they struck shortly before half-time, through Ousmane Dembele, but after conceding the equaliser to Nicolo Barella in the second half, they fell apart defensively as they scrambled for another goal.

It was similar to their second half performance last weekend against Celta Vigo, where only goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen earned them a 1-0 win. Barcelona lost control and if they do that against Madrid, they will be inevitably punished.

Madrid played poorly in Poland against Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday and still came away with the result they needed, with a brave 95th-minute Antonio Rudiger header.

“We showed that we never give up,” said Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti. “We played very badly and this can happen in football, but the important thing is not to give up when things don’t work out.”

Karim Benzema is fit once more and after five consecutive appearances without scoring, will be hoping to on the big stage, before attending the Ballon d’Or gala in Paris on Monday, where he is expected to win the trophy.

His Barcelona counterpart, Robert Lewandowski, is the competition’s top goalscorer with nine and hit the target twice against Inter even as some of his team-mates floundered.

Real Madrid have only kept one clean sheet in La Liga but, despite only conceding one league goal, Barcelona’s defence seems like the one in tatters, left hoping Jules Kounde can return from injury to patch things up.

Regardless, Benzema and Madrid will be confident they can kick their rivals while they are down.

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