Betting preview: Barcelona vs Real Madrid - Los Blancos looking to make a statement in El Clasico

In a new era without either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, Barcelona and Real Madrid come face-to-face, knowing the winner will lead their rivals in the table.

The first staging of El Clasico in the post-Lionel Messi era takes place on Sunday - and there's much at stake for both sides.

There are few, if any, bigger matches in the world than Barcelona vs Real Madrid and this one could well shape the future of the two Spanish giants.

In anticipation of the Spanish showdown, we take an in-depth look at how both sides have coped this season, and how Sunday's result could impact their standings.

When: Sunday, October 24 (3.15pm kick-off BST)

Where: Camp Nou

How to watch: LaLiga TV (Sky/Amazon Prime)

New era, new managers

Ronald Koeman, Barcelona, Manager

Messi has been a near-permanent presence in this game over the past 15 years but Barcelona's financial problems helped usher him out of Camp Nou in the summer in favour of Paris Saint-Germain.

The financial issues have continued to cast a shadow over the club this season, and it's only made Ronald Koeman's job harder.

Perhaps it's not surprising then that Barca have suffered a poor start to the season and currently sit seventh in La Liga ahead of Sunday's contest.

They've also struggled in the early stages of the Champions League too, but have somewhat regained momentum after Wednesday's win over Dynamo Kiev.

Real, who also appointed a new manager in the shape of Carlo Ancelotti, will undoubtedly look to show their bitter rivals no mercy.

Carlo Ancelotti, Real Madrid, manager, La liga

They will feel they are on the cusp of a period of domination in Spanish football and victory at Camp Nou would underline that.

But, Los Blancos also head into this first Clasico of the season without a club legend.

Sergio Ramos loved little more than getting stuck into Barca, but he joined Messi at PSG in the summer. So Barca aren't the only side missing a former great.

The good news is that, after two behind-closed-doors contests last season, fans are back to bring their usual electric energy to Camp Nou on Sunday.

However, ticket sales have been unusually low due to Barca's slow start and it looks unlikely there will be a full capacity in the 93,000-seater stadium.

Still, the atmosphere should enhance the entertainment on show in what is bound to be a feisty fixture.

Real Madrid set to be favourites

Karim Benzema, David Alaba, Real Madrid

The early market suggests Real will start slight favourites, emphasising Barcelona's early-season struggles.

But while much has been made of Koeman's start, have their flaws been overstated?

They may sit seventh but Barca have lost only once in La Liga and would be just two points behind leaders Real Sociedad if they won their game in hand.

Victory in this match would actually see them leapfrog Real in the standings.

It shows that Real haven't exactly flown out of the blocks themselves, failing to win three of their eight games. By their high standards, that's far from brilliant.

Currently second, they would go top by winning their game in hand.

Real lead the league for goals scored - 22 in their eight games - but they've also conceded a worrying 10 times. Only two teams in the top half of the table have let in more.

However, despite the stats, Real will know Barca are vulnerable - it's clear for all to see that the club are struggling with ongoing problems off the pitch.

It has been impossible for those at Barca to ignore the grumblings around the club's current predicament - Koeman himself hasn't exactly embraced the situation - and they will head into this game knowing they could make unwanted history.

Real have won the last three Clasicos - the last time they claimed four straight victories was between 1963 and 1965 (they later extended it to six consecutive wins).

Prior to the last three meetings, Barca had actually been unbeaten in seven, winning four.

One factor that does favour Barcelona, though, is their returning injured stars.

Ansu Fati, Barcelona, Dynamo Kiev

Ansu Fati made his first start of the season last weekend against Valencia - and scored a terrific goal. With Gavi having seemingly nailed down a starting role in midfield, Barca now possess two of the most exciting prospects in the world.

Having recovered from a calf injury, Sergio Aguero also made his long-awaited debut against Valencia, so the former Atletico Madrid man could make his first El Clasico appearance on Sunday.

Ousmane Dembele remains out though, while Ronald Araujo and Pedri are also struggling for fitness.

Real continue to be without Gareth Bale, while Eden Hazard, Isco and Dani Carvajal all missed the 5-0 midweek thrashing of Shakhtar Donetsk.

Goals can be expected

Vinicius Junior, Real Madrid

Over the years, El Clasico is a fixture which has regularly featured goals.

Fourteen of the last 20 meetings have seen over 2.5 goals, while 13 of the last 20 have seen both teams score.

Having Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo - the two leading scorers in El Clasico history - certainly helped on that front and perhaps their absence will lead to a slow-down.

Indeed, four of the last six meetings (all without Ronaldo) have seen both teams fail to score.

Still, this season's stats so far gives room for encouragement - the league's top scorers Real have seen six of their eight league games land both teams to score and over 2.5 goals, while Barca have seen five out of eight land both teams to score, and half of their fixtures reach over 2.5 goals.

As for goalscorers, Karim Benzema is far and away La Liga's top scorer. He has nine goals in just eight games, as well as two in the Champions League. However, 10 goals in 35 appearances in this fixture is perhaps a little underwhelming for a player of his stature. He's scored in just two of his last 14 Clasicos.

Benzema's Real team-mate Vinicius Junior has five league goals, while Memphis Depay, who will be playing in El Clasico for the first time, leads the charts for Barca with four.

A festival of cards

El Clasico, Real Madrid, Barcelona, red card

Long-running rivalries often produce card-strewn encounters and El Clasico has been no different over the years.

Using a 20-match study period, 16 have seen at least 50 booking points (10 for a yellow, 25 for a red), while 14 have had 60+.

That said, things have cooled off a bit in more recent meetings - only three of the last eight have hit 60.

Prior to that, the fixture had hit a sparky run of eight games between 2015 and 2018, six of which involved a red card. There has been just a single sending off in the eight matches since the end of the 2017/18 season, which was when Ronaldo departed.

The 20+ booking points (or over 1.5 cards) for each team has landed in 19 of the last 20, but 30+ each team has occurred in only six of those games.

The referee, Jose Maria Sanchez Martinez, will be taking charge of El Clasico for the fifth time. His last was in February 2019.

He's largely resisted the urge to book players in the past. His points in previous meetings read 40-40-65-20.

The 20+ booking points each has landed in three of the four games but he's yet to card more than two Barca players in any Clasico.

This season, he's shown 24 yellow cards in his four games, an average of six per match. He's produced at least five in every game, booking Nacho and Vinicius when he took charge of Real against Celta Vigo. He is yet to cross paths with Barca in 2021/22.

He may also put a dampener on the chance of an early card.

A caution before the 23-minute-mark has been reached in 16 of the last 20 Clasicos, while nine of those games have seen a card produced before 13 minutes have been played.

Yet, Sanchez Martinez has only reached for his notebook before the 38th minute in one of his four Clasico matches, waiting until the second half to dish out a card in two of them.

Who's going in the book for Barcelona vs Real Madrid?

Dani Carvajal, Real Madrid

For those looking to back specific players to be carded, Dani Carvajal is a prime candidate if, as reports have suggested, he returns to action in this game.

The Spanish right-back has picked up a card in nine of his last 10 La Liga games against Barca - a pretty remarkable record.

Nacho Gonzalez, a regular at centre-back since the departure of Sergio Ramos, is another with a strong card history in El Clasico.

He's been carded in four of his five starts, and already has three cards in seven league games this season too.

Casemiro will be among the market leaders here, and for good reason - he has received a card in six of 12 starts in El Clasico. This season he's got three cards in nine starts across all competitions.

As for the hosts, Sergio Busquets probably won't be far away from the referee's notebook.

He's been carded in six of his last 15 meetings with Real - two of those were with Jose Martinez in charge - and has three cards in eight La Liga appearances this season.

Midfielders have been collecting a lot of Barcelona's cautions this season, and that also brings Gavi very much into the equation.

He's got four cards in nine games for the first team in 2021/22, while he was also booked in his only B team game and had one card in two starts for Spain's under-18s.

This is the first Clasico of his career, and there's every chance the 17-year-old lashes out or loses focus at some point during the match.

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