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We look ahead to the first El Clasico of 2018/19
We look ahead to the first El Clasico of 2018/19

Barcelona meet Real Madrid in the first El Clasico of the season on Sunday.

The Catalans start the weekend top of La Liga with a four-point advantage over seventh-placed Real.

The week of the clash saw Barca worrying about a short-term future without star striker Lionel Messi, who has broken his arm and will miss a number of key fixtures.

They passed the first test without him, beating Inter Milan in the Champions League.

Julen Lopetegui's struggling Real, meanwhile, have lost three of their last four league games and trail the Catalans by four points. They squeezed past Czech outfit Viktoria Plzen at the Bernabeu in midweek.

Here, Sporting Life's George Pitts makes a case for Barcelona, while Tom Carnduff looks to the positives for Real going into the clash...

George on Barcelona

Countinho to score and Barcelona to win: 11/4

Tom on Real Madrid

When is El Clasico, what time is does it kick-off and where can I watch it?

The match takes place on 28 October 2018, getting underway at 1515 GMT at Barca's Camp Nou. It is being streamed on Eleven Sports.

What are the odds?

Barcelona - 10/11 | Draw 29/10 | Real Madrid 13/5

Price Boosts

Click here for more El Clasico odds, Price Boosts and RequestABets.

What the managers say

Ernesto Valverde (Barcelona):

  • "The more wounded Real Madrid are, the more dangerous they are. They have good players, a lot of options at their disposal and a great defence. They have enough quality to fight back and they are a great all-round team. I am expecting Real Madrid to be at their best."
  • On being without Messi: "We have already taken a step forward in that regard and I expect more from the squad tomorrow. The supporters at the Nou Camp are essential because we know they will cheer us on from the start in El Clasico. With them behind us we are stronger as having 100,000 people on your side really helps."

Julen Lopetegui (Real Madrid):

  • "We are going to focus on the game only worrying about ourselves, and the opponents in front of us. We will try to make the most of our strengths and perform to our best in all areas, both in attack and in defence. They are a very good team, regardless of whether a certain player is available or not."
  • On reports Antonio Conte will replace him: "I focus on one thing only - that is the job of a coach. I'm not aware of what people are saying because that will not help me deliver a win. We are focusing on making the most of our talents, improving our efficiency in front of goal and on winning a demanding game like the one tomorrow."

Talking points

Lopetegui on the brink

Real Madrid's Julen Lopetegui

Real ended a run of five games without a victory in midweek by beating Czech minnows Viktoria Plzen 2-1 in the Champions League.

But another sub-par performance could put more question marks against Julen Lopetegui's future.

Former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has reportedly been approached already to take over at the Bernabeu if Lopetegui leaves. Lose in Barcelona and it could be all over for the former Spain boss.

Next permanent Real Madrid manager (via Sky Bet)

Magic Messi missing

Lionel Messi fractured his right arm in the win over Sevilla

Barcelona minus Lionel Messi is almost akin to the city being without Antoni Gaudi's architecture.

The Argentina wizard shows no signs of ageing past his 31st birthday and has scored 12 goals this season. But Messi suffered a fracture to his right arm against Sevilla last weekend and was in the stands on Wednesday as Barcelona beat Inter Milan in the Champions League. Messi is expected to be out for three weeks, and his absence gives Real hope of getting back in the title race.

Who can light up El Clasico?

This will be the first El Clasico without Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo since December 2007.

It was another football age back then with the likes of Deco, Gabriel Heinze and Ruud van Nistelrooy featuring in a game settled by Julio Baptista.

With Messi injured and Ronaldo now strutting his stuff in Serie A with Juventus, the stage is free for someone to take star billing. There are no shortage of candidates on either side, but can anyone stand up to become the main man?

Can Bale silence the critics?

Real Madrid's Gareth Bale

It often appears that no matter what Gareth Bale does - and he has done plenty in his five years in Spain - it is not enough for some sections of the Madrid media and Real fan base.

Bale hit the ground running with four goals in the first six games as Real began life without Ronaldo. But yet another injury cost the Welshman game-time, and he has not scored in his last five appearances.

A match-winning performance at the Camp Nou would go a long way to winning the sceptical Madridistas over.

Notable past meetings

Some previous classic encounters between the clubs...

Real Madrid 5-0 Barcelona - La Liga, January 7, 1995

A year earlier Barcelona had thumped Real 5-0 but the tables were turned in early 1995.

The hosts' victory was inspired by former Barca forward Michael Laudrup, who had left Catalonia for the Spanish capital in 1994. Chilean striker Ivan Zamorano grabbed a hat-trick, future Barcelona manager Luis Enrique added a fourth and Jose Amavisca completed the rout.

Real would go on to the win the league having seen Barca crowned champions for the previous four campaigns in a row.

Barcelona 3-3 Real Madrid - La Liga, March 10, 2007

Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick in his first El Clasico appearance in 2007

The day a teenage Messi announced himself to the world with his maiden hat-trick.

In a pulsating opening half an hour, Messi twice equalised for Barca, cancelling out Ruud van Nistelrooy strikes on each occasion. The home side were reduced to 10 men before the break when Oleguer was dismissed and Real led again through Sergio Ramos.

However, Messi salvaged a point for his side by completing his hat-trick in stoppage time of an enthralling contest.

Real Madrid 4-1 Barcelona - La Liga, May 7, 2008

Arjen Robben celebrates in El Clasico in 2007

Newly crowned champions Real were afforded a guard of honour onto the Bernabeu pitch and their visitors continued to be humiliated once the game had kicked off.

Raul, Arjen Robben (pictured), Gonzalo Higuain and Van Nistelrooy were all on target for a Los Blancos team celebrating back-to-back titles.

Thierry Henry grabbed a consolation but Xavi was sent off late on in what proved to be one of the final matches of Frank Rijkaard's reign. His successor was one Pep Guardiola.

Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid - La Liga, November 29, 2010

David Villa in El Clasico in 2010

This was a fifth successive El Clasico victory in La Liga under Guardiola for Barcelona and the heaviest loss of Jose Mourinho's managerial career.

Guardiola's Barca would be called "the best team we have ever played" by then-Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson six months later and they showed why here.

David Villa scored twice while Xavi, Pedro and Jeffren also grabbed goals in a win that came amid a run of 10 straight Barcelona victories.

Real Madrid 2-3 Barcelona - La Liga, April 23, 2017

Lionel Messi celebrates in front of Real Madrid fans in 2017

The balance of power had shifted in a campaign where Real secured a La Liga and Champions League double.

Yet, once again, it was Messi who would hog the headlines in their meeting with Barca. Having not scored in six Clasicos, Messi levelled following Casemiro's opener.

Ivan Rakitic put the visitors ahead once again only for James Rodriguez to reply for 10-man Real with five minutes remaining.

Yet Messi once more delivered with a stoppage-time strike, his 500th for the club, and one that was celebrated by him holding up the name on the back of his shirt to the home support.

Follow Sporting Life on social media - find us on Facebook here or tweet @SportingLifeFC

Odds via Sky Bet and correct as of 1140 GMT on 28/10/18

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