It can’t be very often that El Clasico is contested on the back of defeats for both of Spain’s heavyweight clubs, but that is exactly the situation both Barcelona and Real Madrid find themselves in ahead of Saturday’s potentially La Liga deciding clash at Camp Nou.
Narrow one-goal losses away from home in their Champions League semi-final first legs will not have either Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho losing too much sleep – both ties are certainly retrievable – but it does provide an interesting backdrop to one of the biggest games in world football.
It is difficult to gauge which of the two sides has the more difficult task next week – Madrid have a vital away goal but have to overcome a 2-1 deficit against an excellent Bayern Munich side; Barcelona didn’t score in their 1-0 loss but are up against a vastly inferior Chelsea – but as far as La Liga goes, there is only one side that is in pole position.
For my money Real Madrid already have one hand on the trophy. A four point lead over Barcelona with five games to play means that even a defeat in Camp Nou would leave Mourinho’s side ahead by one point with four games left and a look at their remaining fixtures – Sevilla and Mallorca at home, Athletic and Granada away – has you wondering where they will fail to pick up maximum points.
Barca have kept only four clean sheets in 12 home games in all competitions in 2012: OK they have scored 43, but it shows they give opponents a chance.
In other words, I think Madrid can afford to lose this match and still end up as champions.
Even so, few managers know how to grind out results when it matters quite like Mourinho, which is why, looking at the odds on offer, I would rather have my money on him doing exactly that at the home of his arch nemesis rather than on Barcelona, who in my opinion are priced far too short.
The Catalans are 13/20 to keep the title race alive with a win, with the draw at 16/5 and Madrid quoted at 17/5.
For me, those prices are ridiculously skewed.
I appreciate that Barcelona will remain most people’s idea of the best team in the world even if the title ends up at the Bernabeu, and that their recent record in head-to-heads against Madrid is excellent – since Guardiola took over, Barcelona have won nine of the 14 meetings, while Madrid have won just one, and that was after extra time in the 2011 Copa del Rey final.
But that does not mean they should be as short as 13/20. It cannot be ignored that Madrid are, after all, four points clear and possess, as well as a manager well versed in winning things, a sensational squad packed with some of the world’s very best players.
I find it quite incredible that any team, even one as brilliant as Barcelona, could be so short to beat Real Madrid. Aside from anything else, Madrid don’t have to win this match and if ever a scenario suited a manager, it is this one with Jose Mourinho.
The former Inter Milan boss can set up to contain and hit on the break – his favourite default position – in the knowledge that he doesn’t have to chase the game. And Barcelona, as Wednesday night at Stamford Bridge proved, can be vulnerable on the break where Javier Mascherano has performed extremely well as a makeshift centre back but remains exactly that – a makeshift centre back.
Barca have kept only four clean sheets in 12 home games in all competitions in 2012: OK they have scored 43, but it shows they give opponents a chance. I strongly fancy Madrid to score at least once and Barca may well find themselves having to break down the type of defensive wall they struggled against at Stamford Bridge.
In this instance, the 23/20 on Real Madrid with a goal start is a wonderful bet – only a Barcelona win would see you lose money and I am of the opinion that they are just too short to back. It is set up for Mourinho: trust him to do the business.
Recommended bet: Real Madrid +1 @ 23/20
New customers can register here to claim a free £25 bet or click here to see all our La Liga odds.
Follow us on Twitter @bwinbetting