Andy Brassell on European Football: El Clásico switch could alter La Liga title race

Barcelona's Lionel Messi battles with Luka Modric of Real Madrid
Lionel Messi is always a clásico headache for Real Madrid, but a venue switch could give Los Merengues an advantage

Off-the-pitch matters encroach on the Spanish title race, Dortmund look for a spark and Ranieri rides to the rescue as Andy Brassell looks ahead to the return of club football in Europe...

"If switched, it would become Barcelona's third away game in a row after trips to Eibar and Slavia Prague, making it an arduous task even before you consider they have just one away win this season."

Could El Clásico switch boost Madrid?

The first clásico of the season is just ten days away but there's even more tension building at this point than would normally be the case. Protests in Barcelona against this week's jailing of nine Catalan separatist leaders have led La Liga to ask the RFEF (the Spanish football federation) for permission to switch the game on Saturday October 26th from Catalonia to the capital.

Their reasoning is understandable. Barcelona's global popularity of today makes it sometimes forgotten that this is a traditionally political club at its core, and one that played a Camp Nou game against Las Palmas behind closed doors in 2017 in protest at the authorities' refusal to postpone, after the government rejected a Catalan independence referendum.

It does potentially put Ernesto Valverde's men in a spot scheduling-wise, though. After an up-and-down start to the campaign they trail their deadly rivals by two points, and the balance of El Clásico would undoubtedly be affected were the upcoming fixture to be switched to Madrid. It would become their third away game in a row after trips to Eibar and Slavia Prague, making it an arduous task even before you consider Barça have just one away win this season. Could this be the title break that Zinedine Zidane needs.

Real Madrid are 2.789/5 to win La Liga

Can Dortmund respond in battle of the Borussias?

Saturday night's big Bundesliga game is an intriguing one. Normally, it would look pretty on paper, incorporating two of the grand old names of German football, but we'd feel pretty confident in predicting the winner. Dortmund have won on the last five occasions that the pair have met at Signal Iduna Park.

These are not normal times, though. With our three title favourites Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig and Dortmund all stumbling in the lead into the international break, Borussia Mönchengladbach arrive at Westfalen on top of the pile, and with a very alluring front line. Alessane Pléa, Marcus Thuram and Breel Embolo have all chipped in so far. At the back, Gladbach have only conceded just over half the goals that Lucien Favre's team have (6 versus 11).

What's more is that Dortmund have frittered points away for fun in recent weeks, losing leads in each of three successive Bundesliga draws, which leaves them in an underwhelming 8th place. They have the ability, but will need to defend much better than they have so far this season to avoid being suckered by Gladbach's excellent counter-attacks.

Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Mönchengladbach are 4.94/1 to draw

Ranieri tries to resuscitate Sampdoria

He likes a tough task, and by goodness has he got himself one in Genoa. Claudio Ranieri returns to the touchline this weekend as he takes charge of Sampdoria for the first time. Perhaps fittingly, it's on the occasion of his 68th birthday and he faces Roma, his hometown club and the one he guided through the end of last season in a caretaker capacity, having succeeded Eusebio Di Francesco.

Ranieri will once again be mopping up for Di Francesco, a high-profile appointment whose position became untenable after a disastrous start, losing six of his seven games in charge. It's not unreasonable to have sympathy for Di Francesco, stripped of two of the squad's most consistent players after Joachim Andersen (Lyon) and Dennis Praet (Leicester) were sold.

With that said, they were absolutely awful in the 2-0 defeat at Verona that eventually sealed the coach's fate. Ranieri is known for toughening up a team's defence but he needs to restore some attacking verve to a team that has scored just four times in Serie A so far - and the iconic Fabio Quagliarella only has one. It will be hard against Roma, unbeaten away from home up until now, so Samp fans need to cross their fingers and hope for some new manager bounce.

Sampdoria are 3.39/4 to beat Roma

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