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Preview: Real Madrid, Barcelona star in season’s first El Clasico

For Barcelona and Real Madrid, nothing that’s happened in their seasons until the Clasico matters.

El Clasico
Barcelona and Real Madrid enter the El Clasico unbeaten in the league this season [Ethan Miller/Getty Images]

Who: Real Madrid vs Barcelona
Where: Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain
When: 3:15pm (14:15 GMT)

The first El Clasico of the season is one of those rare fixtures in the world of football that can wipe the slate clean.

For Barcelona and Real Madrid, nothing that has happened in their seasons until then matters. But everything that follows is shaped by it.

For these two monoliths of Spanish football, the first Clasico of the season is the point from where their domestic campaigns truly begin.

Near-perfect starts to the league

While Real Madrid’s injury-time equaliser against a spirited Shakhtar Donetsk side in the Champions League on Wednesday sealed their qualification to the knockouts for a record 31st time, Barcelona’s 3-3 draw against Inter Milan left them on the brink of a group-stage exit for the second successive season.

There is a sharp contrast in their fortunes in the Champions League but they have been near-inseparable in La Liga so far.

Both teams have seven wins from their first eight games. Both are unbeaten in the league.

Barcelona come into the Clasico sitting top of the league, ahead of Real only on goal difference.

Madrid’s recent dominance

The shadow of Barcelona’s 4-0 win at the Bernabeu in March this year looms large over Sunday’s game.

It was the Catalan club’s first Clasico win in three years and they scored more goals in that match than they had managed in their last five meetings with Madrid.

Real manager Carlo Ancelotti has a poor record in this fixture, having won just two of the six Clasicos he has overseen. He is yet to defeat Barcelona at the Bernabeu.

Lewandowski’s Clasico debut

Barca has a new-look front line this season.

While Raphinha’s arrival in the summer, coupled with Ousmane Dembélé’s form, has increased the attack’s potency, the centrepiece is undoubtedly Robert Lewandowski.

The Polish striker has made a brisk start to life at Barca since his move from Bayern Munich, scoring 14 goals in his first 12 appearances for the new club.

It will be his first Clasico as a Barça player but Lewandowski has an impressive record against Real Madrid, scoring six goals in the eight times he has played against them.

Ancelotti’s midfield decision

Toni Kroos and Luka Modric’s age-defying performances last season bought Real Madrid an unexpected additional year to prepare for the change of guard in midfield.

In Federico Valverde, Eduardo Camavinga and summer-signing Aurélien Tchouameni, they have put together a midfield that could form the team’s bedrock for the next decade.

The fact that Kroos and Modric have started just two La Liga games together this season points towards the transition taking place in Madrid. But, it is also equally telling that one of Kroos or Modric has been in the starting XI of every league game so far this year.

Coaches’ corner

Barcelona’s Xavi: “I’m always an optimist and I see this game as a great opportunity for us. We are the [LaLiga] leaders and we want to continue to be as of Sunday. We want to leave the past behind. If we are positive, everything will be fine.”

Real’s Ancelotti: “I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, you can count on that. Last time, I tried to play the inventor, they gave me a beating. So I don’t expect we will be doing anything out of the ordinary on Sunday. We will play like we usually do. They are a great rival and we need to be on top of our game.”

Source: Al Jazeera