The first El Clasico of the 2018/19 La Liga season will see both Barcelona and Real Madrid looking to find some fluency.
Champions League winners in each of the last three seasons and in four of the last five, Madrid face Barcelona this weekend without Cristiano Ronaldo – a man who scored 311 goals in 292 league appearances.
Permanently beleaguered Julen Lopetegui will take charge of Real in the Clasico but a second sacking in under 150 days seems almost inevitable, be it this week or next.
And though there were voices in the summer who felt Real had ended their association with their 33-year-old record goalscorer at the right moment, the first two months of the new season suggest that it is the club who are missing the man, rather than the reverse.
A glance at Madrid’s Expected Goals output in the past three seasons bears this out, with a decline from 2.4 per match two seasons ago to 2.3 in Ronaldo’s final season, and a relatively big drop to 1.9 so far in 2018-19.
And not only are Real creating lower quality chances on average than in previous seasons, but they are failing to take even the good ones, with their actual total of 13 so far – less than both Bournemouth and Watford have scored in the Premier League – around four fewer than you’d expect.
Real Madrid in La Liga
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Whether this slowdown is a systemic issue with the reeling Lopetegui, a waning team shorn of their goalscoring icon, or a combination of both, there are more than a few telling pieces of information.
Firstly, Real are averaging 6.3 shots on target per game, the first time they’ve dipped under seven a match since 2008-09, which was the club’s final season before Ronaldo was signed from Manchester United.
Secondly, Gareth Bale, whose decisive two strikes as a substitute in the 2018 Champions League final must have gone some way to convince internal doubters that the moment to sell Ronaldo had arrived, has failed to weigh in with enough goals.
The Welshman scored in his first three league appearances of the season but his other five outings have been goalless and Real have picked up just two points from them.
FC Barcelona vs Real Madrid CF
Barcelona have only lost once throughout this 2018/19 competitive season, but they showed some signs of weakness of late. They were on a four-game winless streak in La Liga prior to their 4-2 home victory against Sevilla at the weekend. At home, the Catalans are undefeated in eight games across all competitions at the moment, winning six in the process.
On the contrary, Real Madrid have endured a terrible run of form in La Liga over the past few weeks, losing three and drawing one of their last four fixtures. They were on a five-game winless streak across all competitions prior to their narrow 2-1 home victory against Plzen in their Champions League midweek tie. The most worrying thing is that Real Madrid have won just one of their last nine competitive trips.
Barcelona managed to collect four points from their two meetings with Real Madrid in the previous season and we fancy them to secure another positive result here.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen; Roberto, Piqué, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Arthur; Rafinha, Suárez, Coutinho
Real Madrid (4-3-3): Courtois; Nacho, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Modric, Casemiro, Kroos; Bale, Benzema, Asensio
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