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Real Madrid and Barcelona play the first Clasico of the season from Camp Nou on Sunday. Can the Blaugrana do the unthinkable and end the La Liga title race in the first week of October?
Real Madrid are already eight points adrift in La Liga. In every other league, this would be considered a slow start, not a death sentence. Last season, Madrid won the title while dropping points in just five games that were not played against Barcelona. Through six games, they've already dropped points in three games that were not played against Barcelona.
This edition of the Blaugrana might not be their best, but they're good enough that they're still likely to get to 90 points. If Barcelona wins the first league Clasico of this season on Sunday, they'll have an 11 point lead on their rivals, which might as well spell the end of the Merengues' chances to repeat as champions.
The good news for Real Madrid, both in this game and going forward, is that Barcelona's defense is an extremely porous one. Carles Puyol is out with a dislocated elbow, while Gerard Pique is still a fitness doubt for the game. Madrid might be up against a center of defense comprised of Javier Mascherano and Alex Song, a pair that was made to look like the non-central defenders that they are against Sevilla last week.
Even with those issues in defense for Barca, the pre-match spotlight will be on Jose Mourinho, as always. There are plenty of questions about that Barcelona defense and what kind of in-game adjustments Tito Vilanova will make, but there's no mystery surrounding how Barcelona will attempt to play. Regardless of who takes the pitch, the general idea is always the same. The most drastic move that Vilanova could potentially make is to put Cesc Fabregas or Andres Iniesta up front to help the Blaugrana narrow the pitch and keep the ball. Their tactics are relatively straightforward, but for Mourinho, there are questions galore.
Will Mourinho stick with his normal attacking 4-2-3-1 and spread out the pitch, or will he bring in Michael Essien, or Luka Modric? Surely this is exactly the kind of match that Essien and Modric were acquired for in the first place. One doesn't spend upwards of €30m on a player like Modric, then leave him on the bench against Barcelona. Mourinho's likely to have something a bit unorthodox up his sleeve, but no one will know until the lineups are released. Even then, only psychics and those with privileged information will know exactly how Mourinho plans on using the players he's selected.
Kickoff is at 7:50 p.m. local time, 1:50 p.m. ET from the Camp Nou in Barcelona.
Check out our video preview of the match