The silent Clásico

Barcelona/Madrid, Oct 23 (efe-epa).- Barcelona against Real Madrid, El Clásico, will be held in silence this weekend with fans kept away by the pandemic.

Not only will the great Spanish derby kick-off with barely a peep — save the referee’s whistle — it comes at a time when neither team is in great form. Real Madrid are worse-off, having lost two of their previous games to relatively small clubs.

Cádiz, Madrid’s opponents last weekend, only returned to LaLiga this year and Shakhtar Donetsk, their opponents in Real’s opening game of the Champions League, won 2-3 despite 13 of their first-team players being ruled out with coronavirus.

Barça, meanwhile, lost to Getafe last week but hammered Hungarian team Ferencvaros 5-1 in their Champions League opener.

Saturday’s derby will be Ronald Koeman’s first as a Barcelona’s manager and it offers him a chance to consolidate the roles of rising stars Ansu Fati and Pedri in his bid to rejuvenate the Catalan giants.

As soon as Koeman arrived he redrew Barcelona’s formation to include a double pivot, a 4-2-3-1 with Lionel Messi at the helm that can morph into 4-2-4 and 4-5-1.

Fresh legs in the form of Pedri, Trincao and Sergiño Dest have injected energy into the team as Barcelona rebuild themselves to turn the chapter on the embarrassing 2-8 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League last season.

From that foundation, the team can recover little by little. But the same cannot be said for the board of directors, dogged by calls for no-confidence motions and haunted by Messi’s burofax requesting permission to jump what appeared to be a sinking ship last season.

But Messi, whose current contract expires next summer, has a score to settle in what could be his last home outing against Real Madrid in a Barcelona shirt. He has not scored in his last five clásicos. Tomorrow will be his 44th derby and marks exactly two years, five months and 18 days since he put one past the team from the capital, something he relishes.

He bagged a hat-trick in his debut clásico 13 years ago and thus began a love story with a derby he has dominated, scoring more goals (26) than any other player.

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