Real Madrid v Barcelona: El Clasico stalemate between title rivals
With neither side in good form, Dan Fitch can't look beyond the draw when Real Madrid face Barcelona in El Clasico.
Real Madrid 2.30 v Barcelona 3.25; The Draw 3.90 Sunday 1 March, 20:00 Live on LaLigaTV
Real's season is on a knife edge
The events of this week make this El Clasico even more important than normal for Real Madrid.
Zinedine Zidane's team were beaten 2-1 at home by Manchester City in the Champions League on Wednesday, with the visitors coming from behind to win. With Sergio Ramos getting sent off and now banned from the second-leg, overcoming a deficit against a team as good as Manchester City seems unlikely given Madrid's current form.
The defeat means that Real have only won one of their last five games (D1 L3). If they do exit the Champions League, then the whole season rests on winning La Liga. A 2-2 home draw with Celta Vigo, followed by a 1-0 defeat at Levante last weekend have seen Real Madrid lose their lead at the top of the table and slip two points behind Barcelona.
Marco Asenso and Eden Hazard are both out with injury and Zidane could opt to bring Gareth Bale back into the team, having Vinicius Jr against Manchester City. Mariano Diaz is available again after a knock, while Toni Kroos is likely to replace Luka Modric in midfield.
Does Setien stick or twist in high stakes encounter?
Barcelona are facing a different type of pressure. They could go five points clear with a win and demoralise their closest rivals.
That's a big prize, but you have to wonder if Barcelona are in the type of shape to pull it off. They did not look impressive in their 1-1 draw at Napoli in the Champions League this week, as Quique Setien made a tactical switch.
Barcelona have won each of their last four in La Liga, but three were at home. On the road they have been far more erratic, winning only two of their last seven away games (D3 L2) and one of them was against Ibiza in the Copa del Rey.
Setien opted to ditch Barca's normal 4-3-3 against Napoli and employ another midfielder in a 4-4-2. It will be interesting to see whether he keeps faith in the plan after an uninspiring performance. Ansu Fati could be the answer if Setien returns to 4-3-3, with Arturo Vidal another player that has been used in a front three in recent weeks. There are also selection issues in defence, with Gerard Pique having limped off against Napoli.
Second El Clasico draw of the season?
Real Madrid are the 2.30favourites to win, with Barcelona at 3.30 and the draw at 3.90.
With both teams far from their best, the draw stands out as the value bet at that price. The reverse fixture earlier this season ended 0-0 and this could be another tight affair, where a draw offers a trading option at the very least.
Stage fright strikes Madrid, but they can remember defensive lines
Zidane has spoken about his players being nervous in front of their home crowd against Manchester City. If that was the case, given the result and the gravity of this game, it's hard to see them reacting differently.
Madrid could look to keep it tight. Under 2.5 goals seems too big at 2.36, while the 0-0 half-time score has paid out in each of their last two games and is 3.60.
Messi is rarely this big
With neither side playing well, it's easy to forget the attacking talent that will be on display. It's not often that you can back Lionel Messi to score at odds as big as 2.30, which is the case here. Messi scored four last weekend in a 5-0 win over Eibar.
Antoine Griezmann scored in midweek and is 3.50. For Real Madrid, Karim Benzema leads the betting at 2.28, with Bale at 3.50.