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On Sunday, the latest chapter of arguably the world's greatest soccer rivalry will take place as Real Madrid welcome Barcelona to the Santiago Bernabeu for El Clasico. It's the first meeting of the season between the two Spanish giants and it comes with each heading in the opposite direction, at least that is the way it seems. They do enter the day level atop La Liga table with 22 points, though Barca are in first due to goal differential. 

Real remain undefeated on the season, including in the Champions League, but Barca are reeling entering this game, starring UCL elimination in the face.

Barca lost at Inter Milan last week on Matchday 3 and then blew a lead at home on Wednesday against the Italian side on Matchday 4, settling for a 3-3 draw that tasted more like loss than anything else. It leaves them three points back of Inter with two games to go. If Inter are victorious against Viktoria Plzen at the end of the month on Matchday 5, Barca will be eliminated from UCL.

Manager Xavi feels like his team has been hard done by the recent results in Europe, leaving them on the brink of another embarrassing elimination on the biggest stage. With all of the additions in the offseason, led by Robert Lewandowski, nobody saw this coming. 

"It's difficult to say something, because we did really well in the first half, really well," Xavi told CBS Sports after the game. "We deserve much more I think in the result, but this is football. We concede a lot in the second half. A lot, a lot."

How to watch and odds

  • Date: Sunday, Oct. 16 | Time: 10:15 a.m. ET
  • Location: Santiago Bernabeu -- Madrid
  • TV: ESPN Deportes | Live stream: fuboTV (try for free)
  • Odds: Real Madrid +123; Draw +260; Barcelona +210 (via Caesars Sportsbook) 

Barca allowed three goals to Inter in that second 45-minute session. Barca had 25 shots compared to Inter's 11 yet had to come from behind twice just to rescue a point. Part of the issue that Barca are having right now is the lack of healthy central defenders. In recent weeks they've had to start Gerard Pique, who is lightyears away from being a quality defender anymore, evident by gifting Nico Barella his goal on Wednesday. They've also started Marcos Alonso at center back due to injury. Alonso is a fullback or wing-back who is not known for being anything but below average in defense, so if you have to put him at center back, it's concerning. 

On the trainer's table at the moment are these center backs:

  • Ronald Araujo (adductors avulsion), out until at least after Christmas
  • Jules Kounde (Achilles issues), out since Sept. 23 but potentially back this weekend
  • Andreas Christensen (sprained ankle), out since Oct. 5 with his return unclear

Those are Barca's three best center backs, so it's not surprising to see this backline struggle. Xavi knows it is an issue, but he knows more is needed than just healthy bodies.

"We have to be more aggressive," he said. "This is Champions League. We concede a lot, and then, OK, we draw, but it's not enough. It's not enough. I think it is really, really, really cruel to us."

"In this kind of level, of course, it's really dangerous. The result changed in five minutes. We had mentality, we draw, but it's difficult to say something because it's cruel ... In Milan, also in Munich, because I think we deserved much more.

"We decreased the intensity, the high pressure was not the same ... The circulation of the ball, everything was different. It's a pity."

On Sunday, if those aren't corrected, just imagine what Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr. could do. In large part, the Barca attack has been solid despite a recent slum. They averaged under a goal per game in their last three entering this recent meeting with Inter. But the defense took its biggest beating of the campaign on Wednesday. To avoid that in El Clasico, they'll need to be sharper, fitter and show an intensity that was lacking at the Camp Nou.