Quique Setien, Barcelona’s current manager, has remarked in advance of Sunday’s match up with Real Madrid, that he believes the game is more important for Real than it is for his own side. This comment was in response to Zidane’s statement that his side are in a “delicate moment”.(1) While on the one hand a win for Setien’s side would send them 5 points clear of Madrid at the top of La Liga, I would argue his team is in a moment just as “delicate” as Zidane’s.
The excitement surrounding this fixture, arguably the most anticipated in European football, has and will continue to be at an unprecedented level. The situation surrounding both clubs, however, has changed an immense amount in the past 9 months.
For Madrid, the loss of Ronaldo at the inception of this season has resulted in a dearth of reliability in front of goal, exemplified by their worst run since 1985 of over 400 minutes without a goal this past December.(1) The hopes rested on the shoulders of the 19 year old Vinícius Júnior, largely seem to have been premature and the void left by Ronaldo has been a consistent issue. Flirting with an early exit in the round of 32 of the Champions league, coupled with an inconsistency in the league unseen in the past decade and the embarrassment of conceding 4 goals at home in their exit from the Copa del Rey, Real are undoubtedly in trouble.
Setien’s aforementioned comment might suggest that his side find themselves in a better situation than their fierce rivals. The reality for Barcelona, however, echoes a plethora of similarities to that of Madrid’s. An unexpected 1-0 defeat to the out-of-form Lyon this past week leaves their Champions League hopes resting on what will be a nervy 90 minutes this coming Wednesday. Additionally, a poor run of form in the first half of the domestic season has revealed weaknesses in attack, which have been furthered by Suarez’s 6 month injury lay-off.
In light of recent inconsistencies and managerial upheavals, the notion of these two European giants losing part of their largely unchallenged status as the continent’s powerhouses arises. Real’s loss of Ronaldo and an ageing Messi (32) without an obvious replacement is cause for concern for both clubs whose success in the past decade has been centred around the brilliance of these two individuals. This is not to suggest Real and Barcelona will cease to be at the pinnacle of European football in the next decade, but retaining their respective positions will require major adjustments in light of the loss of both team’s central players. Furthermore, the recent rise of English clubs on the international stage (Europa and Champions league) has resulted in added competition that has been less prominent in the previous 10 years. While this not only plays a factor on the field for both Barcelona and Real, it also impacts their respective abilities to attract players given the increasing success these English clubs are having on the European stage.
Ayamga, Emmanuel. “3 Stats That Show Real Madrid Have Regressed without Cristiano Ronaldo.” Sports News, Sportskeeda, 20 Dec. 2019, www.sportskeeda.com/football/3-stats-that-show-real-madrid-have-regressed-without-cristiano-ronaldo.
“Real Madrid 2-0 Barcelona: Vinicius Junior and Mariano Score in Key El Clasico.” BBC Sport, BBC, 29 Feb. 2020, www.bbc.com/sport/football/51690580.