“The game is going to be strange because when you play at home in games like this, the fans are almost an extra man,” Ronald Koeman told the Barcelona website. “We hope that we can have our fans back in the stadium soon.”
But this latest installment in the El Clasico series is also unusual in that it could be the last time Lionel Messi competes against Real at the Camp Nou.
Between 2009 and 2018, the rivalry between Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo was the seductive subplot of every El Clasico meeting.
However long it has been, the times when fans marvel at the sight of Ronaldo and Messi fighting at the height of their careers. In fact, Ronaldo has completely disappeared and is now at Juventus, and Messi … well, Messi wishes he was gone too.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest footballers in history, the Argentine has since stated that he remains motivated to bring success to Barcelona this season, but that is certainly easier said than done when your heart is set in motion .
READ: When Luis Figo signed for Real Madrid
Messi’s performances have understandably fallen well below his own supernatural standards, with only two goals in five games this season and both from the penalty spot.
Fortunately for Barcelona, 17-year-old Ansu Fati has an exciting new perspective in his hands that gives fans hope that there could be life after Messi.
Fati, who became Spain’s youngest ever goalscorer in the last international break, has already scored four goals in five games this season to cement his place as Barcelona’s top scorer.
The new boss Koeman had led Barcelona to a solid start in the league with two wins and one draw from his first three games as head coach. However, the surprise 1-0 loss to Getafe last Saturday exposed many of the shortcomings that have plagued Barcelona lately.
It’s no secret that the team have been painfully over-reliant on Messi for the past few years and must now finally find a way to succeed without leaning heavily on the Argentine’s shoulders.
The wounds of that 8-2 humiliation of the Champions League against Bayern Munich in last season’s quarter-finals remain fresh and, perhaps most worryingly, Barcelona have only fallen further below the standards currently being set by the Bavarian club.
READ: Messi breaks Champions League record
Tuesday’s 5-1 win against Hungarian club Ferencvaros gave Barcelona a brief break, but triumph in an El Clasico will do wonders for Koeman’s position at the Catalan club.
Clash of the crisis clubs
Fortunately for Barcelona, El Clasico will certainly not be a game Real Madrid enjoy on Saturday either.
Zinedine Zidane’s side have had a few days more tumultuous than their rivals after suffering a loss to Shakhtar Donetsk at the weekend to newly promoted Cadiz, who played in his first La Liga season in 15 years in the Champions League .
Looking at Saturday’s La Liga clash against Barcelona, Real made some changes to their regular starting line-up but there was no excuse for such a bland and lifeless performance in the first half.
READ: Shakhtar Donestk delivers a breathtaking surprise in the Champions League
Incredibly, Shakhtar was without seven starting players – for a total of ten – due to a combination of positive coronavirus cases and injuries.
“I won a lot with these players, they won a lot for me and I will always be with them until the end. They fight, run and fight and I can feel their support, ”said Zidane. by Reuters with a view to the game on Saturday.
“But right now the most important thing is to change the dynamics and we have good games ahead of us to be able to do that and that is what makes football so great. When something goes wrong you need to show your character and quality.
“I can’t deny that people say my future is at stake, but it was the same last year and it was the same in my first spell here. I just have to do my job and forget about everything else. ”
Real Madrid have gradually improved since Zidane was reinstated as head coach in March 2019. The resurgence culminated in the first season in a first La Liga title since 2017 in late 2017 – although that win, in retrospect, may have been achieved by a substitute in shambolic form after the restart.
Similar to Barcelona, Real have some exciting prospects that allow fans to dream that the future could be bright. Brazilian striker Vinicius Junior has continued his development as one of Europe’s best attackers while left-back Ferland Mendy cemented his place as an obvious heir to Marcelo.
For both clubs, it remains to be seen whether the latest results and performances are just a minor mistake or an indication of the upcoming bouts this season.
READ: Goals Countless As European Football Has Another Wild Weekend
While Real and Barca may no longer be at their previous highs and may resemble two lumbering heavyweight boxers at the dawn of their careers, the precarious position both teams and managers find themselves in arguably makes Saturday’s clash even more momentous Occasion.
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