Barcelona vs Real Madrid preview: Barca face toughest challenge to finish season unbeaten

La Liga’s title race might be over, but plenty of pride will be on the line as Barcelona host Real Madrid in Sunday’s Clasico clash.

Barca wrapped up the league title last weekend with four games to spare, a win that completed a domestic double to go with the Copa del Rey trophy.

Madrid, meanwhile, have struggled locally in 2017-18, their patchy Liga form contrasting with an imperious Champions League defence.

The Merengue will nevertheless hope for a strong finish to the league season, starting with a win over their rivals at Camp Nou to ruin their title celebrations.

What time is El Clasico?

The 2017-18 La Liga week 36 El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid will be played at Camp Nou, Barcelona, and kicks off at 20:45 CET on Sunday 6 March, 2018.

Barcelona squad & team news

Goalkeepers: Ter Stegen, Cillessen

Defenders: Semedo, Pique, Alba, Digne, Umtiti, Mina, Vermaelen

MidfieldersRoberto, Paulinho, Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta, Coutinho, Gomes, Denis Suarez

Forwards: Luis Suarez, Messi, Dembele, Alcacer

With the title already guaranteed, Barca coach Ernesto Valverde will nevertheless field a strong line-up at Camp Nou.

The Catalans have a clean bill of health, while all eyes will be on Andres Iniesta as the midfielder plays at home for the first time since his announcement he would be leaving the club in the summer.

Potential Barcelona starting XI: Ter Stegen, Semedo, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Coutinho, Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez.

Real Madrid squad & team news

Goalkeepers: Navas, Casilla, Luca

Defenders: Ramos, Carvajal, Vallejo, Varane, Nacho, Marcelo, Theo, Achraf

Midfielders: Kroos, Modric, Bale, Casemiro, Llorente, Isco, Asensio, Kovacic, Ceballos

Forwards: Ronaldo, Benzema, Mayoral, Vazquez

Their slim Liga chances now extinguished, Madrid’s focus will be on gaining revenge for December’s 3-0 Clasico blowout at the hands of Barcelona at the Bernabeu.

Zinedine Zidane is thus likely to bring out his big guns for the clash, with Tuesday’s substitute Gareth Bale a candidate to start after impressing in Madrid’s last Liga runout.

Potential Madrid starting XI: Navas; Nacho, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; Kroos, Casemiro, Modric, Isco; Bale, Ronaldo.

Match Preview

Ultimately, Barcelona’s quest to reclaim the Primera Division from Madrid was made to look easy.

Valverde’s men were spurred by a marvellous hat-trick from Lionel Messi to down Deportivo 4-2, putting the title out of reach for both Atletico and Real having played just 34 games.

The Catalans are also yet to taste defeat in this almost-perfect season, and a Clasico victory would take them one step closer to achieving a feat no other Spanish club has ever managed.

Madrid, meanwhile, can now focus on wresting second from the clutches of Atletico while mentally preparing for an incredible third straight Champions League title.

While the Merengue have saved their best for Europe this season their record in 2018 is nothing to be scoffed at, with Cristiano Ronaldo in particular hitting a rich vein of form since the turn of the year.

And even if the faintly ridiculous to and fro over a prospective guard of honour has overshadowed matters on the pitch, Sunday’s Clasico should still be a must-watch game between two teams that, in their own way, have cemented their status once more at the very top of world football over the course of this season.