Is the balance of power shifting in El Clásico?

Over the last few years, the fierce rivalry between Spanish powerhouses Real Madrid and FC Barcelona has been very much dominated by the men from the capital.

Real played in six of the last seven Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Fours, winning the title in 2015 and 2018. Barca, on the other hand, has not advanced to the season’s showpiece event since 2014, when it suffered a humiliating 62-100 loss in the semifinals against none other than Real Madrid.

On the domestic front, the story has been similar. Real has been crowned Spanish League champ four times since Barca’s last title in 2014 and has beaten its archrival in three of those final series.

In summary, its EuroLeague plus Spanish League titles since 2015 – Real 6, Barca 0 – makes plain the supremacy enjoyed by Pablo Laso’s team.

Barca, however, is trying to turn things around. The renaissance started under former coach Svetislav Pesic started, who guided Barca to Spanish King’s Cup crowns in 2018 and 2019, not to mention a third-place EuroLeague standing – with a 22-6 record, exactly the same as Real – before last season ended prematurely.

The arrival of club icon Sarunas Jasikevicius to the bench last summer has led to a further swing in momentum towards Barca. Although Real struck first by winning their Spanish Super Cup final in September, 72-67, Barca bounced back by overcoming its rival 79-72 at home in Palau Blaugrana in Round 5 of the EuroLeague Regular Season. Saras’s men have beaten Real twice more since then, both times in Madrid: 82-87 in the Spanish League and 73-88 in last month’s national cup final.

As such, Barca enters Thursday’s showdown at the WiZink Center on the back of three consecutive clásico victories in as many competitions. Jasikevicius’s team also boasts a better EuroLeague record, standing two victories clear at the top of the standings (20-8) while Real (17-11) holds sixth place in a highly congested playoffs race.

Barca can take another step forwards by winning Thursday’s game in Madrid. If that happens – and if either Zalgiris Kaunas or Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul lose on Friday – Barca will become the first team to confirm a place in the EuroLeague Playoffs

Real will be highly motivated to avoid that outcome, of course, and has every incentive in its own battle to advance to the playoffs. Los Blancos boosted their confidence with a hard-earned 71-75 victory over direct rivals Zenit St Petersburg last week. They are now looking ahead to a daunting schedule which includes meetings with CSKA Moscow, Anadolu Efes Istanbul and Fenerbahce before the end of the regular season. It’s an exceptionally tough run that makes every game akin to a must-win occasion. A victory over its first-place archrivals on Thursday could only add to Real’s swagger going forward.

Thursday’s showdown may be a low-scoring game. Real has struggled offensively in recent weeks, failing to reach the 80-point mark in seven consecutive games and averaging just 73.1 points per game in that period. But Laso’s team has been able to compensate by stepping up on defense and limiting opponents to 76.8 points on average this season, fifth-best in the competition. That is a category where Barca also excels, allowing a league-best 73.2 points per game, but the Blaugrana also has plenty of power on offense – thanks in large part to the league’s top-ranked performer, former Real star Nikola Mirotic.

It’s plain to see that this week’s latest episode of El Clasico has plenty of significance.

The visiting team can make a serious statement with ramifications lasting well beyond Thursday night, not only by making the EuroLeague Playoffs a foregone conclusion but also by consigning its archrivals to a nervous end to the regular season.

Or the home team can put the brakes on its archrival’s playoffs coronation and lift its already-considerable profile among a group of six teams sitting a victory apart from each other just below Barca.

And that’s what makes rivalries so intriguing, and so unpredictable, just like this unique EuroLeague season is proving to be.

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