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El Clásico Preview


Saturday will see the 245th clash between Barcelona and Real Madrid in all competitions, with both teams amazingly level on 96 wins each coming into this Clásico meeting. We preview the clash by analysing some of the main talking points ahead of the weekend.

By: Luis Ledesma, Vanessa Marina, David Aranda, Enrique Ballesteros

After a summer of turmoil, the saga between Lionel Messi and Barcelona was never really resolved in a manner that both parties were happy with. As a result, a clearly unhappy Messi has seen his form suffer on the pitch.

Coming into this match, Messi has not scored or assisted a goal in any of his last three LaLiga appearances. Should he fail to be involved in a goal in this Clásico, then it would be his worst run since January 2014 (four games in a row).

Looking at performance metrics this season – granted, a small sample size of 360 minutes – he is not performing at the levels we have come to expect of him.

He’s attempted 15 shots so far in 2020/21, at an average of 3.8 per 90 – his lowest ratio since 2007/08. His expected goals (xG) per 90 is the lowest it has been on record since 2013/14 (0.57) and he’s attempting fewer dribbles than ever before in his league career (just 4.8 per 90).

Messi will hope that this game can kickstart his season, but to do so, he will have to ignore his recent Clásico form.

Overall, Lionel Messi is the top-scoring player in El Clásico history with 26 goals in 43 games with 18 of those goals coming in LaLiga clashes.

Only Sevilla (37), Atlético Madrid (32) & Valencia (28) have conceded more goals to Lionel Messi than Real Madrid (26) and the Argentine has been involved in 40 goals across these 43 appearances overall (26 goals, 14 assists).

However, a worrying statistic for Messi and Barcelona is that he’s not scored or assisted in any of his last five competitive Clásico appearances.

Overall, Messi has gone 425 minutes of football without scoring against his rivals in all competitions, his second-worst drought in El Clásico history (522 mins being the worst). The superstar has failed to score with his last 16 shots in this tie (six on target).

Solid Foundations for Madrid

Real Madrid claimed their 34th LaLiga title last season and much of their success was built on their solid defensive unit.

Never in a 38-game league season had Madrid conceded as few goals as they did in 2019/20 (25), beating their previous record of 26 under the stewardship of Leo Beenhakker in 1987/88 (26).

Fewest Goals Conceded by a LaLiga Team in a 38-game Season:

SeasonTeamGoals Conceded
1993/1994Deportivo de La Coruña18
2015/2016Atlético de Madrid18
2017/2018Atlético de Madrid22
1994/1995Real Betis25
2019/2020Real Madrid25
1987/1988Real Madrid26

They also kept 19 clean sheets on the way to the title – only in 1986/87 (44 games) and 1987/88 (38 games) have they managed to keep as many in a single league campaign.

Much of their ability to prevent the opposition from scoring came from Thibaut Courtois, who is currently enjoying his best period of form in Madrid.

Using our expected goals on target (xGOT) model, we can predict how many goals a goalkeeper would be expected to concede, given the quality of the chance (xG) and the end goalmouth location of the shot. As a result, we can directly evaluate the contribution of the goalkeeper and see how many goals they prevented for their teams.

Courtois was expected to have conceded 31 goals since the start of last season, according to our xGOT model. Given that he actually only conceded 23 goals (excluding penalties and own goals), the Belgian prevented eight goals with his saves this season, a phenomenal tally only exceeded Jan Oblak (8.8).

Goals Prevented by LaLiga Goalkeepers since August 2019:

PlayerxGoT ConcededGoals Conceded (Excluding Own Goals & Penalties)Goals Prevented
Jan Oblak33.8258.8
Thibaut Courtois31.0238.0
Unai Simón37.4316.4
David Soria42.7384.7
Jordi Masip44.5404.5

The former Chelsea shot-stopper has currently gone 244 minutes without conceding a goal in El Clásico, the third-best run by a goalkeeper in this fixture in the 21st century.

Minutes Without Conceding In El Clásico:

GoalkeeperConsecutive Games Without ConcedingConsecutive Minutes without Conceding
Víctor Valdés3386
Marc-André ter Stegen2291
Thibaut Courtois2244
Iker Casillas2232

Dutch Courage

Ronald Koeman will make his managerial debut in El Clásico this weekend, with the Dutchman in the dugout for Barcelona.

He’ll become the fifth Dutch coach to take charge of Barca in the derby, following Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff, Louis van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard. Koeman will be hoping that he can replicate the debut of Louis van Gaal, as the 69-year-old is the only previous Dutch manager to win his opening Clásico as Barca boss.

Debut Clásico For Dutch Managers Of Barcelona:

Rinus MichelsNovember 28, 1971LaLiga1-1 DrawSantiago Bernabéu
Johan CruyffSeptember 21, 1988Supercopa0-2 LossSantiago Bernabéu
Louis van GaalAugust 20, 1997Supercopa2-1 WinCamp Nou
Frank RijkaardDecember 6, 2003LaLiga1-2 LossCamp Nou

van Gaal was also the most successful of the four previous Dutch managers in Clásico matches for Barcelona. He won 44% of derbies (4/9) and only lost twice against Real Madrid.

Dutch Managers at Barcelona Record in El Clásico:

ManagerPWDLGFGAWin Ratio
Louis van Gaal9432161444.4%
Johan Cruyff259610343536.0%
Rinus Michels13454141530.8%
Frank Rijkaard10325161830.0%

A Different Barcelona?

 Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona have certainly shown that they have a different ethos to previous Barca sides we have seen in recent times.

Granted, they have played three of last season’s top eight sides in LaLiga already this season – but a return of seven points from four games ahead of the Clásico isn’t overly encouraging.

PPDA is a metric that shows the number of opposition passes allowed outside of the pressing team’s own defensive third, divided by the number of defensive actions by the pressing team outside of their own defensive third.

Barcelona’s PPDA number is much higher in 2020/21 than we have seen in any of the previous 10 seasons on record, essentially telling us that they aren’t committed to a pressing game this season under Koeman.

Another metric that backs this up is Barcelona’s open play sequence start line, which is the average distance in metres from their own goal that their open play sequences start. Again, we have never seen a Barcelona side in the last 11 seasons start their sequences from so deep and so close to their own goal, with their sequences starting 39.7m from their own goal in 2020/21 to date.

In addition to this, whilst on paper, Barcelona’s average possession figure seems decent this season at 59.2%, this is again lower than we’ve seen in any of the last 11 seasons and nearly 8% lower than last season (66.8%).

Red Card Redemption

Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos has already made the most appearances in El Clásico history in all competitions, with 44 appearances under his belt in this derby.

Should he play in this match then he would equal Raúl González and Paco Gento as the players with the most appearances in this game in LaLiga history (31).

He will have to try and keep a cool head if he wants to finish the game on the pitch, however.

Most LaLiga Red Cards since Sergio Ramos’ Debut (September 10th 2005):

PlayerLaLiga Red Cards
Sergio Ramos19
Fernando Amorebieta11
Carlos Marchena9
Aritz Aduriz9
Aitor Ocio9
David Navarro9

Since making his LaLiga debut for Real Madrid in September 2005, Ramos has picked up a league-high 19 red cards; eight more than any other player in the league.

Most LaLiga Red Cards Against a Single Opponent since Ramos’ Debut:

Playervs OpponentLaLiga Red Cards
Sergio RamosBarcelona4
Carlos DiogoSevilla3
Fabián OrellanaBarcelona3

Four of those red cards have come against Barcelona, which again is a record by a single player against an opponent in that period.

In all competitions, it is five red cards for Ramos in El Clásico – more than any other player in the history of the fixture.

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