Barcelona v Real Madrid Sunday, 15:15 Live on Eleven Sports 1 and Betfair Live Video
How will Barça cope without Messi?
No Lionel Messi, no problem: that was the message sent by Barcelona in midweek. With their talisman watching from the stands, arm in a sling, the Blaugrana found a way past Internazionale to maintain their 100% start in the Champions League. And while it was hardly a performance for the ages, there was enough there - from Arthur, from Rafinha - to suggest that there is life beyond You Know Who.
Now, though, comes the real acid test: a Clásico without Messi. There is good reason for Barça to be wary about the prospect: the Argentine has only missed two games against Real Madrid since his first taste of this fixture, and Barcelona haven't won either (D1 L1), while their form this term - prior to the Inter game at least - has been tightly bound with his presence on the field. Even when Messi is left on the bench, his team-mates know he can come on and save them. But they don't have that option here.
There are two distinct options to fill the Messi-shaped void. One is Rafinha, who capped a lively performance with a goal on Wednesday night and, being more of a midfielder, would offer more security, more diligence to the side. The braver pick would be Ousmane Dembélé, but the Frenchman has gone off the boil a touch since a good start to the season and was an unused substitute in this fixture last term.
Lopetegui a dead man walking
The noises coming out of the Bernabéu ahead of this game suggest Julen Lopetegui's days as Real Madrid manager are numbered - even if he manages to mastermind an unexpected victory. Recent results have been abject, with performances arguably even worse, and it's probably only the lack of an obvious replacement keeping him in the job at present. The best he can hope for is a valedictory win at the Camp Nou to restore some pride.
Madrid did at least manage to score against Levante last weekend, one month later, but defensive confusion cost them. And they were hugely fortunate to beat Viktoria Plzen in midweek, the Czechs missing a number of presentable chances in the Spanish capital. The best argument you can offer for an away win this weekend is a feeble 'things can only get better' - but then, as Lopetegui has found, they can usually get a bit worse first.
There is one slice of good news on the personnel front: Marcelo, who has scored two in two, looks likely to be fit after an injury scare. Raphaël Varane is likely to return to the XIdespite recent slip-ups, so the only question for Lopetegui is whether he deems Dani Ceballos or Marco Asensio worthy of ousting Casemiro or Isco respectively.
Stepping into the unknown
It is a quirk of recent Clásicos that both teams have enjoyed playing away from home: Madrid are unbeaten in their last three league visits to the Camp Nou, and could make it four for the first time in their history here. Yet their dismal form makes it tough to side with them, even at bumper odds of 4.00.
Barcelona have been superb at home over the last couple of years (41 league games unbeaten, 33 wins), but with neither Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo lining up in this fixture for the first time in over a decade, there is a feeling of stepping into the unknown this Sunday. That makes it hard to muster any great conviction in the Match Odds market, even acknowledging that Barça are probably understandable favourites at 2.02.
Who will score the goals?
This fixture very often produces ludicrous numbers of goals: there have been 38 in the last 10 league meetings. But 16 of those were either scored or assisted by Messi or Ronaldo, and the drop-off in attacking threat - season-long for Madrid, who have managed just 13 league goals so far, and temporary for Barça - is not to be overestimated.
Naturally, both of these sides are capable of scoring goals; a glance at the names on the team sheets will confirm that much. But Barça have to reconfigure without the one man through whom all of their play flows, and Madrid have just come off their longest dry spell in years. The angle is to ignore the history books and take a chance on under 2.5 goals at 2.56.
Suárez the man to watch
Luis Suárez has scored six league goals against Real Madrid since his Clásico debut during the 2014/15 campaign - more than any other player in that time. His form has been patchy, but thrives on the big occasion and looks the most likely goalscorer at 1.90.
Same Game Multi
This new tool on the Sportsbook allows you to combine multiple picks on the same game. On Sunday, for instance, you could back Barcelona/draw double chance, under 3.5 goals and a Suárez goal at odds of [5.15].