With Barca and Madrid in crisis, Clasico takes back seat to Champions League ties vs. Ukrainian opposition

The real madrid schedule is a story that has been going on for a while. Barcelona and Madrid have been in crisis, but the Clasico takes back seat to Champions League ties vs. Ukrainian opposition.

Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, the greatest football match ever played, is poised on a knife’s edge.

After 119 years and 246 Clasicos, the record remains at 98 victories for Madrid and 96 for Barcelona. During all those thrills and spills, they’ve split the globe, gaining new followers on every continent, while the stratospheric watching numbers have risen higher than ever before. It has turned into a sensation.

Passion, skill, ego, rage, vengeance, creative innovation, risk taking, chutzpah, fear, hatred, desperation, arrogance, and ambition will all be on display in Sunday’s Clasico at Camp Nou. This is the ideal drink. Despite this, there’s a good argument to be made that it’s not even the most crucial game either team will play this week, much less this season.

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Barcelona vs. Dynamo Kiev isn’t a classic match, despite the fact that 40 goals have been scored in 12 encounters. Not at all. The same can be said for Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Real Madrid. Despite the fact that they score more than four goals on average every time they meet, there has never been a draw, and the wins are split evenly, this is not the kind of match Florentino Perez had in mind when he tried to drive a coach and horses through European football with his ill-conceived, badly presented, and roundly rejected European Super League.

However, the sad reality is that each encounter between the Ukrainian big guns and Spain’s big dogs in the week leading up to the Clasico is probably more important to LaLiga’s dominating duopoly than when they meet on Sunday. That’s true even if Madrid can close the deficit on Barcelona to five points by winning their third consecutive LaLiga Clasico for the first time in 43 years.

Joan Laporta, Barcelona’s talismanic if beleaguered president, will never admit it, but if the Catalans have defeated Dynamo Kiev 1-0 in the 95th minute with a goal that should have been ruled offside but wasn’t while the Camp Nou bayed its displeasure and then humiliatingly lost 0-3 to Madrid by next Monday, it will have been a good week for him, the club, and their utterly atrocious financial situation That’s because Ronald Koeman’s side has been thrashed 6-0 on aggregate in their two previous Champions League Group E games against Bayern Munich and Benfica, and a loss at home to the Ukrainian champions would effectively, if not arithmetically, rule Barcelona out of the competition for the first time in over two decades.

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Yes, it’s humiliating. This prompted a barrage of criticism and condemnation from fans and the media, as well as Koeman’s departure. Above all, it’s a total financial disaster.

The difference between what a team like Barcelona will receive from UEFA if it collapses before Christmas instead of fighting its way through to the quarterfinals, much alone the last four or the finale in St. Petersburg itself, is conservatively estimated to be €70 million to €80 million.

Given Barcelona’s financial position, which is approaching €1.5 billion, such scenario seems unthinkable. It would be enough to make Wednesday’s loss at home to Mircea Lucescu’s side the worst result in Barcelona’s 122-year history (their birthday falls at the end of November).

The five-time Champions League champions enhanced their record with a 3-1 victory against Valencia at the weekend. Not nearly enough to suggest that beating Dynamo on Wednesday will be easy, but with Ansu Fati in charge, despite being only 18 and returning from a year out injured, and Koeman being ordered by the overly patient Laporta to abandon the horribly misjudged 3-5-2 formation in favor of Barcelona’s traditional 4-3-3, they produced their best performance of the season.

So they could abandon the Ukrainian menace and prepare to greet Madrid with muscles bulging, fangs bared, and fragile confidence bolstered. Perhaps.

But if they lose in the middle of the week, they’ll be at the bottom of the group, second to last in the head-to-head against each opponent, and facing a dreadful journey to Kiev. There would still be nine points on the table, but Benfica at Camp Nou and all-conquering Bayern in Munich would be the elimination-confirmation games.

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TUESDAY, OCTOBER 19 • Bournemouth vs. Stoke City (2:45 p.m. ET) • Tenerife vs. Eibar (3 p.m. ET)

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 20 • West Bromwich Albion vs. Swansea City (2:45 p.m. ET) • Orlando City vs. Montreal (7:30 p.m. ET) • N. England vs. D.C. United (7:30 p.m. ET)

• Atlanta vs. New York City FC (7:30 p.m. ET) • Chicago vs. Cincinnati (7:30 p.m. ET)

• Toronto vs. Miami (7:30 p.m. ET) • LAFC vs. Dallas (8 p.m. ET)

• Philadelphia vs. Minnesota (8 p.m. ET) • Houston Texans vs. Los Angeles Galaxy (8:30 p.m. ET)

• Columbus vs. Nashville (8:30 p.m. ET) • Seattle vs. Colorado (9 p.m. ET)

• Vancouver vs. Portland (10 p.m. ET) • Austin vs. San Jose (10:30 p.m. ET)

There is, however, a pattern. Last season, this club, whose president was the mastermind behind a Super League with no relegation for founding members, which resembles a closed shop, and where money is at least as essential as winning trophies, lost both at home and away to Shakhtar.

Teams who take risks, counterattack well, and take advantage of Madrid’s lack of speed in the middle may reap significant rewards. Last season, Zinedine Zidane’s team found the Shakhtar’s continuous, aggressive, ravenous tempo pestering and counterattacking too much for them in the first edition of this match in Donetsk.

Madrid do not want to go into Sunday’s Clasico with a third consecutive loss under Carlo Ancelotti’s command. When asked why Los Blancos had been struggling at this time of year in previous seasons, Ancelotti responded: “I honestly don’t understand why. It’s understandable that teams aren’t at full strength and conditioning right now. Clubs are affected by international breaks. The most significant part of the season, however, is in April and May, when the finals are held.”

Carlo, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, But Madrid’s president isn’t the kind to allow a setback in Donetsk to be added to defeats against Sheriff and Espanyol for the second year in a row. At the best of circumstances, a hat trick of losses is unpleasant for Madrid, but for relative minnows like those clubs, it would be catastrophic for Perez.

Because Madrid has been much more astute in managing its money — notably less frivolous and buried in failure than previous president Josep Bartomeu’s Barcelona — it doesn’t mean the epidemic hasn’t had a significant financial impact. The 13-time champions must successfully navigate the group stage.

But Perez is a man who values his dignity, ego, boasting, and sneering privileges above everything else. If he thinks clubs like Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain, who weren’t part of the aborted Super League idea and have strengthened their European influence as a consequence, or UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, are laughing up their sleeves at him if Madrid fails in Ukraine, he’ll be very upset.

Even in difficult circumstances, Barcelona and Madrid are such exceptional clubs that they may arrive at the Camp Nou on Sunday having given their Ukrainian opponents a bloody nose and so alleviated some of the tremendous European strain they’re now facing. The other possibility is that Spain’s 247th Clasico may rescue the jobs of two great managers of contemporary European football, Koeman and Ancelotti, and that each side urgently needs a win-at-all-costs performance since the term “crisis” has started to be thrown about. Not by the press or the supporters, but by Laporta and Perez, the men in charge of Messrs Koeman and Ancelotti’s futures.

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