European Football Preview: Super Saturday On The Continent

Lionel Messi
Barcelona can make history in El Clasico
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The biggest games and rivalries all coincide this weekend with the Clasico and the Rome derby, writes James Horncastle...

"The 3-0 scoreline at the Bernabeu flattered a dare I say lazy-looking but ultimately lethal Barcelona whose goals came from only two shots on target."

El Clasico

Real Madrid v Barcelona
Saturday, 19:45
Live on Premier 1

The midweek Clasico gives us some indication of how Saturday's will play out. The 3-0 scoreline at the Bernabeu flattered a dare I say lazy-looking but ultimately lethal Barcelona whose goals came from only two shots on target.

The Spanish champions and current league leaders didn't threaten Thibaut Courtois' goal once in the first half, in part because of a tactical experiment gone wrong. Lined up on the left rather than his usual position on the right, Ousmane Dembele got in the way of Jordi Alba and blunted Barcelona's attack. Were it not for an excellent Marc-Andre Ter Stegen save on Karim Benzema and the imprecise finishing of Vinicius Junior, the Blaugrana would have found themselves behind.

Real Madrid looked a threat on the counter attack with Vinicius and Sergio Reguilon tormenting Barcelona full-back Nelson Semedo but neither of them capitalised on the opportunities they created. Vinicius has been Madrid's best player in 2019 and one suspects that once he learns to be more composed in front of goal the teenager will become even more influential. For now though his last 56 shots have yielded only three goals.

Barcelona were much more clinical and scoring goals undoubtedly comes easier to the Catalans who are not having to adjust to the sale of their goal machine. Eight months on from Cristiano Ronaldo's exit, Madrid are 26 goals down on where they were last season.

Barcelona won ugly on Wednesday which is a concern if everything clicks again this weekend. Ernesto Valverde's side have won a hat-trick of Clasicos at the Bernabeu and can become the first team ever to beat Madrid in their own backyard in four consecutive games. Take the Blaugrana @ 2.588/5.

The Rome derby

Lazio - Roma
Saturday, 19:30

Aside from the obvious satisfaction that derives from inflicting defeat on their bitterest rivals, Lazio need a win in Saturday's derby to keep their increasingly feint hopes of Champions League football alive.

The Biancocelesti are seven points off the top four at the moment and although they have a game-in-hand the team's form since mid-November hardly generates great confidence. Lazio have only won six of their last 20 games in all competitions and while it's true they are only 90 minutes from another cup final, the season has been disappointing compared to last year.

Twelve months ago, Simone Inzaghi's team were free-scoring and exciting to watch. Now they seem less inspired. Luis Alberto and Sergei Milinkovic-Savic have failed to hit the same heights and Ciro Immobile, while still prolific, is not as lethal as he was when the aforementioned tandem were playing the best football of their careers. All in all, Lazio are 26 goals down on last year, which figures as the biggest drop off in Serie A.

I suppose, an equaliser in this rivalry comes in the form of Roma's declining defence, particularly with doubts surrounding the fitness of their best defender Kostas Manolas. Roma have conceded 14 more goals than at this stage last season and have kept only five clean sheets in 24 games.

The issue is the Giallorossi have kicked on regardless since December and boast the best record in the league since then. Lazio meanwhile are only now emerging from an injury crisis and aren't in optimum physical condition. They've also had less time to prepare and recover because of Tuesday night's cup semi-final against Milan.

With that in mind, it's curious to see the Exchange make Lazio favourites particularly when they have won only one as hosts since November 2012. Back Roma @ 3.052/1.

Bayern's bogey team

Borussia Mönchengladbach v Bayern Munich
Saturday, 17:30
Live on BT Sport 2

Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund will be hoping Gladbach do them a favour on Saturday night and throw a spanner in chasing Bayern's works. Dieter Hecking's side are something of a bogey team for the Munich giants and beat them 3-0 in the reverse fixture at the Allianz Arena in October.

No one has a better record against the reigning German champions over the last eight years than the Foals. Six wins in 15 meetings explain why Dortmund have their fingers crossed that Bayern will come unstuck at Borussia Park.

The match pitting second against third in the table promises to have a major bearing on who will lift the Meisterschale in May. Bayern have the best record in the Bundesliga since the start of December, racking up 10 wins from 11 games to move within three points of Dortmund. It also feels like a good time to be playing Gladbach in light of their recent slump.

Bayern's hosts have lost their last two home games 3-0 and are now eight points behind them. A number of Nico Kovac's players have come down with the flu and are worse for wear. But the Croat should still be able to name a close to full strength side on Saturday evening.

Still, recent history shows it's worth having a punt on Gladbach to carry on making life complicated for Bayern. Back the Foals on Double Chance @ 2.526/4.

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