Barcelona and Real Madrid will meet for their fourth El Clasico of the campaign this Sunday in eastern Spain. Barcelona are already ahead by nine points in the league, making this, essentially Madrid's last stand. Xavi's men can still win the league with a loss in the match, but a victory at the Spotify Camp Nou can grow their advantage to 12 points, dealing a hammer blow to Real Madrid in the title race adding weight to an occasion that has lost some of its fire over the years.
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While El Clasico is a rivalry on the pitch that has produced every type of memorably moment a grudge match could want, Barcelona's recent refereeing scandal has started a new chapter between the clubs. Recently, a rivalry that had once be defined by the games two best players, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, going head-to-head, had become somewhat less heated. In some ways, the two teams had even found themselves as unlikely allies against the rest of football, supporting the breakaway European Super League together. That's all over now.
Corruption charges have been filed by prosecutors against ex-Barca presidents due to payments made to a company owned by referee Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira. While Barcelona denies any wrongdoing due to these payments, the belief is that the payments were for Barcelona to receive preferential treatment and referee assignments, something which Real Madrid has spoken up about.
"Real Madrid expresses its deep concern about the seriousness of the facts and reiterates its full confidence in the action of justice and has agreed that, in defense of its legitimate interests, it will appear in the procedure as soon as the judge opens it to the parties harmed." Real Madrid said in a club statement.
While Real Madrid weren't included in the initial statement from La Liga clubs and even were involved with Barcelona in the quest to form a European Super League, the charges going to court has seen Los Blancos begin to distance themselves from Barca. While it may not show on the pitch during this edition of El Clasico, it s something that could have further implications down the line.
The statement was released after Real Madrid president Florentino Perez held an emergency board meeting to determine Real Madrid's response as fans had already turned against Barcelona, protesting during the Copa Del Rey semifinal.
Barcelona still maintains their innocence but that alone won't be enough to smooth their relationship with Real Madrid. With another clash between the two teams to go, with the second leg of their Copa Del Rey semifinal on tap, this won't be cooling down anytime soon.
For year the last few years Barcelona and Real Madrid have seemed happy trading periods of La Liga dominance but the time for that could be ending. A return to hard fought, hard-edged battles at the top of La Liga would be a welcome development for all.
How to watch and odds
- Date: Sunday, Mar. 19 | Time: 4 p.m. ET
- Location: Camp Nou -- Barcelona
- TV: ESPN+
- Odds: Barca +120; Draw: +240; Real +220 (via Caesars Sportsbook)