FC Barcelona Vs Real Madrid - La Liga
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Is everybody excited for El Clasico day? I know I am. I'm Mike Goodman -- this is the Golazo Starting XI newsletter -- and if it seems like I've been talking up Clasicos a lot recently ... well, that's because I have. It's the third time in a month and fifth time this season that Barcelona and Real Madrid are squaring off. We'll make sure you've got everything you need for the latest chapter in club soccer's biggest rivalry with Osasuna awaiting the winner in the cup final in May.

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📺 Soccer on Paramount+

All times U.S./Eastern.

Wednesday, April 5
🇮🇹 Coppa Italia semi: Cremonese vs. Fiorentina, 3 p.m. ➡️ Paramount+

📺 Elsewhere ...

All times U.S./Eastern.

Wednesday, April 5
🇪🇸 Copa del Rey semi: Barcelona  vs. Real Madrid 3 p.m. ➡️ ESPN+
🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 EPL: Man United vs. Brentford, 3 p.m. ➡️ Peacock

⚽  The Forward Line

Can Real Madrid snap their Barça skid?

It has not been a good season for Real Madrid. They enter the second leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal against Barcelona with increasingly less to play for. It was Barcelona who ended any hopes Madrid had for a league title with a 2-1 win a week ago. And it's Barcelona who can finish them off in the Copa del Rey today. In fact, Barcelona have won three of the previous four meetings this season.

  • Oct. 16: Real Madrid 3, Barcelona 1 (La Liga)
  • Jan. 15: Real Madrid 1, Barcelona 3 (Supercopa de España)
  • March 2: Real Madrid 0, Barcelona 1 (Copa del Rey)
  • March 19: Barcelona 2, Real Madrid 1 (La Liga)

But the truth is, that despite these results, and despite Barcelona largely playing better in these head-to-head matchups, these two teams have performed very similarly across the breadth of their respective domestic seasons. Barcelona's goal difference is better, +44 to +36, but that's mostly on the back of some amazing defensive results that aren't the kinds of things you'd expect to keep happening. They've conceded a league-best nine goals from an expected goals against total of 21.6 ... which is also best in La Liga. That nine to 21.6 margin is astonishing, really. Strip out penalties and own goals and the numbers get a little nuttier. Teams have scored only five goals from the 20 xG they've managed to accumulate against Barça. How is that even possible?

CBS Sports

Barcelona's ability to play way above their defensive numbers breaks into two categories. It comes down to a loose description of how well opponents are shooting and how well Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who is having a phenomenal season, is defending said chances. 

On the goaltending front, the post-shot expected goal value he's faced this season (that is the chances of all the shots on target, taking into account how well they've been struck) is 13.8. He's allowed seven goals (we're including penalties here on both sides of the ledger). But you'll notice in the chart above that the post-shot xG he's faced is simply much lower than the xG created by Barça opponents. Simply put: Teams have created 21.6 xG against Barcelona but the post-shot xG value created from those shots is only 13.8.

The conclusion to draw from all of this that teams are shooting below average against Barcelona. That's not to take anything away from La Liga's top team, which boasts the best defensive numbers in the league, with its keeper regularly standing on his head to stop saves. But on top of all that, Barcelona are also running hot defensively. You can't run as far ahead of your numbers as Barcelona have managed without both being good and running good. And they're running good.

Real Madrid are heading to Camp Nou down a goal and needing a comeback to eliminate Barcelona and reach the final. It's the kind of situation that frequently requires a little bit of help from the soccer gods to turn around. Should they pull off the remontada, Barcelona might consider themselves unlucky. But luck works in many different ways, and the defensive record from La Liga's best team has ample evidence to suggest that it has had plenty on its side.

Craving more soccer coverage? Listen below and follow House of Champions, a CBS Sports soccer podcast, bringing you top-notch analysis, commentary, picks and more. 

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🔗  Midfield Link Play

Lukaku suffers racist abuse from Juve fans

Sadly, the enduring story from a tight first leg in the Copa Italia semifinal between Juventus and Inter wasn't the last-second penalty Romelu Lukaky scored to tie the match, but rather the racial abuse he suffered during his 20-plus minutes on the field as a substitute for Edin Dzeko. Here's what he had to say about it on Instagram following the match.

  • Lukaku: "Been through it in 2019 ... and 2023 again ... I hope the league really takes actions for real this time because this beautiful game should be enjoyed by everyone ... Thank you for the supportive messages. F--- racism."

There's not much more to say. Lukaku has been down this road before, as has all of Italian football. Juventus promised to work with authorities to find those responsible and refuse to sell them tickets. As always, we'll see if actions follow the words.   

And now let's get to some links:

🔗 For more from a tense night between Juventus and Inter, Francesco Porzio has your breakdown.
🔗 Before El Clasico, Jonathan Johnson has a walk down memory lane looking at Karim Benzema's career in the matchup.
🔗 And Chuck Booth looks at why this matchup between Barcelona and Real Madrid marks the end of an era.
🔗 After a drab scoreless draw between Liverpool and Chelsea, James Benge finds hope in the return of N'Golo Kante.
🔗 In his second game at the helm of Bayern Munich, Thomas Tuchel's side was eliminated from the DFB Pokal.
🔗 Lionel Messi continues to make contract news, this time with an eye-watering $400 million per year offer in Saudi Arabia.
🔗 NWSL is officially expanding to the Bay Area!
🔗 In Soccer We Trust: With more upheaval at Chelsea, what's next for Christian Pulisic?
🔗 House of Champions: What next after Graham Potter leaves Chelsea?
🔗 Attacking Third: All the Week 2 NWSL news you need.
🔗 And remember, all of your soccer needs -- from NWSL to Champions League to Serie A and so much more -- are available on Paramount+. 📺 You can try one month free by using the code: NWSL2023.

💰  The Back Line

💵 Best bets

All odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook and all times U.S./Eastern. SportsLine has you covered with this weekend's best bets.

  • Copa del Rey: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, Wednesday, 3 p.m. 
    💰 THE PICK: Under 2.5 goals (+100) -- I spent lots of words explaining why Barcelona's defense has been aided by luck, but don't overlook the part of that where I said that even accounting for that luck they still had the best defense in La Liga. This team is really good defensively, and they have a lead, and they're going to do all the things they do to stop opponents from scoring to protect that lead.
  • Coppa Italia: Cremonese vs. Fiorentina, Wednesday, 3 p.m.
    💰 THE PICK: Fiorentina (-155) -- Cremonese are terrible. That's just the bottom line here. It's fun to dream about the magic of the cup and this terrible team did manage to extinguish Napoli and Roma on their way here. But this is also a team that's had exactly two wins against top-flight competition all season long.