Last season, FC Barcelona made something of a mockery out of Spain's — and Europe's — most storied rivalry. The Catalan side won three of four matches against archrivals Real Madrid, settling for a draw only in the first leg of a Copa del Rey semifinal. When it was all said and done, Barcelona topped La Liga with 87 points for their second straight title, while Los Blancos staggered into third place, 19 points off the pace. But this season, the situation looks very different.
Heading into the 189th edition of El Clásico at the iconic, 99,000-seat Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, the teams are tied on points with 35 on top of the Spanish league table. Only a two-goal differential puts Barca on top. The winner on Wednesday, if there is one, will assume the La Liga lead with only one match to play before the winter break.
The initial El Clásico of the season was put on hold until mid-December. It was postponed from two months earlier due to widespread protests by Catalonian separatists in the region's capital city, according to BBC.
And, indeed, politics have long been at the heart of the intense rivalry between the two clubs. Real Madrid, hailing from Spain's capital, are generally seen as representing the Spanish crown, while FC Barcelona have been strongly identified with the Catalan nationalist movement.
But as far as matters on the pitch are concerned, an expert panel from ESPN FC has already provided a preview of the mid-week El Clásico.Though the two teams boast similar records after 16 league matches, with Barcelona winning 11 and Real Madrid taking 10, oddsmakers see this showdown as an easy call. Barcelona are favored with a moneyline of -143, according to High Press Soccer. The team will home-pitch advantage. Also, they have four wins and no losses in the last six El Clásico matches, with only one defeat in their last 17 games across all competitions.
That means a wager of $143 would earn $100 profit if Barcelona capture what would be their third win in a row over Real Madrid. The visitors, on the other hand, are rated at +350. In other words, a bet of $100 pays $350 plus the original $100 wager — which makes the Madrid side clear underdogs. The line on the match ending in a draw is +320.
In addition, while Barcelona are mostly injury-free — the long-term absence of Ousmane Dembélé notwithstanding — Real Madrid continue to miss Belgian striker Eden Hazard, as well as Marcelo, James Rodriguez and Marco Asensio, according to SportingPedia.
Barcelona's high-powered attack features six-time Ballon D'or winner Lionel Messi, as well as Luis Suarez (nine goals in La Liga this season) and Antoine Griezmann (six goals). But Real Madrid will have to rely almost exclusively on 31-year-old Karim Benzema. The French international is enjoying a stellar season with 12 goals, tied with Messi. But, he is the only player on his team with more than two.
FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid kicks off at 8 p.m. local time Wednesday. In the United States, where the game will be televised and streamed live online by the BeIn Sports network, that start time will be 2 p.m. EST and 11 a.m. on the west coast.