Barcelona is the 4/5 favorite at home on Sunday vs. Real Madrid.
The ground is ready to shake beneath European football this weekend.
That’s because it “El Clasico” time again in Spain. The Barcelona-Real Madrid matchups have become featured events on the worldwide football calendar and the first of at least two (and if recent history is any indicator, perhaps more) matchups this season takes place on Sunday at the Camp Nou.
That’s not all of the action this weekend in Europe, however, and not even on Sunday, where the EPL will have a handful of featured matches, including an always-colorful encounter featuring Manchester United and host Newcastle United.
In fact, that EPL battle on Tyneside will act as a nice lead-in to Barca-Real Madrid later on Sunday. A quick check of European wagering outlets notes that Man United is posted as a 10/11 favorite on the win, with a Magpies success getting a 3/1 take-back price. The draw is priced at an interesting 13/5.
Kickoff at the Sports Direct Arena/St. James’s Park will be 11:00 a.m. (ET), with TV coverage in the states provided by the FOX Soccer Channel.
Of course, mention of Man United and Newcastle stirs the memory banks of many longtime EPL fans who recall one of the most dramatic races in English history back in the 1995-96 season, when an Eric Cantona-inspired Man U collared Newcastle at the wire in a race that seemed to be the Magpies’ for most of that term. That Newcastle side, managed by Kevin Keegan and featuring the exploits of Les Ferdinand, David Ginola and Faustino Asprilla, still rates as one of the most entertaining in EPL annals, although it could not secure any silverware and soon faded from the scene.
Moving to October 2012, it has been a slightly uneven start to the season for Man U, with a pair of losses interspersed among four wins in the EPL. But there is no reason to panic at Old Trafford, as the Red Devils are sitting in third spot in the table, just four points adrift of leaders Chelsea, with the vast majority of the season still to play.
What concerns Sir Alex Ferguson, however, are the recurring bits of inconsistency which were also a key factor in dooming Man U to a trophy-less campaign last season. It is hoped that the summer addition of Dutch goal-scoring wiz Robin Van Persie, last year’s EPL scoring leader who arrived via transfer from Arsenal, will help smooth out the rough spots.
Indeed, Van Persie has looked good in early matches, already with five goals. Moreover, a burgeoning partnership with Wayne Rooney looks to be developing after the two played well off of each other in a recent Champs League match vs. CFR Cluj-Nap, the first time the high-scoring pair had been partnered this season. Sir Alex was reportedly very pleased at the developments.
Issues for Ferguson entering Sunday’s match lie mostly in defense, especially with Jonny Evans only 50-50 to pass a late fitness test. Moreover, left-back Patrice Evra has been in poor form lately, prompting speculation that Sir Alex could make a bid for Chelsea’s Ashley Cole when the latter is out of contract at Stamford Bridge after the 2012-13 campaign. Stay tuned for those developments.
Meanwhile, Newcastle is lurking a bit further off the EPL pace, in 10th place on nine points, as the Geordies also re-enter the European stage as they participate in the Europa League. They’ll be facing Bordeaux in one of the matches in the latter competition on Thursday.
The Magpies, who recently granted a near-unprecedented eight-year contract extension to manager Allen Pardew, are relying heavily upon Senegalese striker Dema Ba (six goals), while other members of the Tyneside international brigade, including French Euro 2012 teammates midfielder Yohan Cabaye and striker Hatem Ben Arfa, provide some lively attack options for Pardew.
Newcastle fared well in this matchup last season, netting a win and a draw against United in EPL play, including a 3-0 victory at Tyneside in which Ba and Cabaye both scored.
We suspect price value lies in either the draw or Newcastle win prices...but not Man U.
Still, that EPL battle is just the appetizer for real football aficionados who can’t wait for the Sunday “El Classico” match in Catalunya between Barca and Real Madrid. A midweek check of European wagering outlets notes host Barca priced 4/5 on the win, with the take-back on Real Madrid at 16/5. The draw is posted at 11/4.
Kickoff time on Sunday will be 1:45 p.m. (ET), with TV coverage in the states provided by the new beIN Sport network, Al Jazeera’s worldwide sporting arm.
Of course, these two have run into one another so many times in recent seasons that their matches had tended to become predictable, each probing for advantages and waiting for opportunities to arise. At least until last season, when the sides were involved in a pair of cracklers, with the road team surprisingly on top in each encounter. Barca won 3-1 at Bernabeu in early December before Real Madrid got its revenge in a 2-1 win on April 21 at the Camp Nou that paved its way for the Liga crown.
Barca has started the better of the hated rivals this season, flying to six wins in as many starts in Liga play and now far on top of the domestic table on 18 points. Although the Blaugrana are dealing with some injury issues after heart-and-soul defender Carlos Puyol, who also missed Euro 2012 due to injury, went down with an elbow injury in Tuesday’s 2-0 Champs League win over Benfica and is expected to be out until December.
But Barca has not seemed to skip a beat under new manager Tito Vilanova, an understudy to predecessor Pep Guardiola who still has Barca playing its attractive (and brutally effective) tike-taka style that can cut open enemy defenses on a moment’s notice. Lionel Messi (six goals already in Liga play) remains in top scoring form, while David Villa, back from last February’s leg injury, now appears close to his old self with three goals.
As for Real Madrid, it has been a bit of a bumpy ride in the early going, with Los Blancos off a bit slowly in Liga, sitting in sixth place on 10 points after a pair of early-season defeats to Getafe and Sevilla.
Since the Sevilla setback, however, Real Madrid have won five on the trot and looked great doing so, including the midweek demolition of Ajax in Champs League action. Cristiano Ronaldo certainly appears in top form after his hat trick vs. Ajax and quick start in Liga with six goals in as many matches.
Importantly, Ronaldo also seems beyond some of the early-season controversy in which his diva side reappeared and questioned whether he could be “comfortable” at the Bernabeu. Unflappable manager Jose Mourinho, however, never seemed too concerned about his Portuguese star.
There is, however, hint of controversy elsewhere on the roster, where Mourinho has threatened to bench players (even the star-studded ones) who do not produce consistent efforts, or believe they can save their best for Champs League assignments. Spain international defender Sergio Ramos, who has been benched on occasion by Mourinho, is rumored to be at the center of some locker room acrimony, although Liga sources believe this is simply the normal course of events for the high-profile side.
Indeed, they’re used to such distractions at the Bernabeu. No matter, however, Real Madrid looks to have a tough task against high-flying (and revenge-minded) Barca on Sunday.