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Real Madrid hosts Barcelona to headline three blockbuster European games | CNN



CNN
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Some of Europe’s biggest clubs are set to face each other this weekend in what promises to be an exciting carnival of soccer on the continent.

From local rivalries to historically feisty encounters, CNN looks at three of the biggest matches over the next few days – one even involves arguably the biggest musical artist on the planet.

First to Spain, where bitter rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona play on Sunday at the Bernabeu stadium.

It’s been something of a return to normality in La Liga with the two sides battling it out for supremacy once again.

Financial woes contributed to a difficult season for Barcelona last year but it seems to be getting back to its best domestically under the supervision of club great Xavi. It currently sits atop the table – albeit only goal difference separating it from champion Real.

Madrid, which won last season’s title at a canter, perhaps holds a mental advantage going into this season’s first El Clasico.

While Madrid progressed into the Champions League knockout stages courtesy of a last-minute equalizer against Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday, Barcelona’s hopes of a last-16 berth hang by a thread after a dramatic draw against Inter Milan.

With qualification for the Champions League knockout stages now looking unlikely, Xavi wants his team to use that frustration going into Sunday’s match against Barcelona’s biggest rival.

“What is left for us is to turn our attention quickly to Sunday’s El Clasico, bounce back and focus on La Liga because the Champions League has become very difficult and complicated for us,” Xavi told Movistar Plus on Wednesday.

One positive for Barcelona is the form of Robert Lewandowski, with the Polish striker scoring twice against Inter Milan in midweek.

He currently leads the La Liga scoring charts, having scored nine goals in eight games this season.

Meanwhile, Real Madrid remains unbeaten in all competitions this season and will have home advantage against Barcelona.

But the host side is not without its own problems, with star man Karim Benzema and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois possible injury doubts for the match.

And Madrid has also found it difficult keeping clean sheets in the league this season, conceding seven to Barcelona’s one – but has been able to rely on the in-form Vinicius Jr. to provide goals when needed.

With both teams yet to lose in the league this season, you feel something’s got to give.

But just hold on, the match will also feature rap superstar Drake, who has lent his OVO logo to Barcelona’s home kit.

The Canadian artist became the first person to reach 50 billion streams on Spotify and his iconic owl emblem will replace the streaming service’s logo on the front of the shirt for Sunday’s game.

Spotify started sponsoring Barcelona this season and the initiative with Drake is part of the pair’s mission to “bring football and music together in order to connect with new audiences around the world,” the club said.

“This doesn’t feel real but it is,” Drake added on Instagram, while holding up the Barcelona shirt.

It may not be a historic rivalry but these sides have been two of the most impressive teams in Europe over the last few years.

Both clubs have pushed each other to ridiculous levels of consistency, breaking numerous records along the way.

While previous encounters have been billed as possible title deciders, there is a slightly different feel about Sunday’s tie.

Liverpool has really struggled with its league performances this season and has looked a shadow of its former self.

The loss of Sadio Mane to Bayern Munich appears to have unsettled a previously lethal front line and the form of key defenders such as Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold has contributed to patchy results.

According to sport’s data company Gracenote, Liverpool has conceded first in six of their last eight league games. Furthermore, in any Premier League match that it has conceded a goal at all, the opponent has always scored first.

Erling Haaland was rested ahead of his side's trip to Liverpool.

Liverpool currently sits 10th in the league, already 14 points behind second-placed Manchester City, who trail leader Arsenal by a single point.

A cathartic 7-1 thrashing against Rangers in the Champions League on Wednesday will go someway to boosting momentum heading into the game, with Mohamed Salah also returning to form with a brilliant hattrick.

“Yes it changed the mood completely but we all know who we are welcoming on Sunday and this will be a different game, but it’s better to go into it with this feeling we’ve got tonight than any other,” manager Jurgen Klopp said after Wednesday’s win.

Liverpool will be facing a City side which has been blowing teams away this season, scoring 33 goals in nine games.

Worryingly for the Reds, City coach Pep Guardiola was able to rest key players in its 0-0 draw against FC Copenhagen on Tuesday and they will be fresh for their trip to Anfield.

One of those players is Erling Haaland, who has been nothing short of a revelation this season.

He appears to be the missing piece in City’s bid to win a first Champions League title. The 22-year-old is in an unprecedented scoring form having already netted 15 times in just nine league games.

According to Gracenote, Manchester City is creating three major chances per game this season, a frightening statistic when combined with the scoring form of attackers Haaland and Phil Foden.

However, if any defender can stop City it’s likely to be Van Dijk. The Dutchman has not been at his best so far this season but a battle against Haaland may prove to be just the motivation he needs.

Given Anfield is likely to be bouncing on Sunday, this City side may be facing its toughest test to date.

Finally to France, where reigning champion PSG hosts a historically feisty clash against Marseille, in a game dubbed Le Classique.

Only three points separate the two sides – PSG sits top while Marseille is in third – but this may not be a bad time for visitors to travel to the French capital.

PSG has been rocked by the swirling speculation around Kylian Mbappé’s future and the league leader could be missing some of its biggest names for Sunday’s clash.

While PSG has played down rumors surrounding Mbappé, many top journalists have said the star striker is not happy with the club’s hierarchy and is eying a transfer away from the team.

Kylian Mbappé rumors has made life tricky for PSG.

Meanwhile PSG will be without banned defender Sergio Ramos and potentially Lionel Messi, who has missed the two previous matches with a calf injury.

However, PSG head coach Christophe Galtier gave fans hope that the Argentine would be fit again when speaking to reporters midweek.

“We’re going to see how it progresses during the week, and it’s very probable that he’s available for Marseille,” he said.

Marseille, meanwhile, is a side in ascendancy and can make life complicated for the host.

Such is the animosity between two of France’s biggest teams, Marseille fans were banned from attending this fixture last year over crowd safety concerns.

Not since 2018 have Marseille supporters been allowed into the Parc des Princes to watch Le Classique.



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