Saturday's Clasico provides not only the usual lethal cocktail of sublime skill, brutal challenges and elaborate diving but also Barcelona's final realistic opportunity to stop Real Madrid from swiping their title. Home advantage and a dominant Clasico record sees them rated [1.7] favourites, but the Contrarian envisages a first away success over the enemy since 2007 for Real Madrid at meaty odds of [5.7]. Here's why...
"One of Real’s biggest Clasico problems has been handling their fans’ demand that they conquer the unconquerables, perhaps a reason why some of their better displays have been produced away from the Bernabeu."
Real Madrid are menacing travellers
The four-point gap at the top of La Liga would be an even loftier six if only away results counted. Since surrendering points to Levante and Racing in September, the leaders have played 13 La Liga away games, winning 12. Their sole stutter came against a Villarreal side under new management (Miguel Angel Lotina) with the deck stacked further by finishing with nine men. Strong teams have been destroyed by Jose Mourinho's men, including Espanyol (4-0), Malaga (4-0), Sevilla (6-2), Osasuna (5-1) and most recently Atletico Madrid (4-1). Their dozen wins on the road since October represent as many as any other top-flight side in a major European league have enjoyed all season.
They were impressive on their last Camp Nou visit
Even as one-eyed a pundit as the Contrarian can't completely ignore the horrific statistic that Real Madrid haven't beaten Barcelona in 90 minutes in 14 attempts since Pep Guardiola sashayed into their dugout in 2008. What he can do instead is discredit it, because as poor as Real have been against their dethroners, there are clear signs of improvement. Since a 5-0 humiliation in Mourinho's first Clasico, the giants have met four times outside of Madrid, with Barcelona triumphing just once. The recent Copa del Rey meeting in Catalonia in January was the closest the capital club have come to a 90-minute victory over Guardiola. Despite being forced to recover a 2-0 deficit, they were the better performers throughout and looked more likely winners late on.
All the pressure is on Barcelona
One of Real's biggest Clasico problems has been handling their fans' demand that they conquer the unconquerables, perhaps a reason why some of their better displays have been produced away from the Bernabeu. This time however the onus is on Barcelona, as a draw will leave them praying that their rivals drop points in two of their final four matches - having done so in just six of their first 33 - while defeat will effectively, if not mathematically, concede the title in the most humiliating manner. Though Mourinho's inclination may be to play for the point and back his side to see out the advantage in their remaining fixtures, the best way to intensify the pressure piled on the hosts from the stands is to score first, as they have in three of the five Clasicos so far this season.
The champions are vulnerable
It appears absurd to criticise a club who have won 11 straight league games, but it hasn't been the assured kind of streak that would typify an on-song Barcelona. In that period, they required a late piece of Messi magic to overcome Atletico Madrid, shipped three at home to lowly Granada, only decisively put away the ten men of relegation-battling Zaragoza in the final five minutes and needed help from the officials to win at Levante last week. The accompanying Champions League campaign hasn't been conducted with the usual swagger either - a stroll past Leverkusen aside - the holders benefitting from a few contentious calls to eliminate AC Milan, then losing 1-0 to Chelsea on Wednesday. So they enter this encounter less rested than Real Madrid and with a tougher European comeback to orchestrate. Is it really worth jeopardising their chances of landing a trophy that they are [2.24] to claim by overexerting in pursuit of domestic glory that they are [3.45] outsiders to obtain?