CL round-up: Barcelona and Atletico crash out at group stage

Barcelona were knocked out of the Champions League before kicking a ball on Wednesday as Inter Milan’s 4-0 win over Viktoria Plzen left them with only a Europa League place.

Ex-Premier League players Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Edin Dzeko scored first-half goals to set Inter on their way at the San Siro, before former Manchester City man Dzeko struck again in the second half.

Romelu Lukaku rounded off the victory late on, meaning Barcelona can only finish third in Group C.

Inter Milan's Edin Dzeko, left, celebrates with teammates after scoring his side's second goal
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Inter Milan’s Edin Dzeko, left, celebrates with team-mates after scoring his side’s second goal

It’s the second straight season Barcelona have exited the Champions League at the group stage, having gone 17 consecutive seasons making the knockouts.

There was still time for the Spanish side’s night to get even worse, though, when Bayern Munich cruised to a 3-0 win at the Nou Camp to secure first place in Group C.

Sadio Mane opened the scoring after just 10 minutes when he latched onto a sumptuous Serge Gnabry pass, before former Stoke forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting doubled Bayern’s lead in the 31st minute.

Benjamin Pavard then added insult to Barcelona’s injury with a third goal in second-half stoppage time

Atletico crash out after stoppage-time penalty miss

Teams' players argue during the group B Champions League soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Bayer 04 Leverkusen at the Civitas Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Manu Fernaandez)
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Axel Witsel (left) clashes with Jonathan Tah as Atletico Madrid slip out of the Champions League

Atletico Madrid made it a miserable night for Spanish sides by also crashing out of the Champions League thanks to a 2-2 draw at home to Bayer Leverkusen in which they missed a stoppage-time penalty.

Lukas Hradecky saved Yannick Carrasco’s spot kick before Saul Niguez’s follow-up hit the crossbar, meaning Diego Simeone’s side will exit at the group stage for just the second time in the last 10 years.

Leverkusen took the lead in the ninth minute through Moussa Diaby but Atletico levelled midway through the opening period thanks to Carrasco.

Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen then took the lead again through Callum Hudson-Odoi, who scored his first goal for the club since joining on loan from Chelsea.

Atletico equalised early in the second half through Rodrigo De Paul but will now have to settle for scrapping with Leverkusen for a spot in the Europa League on matchday six.

Porto joined Club Brugge in the last 16 with a convincing 4-0 victory away to the Belgian side earlier on Wednesday.

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Porto celebrated progressing to the knockout stages of the Champions League on the plane home from Bruges after Atletico Madrid missed a last-minute penalty against Bayer Leverkusen

Mehdi Taremi put Porto into a first-half lead before goalkeeper Diogo Costa saved two penalties to deny the Belgian hosts a way back into the game early in the second half.

Evanilson, Stephen Eustaquio and Taremi then added three more goals in quick succession to give Porto revenge after they lost 4-0 at home to Club Brugge last month.

Frankfurt see off Marseille to leave Group D in flux

Frankfurt's Sebastian Rode, right, and Frankfurt's Daichi Kamada, left, celebrates with the club eagle behind after winning the Champions League Group D soccer match between Eintracht Frankfurt and Olympique de Marseille in Frankfurt, Germany, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
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Frankfurt’s Sebastian Rode (right) and Daichi Kamada celebrate their win with the club eagle

Frankfurt earned a 2-1 win at home to Marseille to leave Group D wide open and boost their chances of advancing on the final matchday next week.

The win lifted the reigning Europa League champions to seven points, one ahead of Marseille and level with second-placed Sporting Lisbon. Tottenham are top on eight after drawing 1-1 against the Portuguese side.

Daichi Kamada completed a superb passing move to put the hosts in front after three minutes with their first goal in a home game in the competition this season.

Marseille drew level with a Matteo Guendouzi close-range volley in the 22nd minute but their joy lasted only five minutes, as the former Arsenal midfielder turned from hero to villain by losing possession and allowing Mario Gotze to play a perfect one-two with Randal Kolo Muani, who slotted in the winner.

The winner of Frankfurt’s trip to Sporting next week will qualify for the round of 16, while a draw will also do for the Portuguese side.

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Euro round-up: Dembele guides Barcelona to win over Bilbao

Ousmane Dembele scored and provided assists for Sergi Roberto, Robert Lewandowski and Ferran Torres as Barcelona cruised past Athletic Bilbao 4-0 in La Liga on Sunday.

Barcelona remain second in the standings on 28 points, three behind leaders Real Madrid and five clear of third-placed Atletico Madrid.

The hosts scored three times in 10 minutes in the first half, starting with Dembele’s towering header from close range in the 12th minute.

The French forward then put Roberto through with some brilliant one-touch build-up play in the 18th minute, with the Spanish full-back’s strike bouncing in off a defender past a helpless Unai Simon.

Four minutes later, Dembele ran down the right channel before crossing to Lewandowski who swivelled and finished with a powerful shot.

Barca took their foot off the gas after the break but there was still time for Dembele to deliver another assist less than 20 minutes before the end, playing the ball in from the left touchline for Torres to score from close range.

Serie A: Napoli’s winning streak continues

Napoli's Victor Osimhen scores his side's opening goal
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Napoli’s Victor Osimhen scores his side’s opening goal

Napoli’s seemingly unstoppable streak continued when Victor Osimhen’s late strike secured a 1-0 win at Roma in Serie A on Sunday, putting them at 11 victories in a row in all competitions.

In front of a raucous crowd at the Stadio Olimpico, both sides were evenly matched in a slow-paced and uneventful first half.

Napoli thought they had a penalty in the 38th minute when ‘keeper Rui Patricio seemingly made a late challenge on midfielder Tanguy Ndombele but the decision was revoked after a VAR check.

Napoli controlled the game by the hour mark and had several chances to score, with Roma struggling to get the ball out of their own half.

Osimhen secured the win for Napoli 10 minutes before full-time when he volleyed in the ball from an acute angle with one touch.

Napoli now have a three-point lead at the top with 29 after 11 games, three ahead of AC Milan in second place. Roma are fifth with 22 points.

Bundesliga: Bochum stun Bundesliga leaders Union Berlin

Union Berlin suffered a shock defeat to Bochum
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Union Berlin suffered a shock defeat to Bochum

Relegation-threatened VfL Bochum scored once in either half to stun Union Berlin 2-1, leaving the Bundesliga leaders with only a slim gap at the top and bagging a second win of the season to move off the bottom of the table.

Union, with the league’s best back line before the game, suffered only their second loss of the season and conceded more than one goal for only the second match in this campaign.

Philipp Hofmann’s glancing header two minutes before the break put Bochum in front as Union struggled to string together a decent play with the hosts’ high pressing game proving a major problem for Urs Fischer’s team.

Union’s Milos Pantovic whipped a shot just wide on the hour mark but it was Bochum, who had also hit the woodwork early in the second half, who scored again.

This time they struck on the break with Gerrit Holtmann completing the lightning-quick passing move, tapping in from a Christopher Antwi-Adjei assist.

Pantovic had another chance to put Union back in the game but the former Bochum player’s 78th-minute penalty was parried by ‘keeper Manuel Riemann. The Serb did eventually score, deep in stoppage time, with a powerful shot.

Union remain in top spot on 23 points, one ahead of champions Bayern Munich. Freiburg are third on 21.

Bochum’s second win of the season lifted them off last place and into 17th on seven points.

Ligue 1: Lille edge Monaco in storming 4-3 home win

Lille players celebrates after defeating Monaco
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Lille players celebrates after defeating Monaco

Lille midfielder Remy Cabella struck twice to help his side to a hard-fought 4-3 win at home against AS Monaco in an electrifying Ligue 1 clash on Sunday.

Lille defender Alexsandro opened the scoring for the hosts in the 22nd minute after Adam Ounas sent in a free-kick for the Brazilian to finish off with a close-range header.

Monaco levelled 12 minutes later after an error by Lille goalkeeper Lucas Chevalier, who fumbled a free-kick by defender Caio Henrique and was unable to keep it out of the net.

Lille were quick to seek revenge when striker Jonathan David hit the post but Cabella was in the right place to follow up with a fine first-time shot from close range.

Monaco came back from behind once more just before the break when striker Wissam Ben Yedder set up Axel Disasi with a neat close-range pass for the defender to score with a low shot into the middle of the goal.

Ben Yedder put the visitors ahead in the 53rd minute when he lobbed Chevalier but Monaco’s joy was short-lived as Cabella found the back of the net again in the 62nd after a Lille counter-attack.

Lille winger Jonathan Bamba sealed their win in the 71st minute, putting a powerful shot into the roof of the net.

Lille moved up one place to sixth on 22 points from 12 games, sending rivals Monaco – with one less point – down to seventh.

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‘It’s perfect’ – How Golden State took Barca’s tiki-taka as inspiration

Klay Thompson has revealed how the NBA champion Golden State Warriors have taken inspiration from Barcelona’s tiki-taka style of football in recent seasons.

The Warriors, who kicked off their title defence with a 123-109 win against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, have been a dominant force under head coach Steve Kerr, winning four championships in the last eight years.

One of the most notable aspects of Golden State’s play during Kerr’s time in charge has been their impressive ball movement, with the 57-year-old adapting ideas used by Pep Guardiola during his time in charge of Barca for the basketball court.

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The Golden State Warriors got their title defence up and running with a comprehensive win over the Los Angeles Lakers

Thompson said that having a player open and keeping the ball moving are aspects they picked up from Barcelona and is in no doubt the Warriors’ approach is allowing him and last season’s NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Steph Curry to flourish as well.

“I give credit to Steve, he came in and he had a vision, just to keep that thing hot,” Thompson said after the season-opening win over the Lakers.

“He gave us the perfect example of FC Barcelona, they call it tiki-taka.

“It’s just kick it to the open man and with us give it to the open man, keep it moving, and it just plays to me and Steph’s strengths so much…it’s perfect.”

Tiki-taka, popularised by Barca during now-Manchester City manager Guardiola’s four seasons at the helm, is characterised by short, accurate passing to keep the ball moving without losing possession.

The style of play delivered huge success for Barcelona as Guardiola guided them to three La Liga titles and two Champions League triumphs between 2008 and 2012.

Curry hailed Barca and Guardiola back in 2016, as well as saying that players like their then talisman Lionel Messi served as an inspiration.

“The things they do in every game, and their style of play is very similar to ours,” Curry said at the time.

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Euro round-up: Real beat Barca to go top after dominant El Clasico win

Karim Benzema, Federico Valverde and Rodrygo were all on target as a dominant Real Madrid beat old rivals Barcelona 3-1 at home in ‘El Clasico’ on Sunday to move top of La Liga.

The defeat was another blow to Barca and manager Xavi Hernandez after they were left on the verge of Champions League elimination following a draw with Inter Milan in midweek.

Real are now on top of the standings on 25 points, three ahead of Barca.

Real boss Carlo Ancelotti said on eve of the game that he was not going to reinvent the wheel as he sought to avoid a repeat of the result between the sides in March, when he put midfielder Luka Modric up front only to get hammered 4-0 by the Catalans.

Real Madrid's Karim Benzema celebrates after scoring
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Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema celebrates after scoring at the Bernabeu

There were no surprises in his line-up as he left it to his Barca counterpart Xavi to get inventive.

He left midfielder Gavi on the bench and, aware of the danger that in-form Vinicius Jr presented from the left wing, decided to start Sergi Roberto as a full-back on the right and rush back defender Jules Kounde, who has recently been nursing a hamstring injury, to cover the Brazilian.

But Barca had no answer to Vinicius Jr’s relentless pace and Toni Kroos’ precise passes for Real and both were the architects of several chances, including the first two goals.

The pair combined with nice one-touch passes in the build-up to Benzema’s opener with the France striker finishing into the empty goal on the rebound, after goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen denied Vinicius from close range in the 12th minute.

Ten minutes before the break, Vinicius took advantage of a mistake by defender Eric Garcia to run towards the area and create space for Valverde who – unmarked on the edge of the box – slotted a bullet strike past the goalkeeper.

Other than two early strikes by Frenkie de Jong and Raphinha, Real were barely threatened by their opponents until the final minutes, when substitute Ferran Torres reduced the deficit with a close-range strike from Robert Lewandowski’s low cross.

Barcelona's Ferran Torres celebrates his goal
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Barcelona’s Ferran Torres celebrates his goal in the latest El Clasico match-up

However, Rodrygo secured the points from the penalty spot in added time, after he was tripped inside the area by Garcia.

The referee did not give the foul at first, but was alerted by the VAR and, after checking the video, gave Real the penalty.

“We are delighted not only for the win but for the way we played, it was an amazing afternoon in a packed stadium with our fans creating a fantastic vibe,” Modric told DAZN.

“We knew that there was going to come a time in the match where we were going to have to suffer because they handle the ball well and that is where we have to defend strongly and suffer and we have done it.

“Then we were very strong up front, and we are very happy with the match. We have made a great game today.”

Neymar brilliance as PSG beat Marseille

Neymar was close to his brilliant best as he gave Paris Saint-Germain a 1-0 home victory against bitter rivals Marseille as the champions ended a three-match winless streak.

Neymar found the back of the net on the stroke of half-time to put leaders PSG on 29 points from 11 games, three ahead of second-placed Lorient.

Marseille, who had Sauel Gigot sent off midway through the second half, are fourth on 23 points, one behind RC Lens who they host next weekend. PSG had drawn their previous three games in all competitions.

Earlier on Sunday, Lyon’s winless run stretched to six matches after they suffered a 3-2 defeat at Rennes in their first match under new coach Laurent Blanc.

Martin Terrier scored twice for Rennes who registered their third straight league win and moved up two spots to fifth on 21 points.

Lyon, who appointed former France defender Blanc to replace Peter Bosz, have lost five of their last six games and slipped to 10th on 14 points.

Union outclass Dortmund with Haberer double

A dejected Juse Bellingham at Union Berlin
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A dejected Juse Bellingham at Union Berlin

Union Berlin’s Janik Haberer scored twice in 13 minutes as the Bundesliga leaders cruised past Borussia Dortmund 2-0 on Sunday to open up a five-point gap at the top of the league table.

Haberer first pounced when Dortmund keeper Gregor Kobel miskicked the ball, to tap in from close range in the eighth minute and then drilled in another with a powerful shot from the edge of the box in the 21st minute.

Dortmund’s backline was leaking like a sieve in the first half and the visitors were lucky to go into the break with just a two-goal deficit as Union’s Sheraldo Becker wreaked havoc down the wing.

They improved after the break and Kobel redeemed himself for his first-half error with a full-stretch save to stop a Timo Baumgartl header but they completely lacked ideas in attack to threaten the hosts.

Bayern Munich blasted five goals past hapless Freiburg in a 5-0 demolition job to leapfrog them into second place.

The champions are now on 19 points, one ahead of third-placed Freiburg, who suffered their second league loss, and four behind leaders Union Berlin.

Bayern, who squandered a two-goal lead in a 2-2 draw with Dortmund last week, quickly showed they meant business with Serge Gnabry heading in on the rebound after Freiburg keeper Mark Flekken had parried a close-range shot by Leroy Sane in the 13th minute.

The champions hogged possession and gradually upped the pressure with forward Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting doubling their lead after shaking off Matthias Ginter and threading a low shot inside the far post for his first league goal of the season.

Freiburg, whose only previous league loss was back in August, hardly got a look in and did not get a shot on target in the entire first half.

It was much of the same after the break with Bayern hitting the woodwork through Gnabry six minutes after the restart.

Sane did a better job a minute later, whipping in a superb left-footed shot past Flekken to make it 3-0 before Sadio Mane’s chip over the keeper in the 55th killed off the game.

Marcel Sabizter’s 80th-minute shot completed Bayern’s rout.

Unstoppable Napoli back on top with win over Bologna

Napoli returned to the top of Serie A after beating Bologna 3-2 thanks to a late Victor Osimhen goal on Sunday to lead the table by two points although the visitors made them fight for the win.

Napoli now have 10 wins in a row in all competitions and are on top of the table with 26 points after 10 games just ahead of Atalanta, with Lazio and Udinese level on 21 points.

Bologna striker Joshua Zirkzee opened the scoring in the 41st minute when he received a pass from Andrea Cambiaso inside the box and fired into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.

But the lead did not last long as Juan Jesus equalised four minutes later at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.

Both teams played an intense second half, with Hirving Lozano putting the hosts ahead in the 49th minute. Musa Barrow equalised two minutes after that with a shot from a distance that Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret fumbled into the goal.

Substitute Osimhen got what proved to be the winner in the 69th minute when he collected a through ball from Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and elegantly lobbed keeper Lukasz Skorupski.

Goals by striker Lautaro Martinez and midfielder Nicolo Barella helped Inter Milan ease to a comfortable 2-0 home win over Salernitana.

Inter, last season’s runners-up, moved up one place to seventh in the standings on 18 points. They are one point behind AS Roma and two adrift of fifth-placed AC Milan who have a game in hand and play at Verona later on Sunday.

Inter opened the scoring in the 14th minute through Lautaro, who lashed a shot from outside the box and the ball bounced in front of Salernitana keeper Luigi Sepe before finding the bottom corner.

Inter Milan's Nicolo Barella celebrates with his teammate Lautaro Martinez
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Inter Milan’s Nicolo Barella celebrates with his teammate Lautaro Martinez

Barella doubled the hosts’ advantage at the San Siro in the 58th minute, controlling the ball superbly in the box and placing a shot into the bottom right corner.

Lazio coach Maurizio Sarri said the bad condition of the pitch at the Stadio Olimpico played a significant role in the 0-0 draw against visiting Udinese.

Lazio had won their previous four league matches, scoring 14 goals with none conceded, but fired blanks against Udinese.

Sandro Tonali’s late goal sealed a 2-1 win for Italian champions AC Milan at Hellas Verona.

The visitors went ahead after nine minutes when Verona’s Miguel Veloso deflected Rafael Leao’s cross into his own net.

Verona deservedly equalised after 19 minutes when Koray Gunter’s weak shot deflected off Milan defender Matteo Gabbia which took it beyond keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu.

Milan secured the win in the 81st minute when Ante Rebic found Tonali alone in the box with a perfect ball across and he had no trouble finishing past keeper Lorenzo Montipo.

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Barcelona on brink of CL exit: El Clasico can provide perfect remedy

For Barcelona head coach Xavi Hernandez, Sunday’s El Clasico provides the perfect opportunity for his side to respond to a damaging result against Inter Milan in the Champions League.

The inquest has begun into the events of Wednesday night, which leave Barcelona’s hopes of progressing to the knockout stages hanging by a thread, but there is very little time to dwell on that disappointment.

Real Madrid host Barcelona at 3.15pm UK time on Sunday looking to rub salt into open wounds. Barca top La Liga on goal difference ahead of Madrid, with both teams on 22 points.

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Landing the first psychological blow in the race for superiority in Spain is at stake, and with teams level on points separated on head-to-head, the title race could well come down to the finest of margins.

Sky Sports’ Ben Grounds previews the game alongside Spanish football expert Alvaro Montero

What has the fallout been to the Inter result?

Barcelona's Robert Lewandowski, Sergio Busquets and Ousmane Dembele leave the field after the Champions League draw with Inter Milan
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Barcelona failed to beat Inter Milan at home

The papers didn’t hold back. “This is the worst part of this Barcelona,” wrote Marca. “With this defence, Barca will not get anywhere in Europe.”

A case can be made in mitigation; Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen, Hector Bellerin and Ronald Araujo were either injured or unavailable, but the vulnerability left behind was brutally exposed by Inter Milan during Wednesday’s 3-3 draw which leaves Barcelona needing snookers to avoid being dragged back into the Europa League.

The view from Spain is very dim when it comes to the team’s chances of progression with two matchweeks still remaining. Given Inter’s superior head-to-head record with Barca, victory for the Italians over group whipping boys Viktoria Plzen would confirm their exit.

AS led on Thursday with the headline: “On the brink of a disaster”, claiming failure to reach the knockout stages would cost the club at least £18m. Sport continue the theme, claiming Barcelona are “praying for a miracle”.

Only the heroics of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen with virtually the final kick of the game prevented official elimination.

It is far from ideal preparation for this weekend’s Clasico, despite the outlook being far brighter so far this season domestically.

“Xavi has been criticised for the very first time since he arrived in charge – and the players,” Spanish football Alvaro Montero tells Sky Sports. “Xavi picked players who were important four or five years ago – Sergi Roberto, Sergi Busquets and Gerard Pique.

“But the feeling now is that those players are not as important as they were. The game was a final for the fans, who remembered the game with Inter Milan in 2010 (the infamous celebration from Jose Mourinho en route to lifting the trophy in the final at the Santiago Bernabeu) and indeed the defeat in the San Siro only last week.

“Xavi is under no immediate pressure. The feeling in the club is that they want him to stay but of course there is a huge economical issue if they don’t qualify for the next round of the Champions League. They made a huge effort last summer based on the belief they would get through this group but they will not be earning anywhere near the same amount in the Europa League.”

Is this Barcelona tuned to handle the pressure?

Robert Lewandowski's stoppage time equaliser kept Barcelona's hopes of qualifying for the Champions League knockout stages alive
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There is an over reliance on Robert Lewandowski

Xavi has said his side have no time to stew over the draw with Inter as their attention must be fully focused on the upcoming Clasico.

Barcelona started strongly against Inter but defensive errors saw them trail 3-2 in the closing minutes before Robert Lewandowski’s stoppage-time equaliser secured the draw.

“The problem is that the group is not yet good enough to play under this sort of pressure,” Montero continues. “In the last 10 Champions League games, Barcelona have only beaten regular teams – Dynamo Kiev, Viktoria Plzen and Ferencvaros.

‘The Champions League doesn’t forgive’

What Xavi said after Inter Milan draw…

“Today the game was under control and in the 50th minute there was a very, very clear defensive error. Then there’s the second mistake and in the end the team has paid dearly for them.

“Perhaps in La Liga there may be a mistake and you don’t pay so dearly, but the Champions League doesn’t forgive.

“We hope that it does not affect us psychologically and we encourage the players. We continue believing and prepare for the Clasico starting tomorrow and we need to recover well because we have made a significant physical effort.”

“Under Xavi in the Champions League, they’ve suffered three defeats, two draws and only one win. It’s their worst run of results in their European history – seven defeats in 13 games.”

Robert Lewandowski scored two late goals to earn Barcelona a point – and the Poland international’s form is the beacon of hope as the side head to the Spanish capital.

Lewandowski is La Liga’s leading scorer on nine goals, but he is in need of support from those around him.

“He’s leading the race for the Pichichi and also top for the most number of shots on target, so the problem isn’t Lewandowski,” says Montero. “Raphinha is playing well, but the midfielder isn’t working as well as expected.

“Busquets, Pedri and Gavi are all very good players but they’re not clicking at the moment in the big games when you think of the possession of the ball Barca have had in the past decade. Frenkie de Jong has been injured recently but his performances have been unremarkable.

“The Inter game highlighted problems in defence, but curiously Barcelona have the best defensive record in La Liga having only conceded one goal in eight matches. For context, Real have conceded seven. It’s when the pressure is on that Barcelona don’t look prepared – to win when it matters. This season, they are failing.”

How big a statement win would this weekend be?

Barcelona celebrate on the pitch at the Bernabeu
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Barcelona battered Real Madrid 4-0 only last March

Barcelona have already beaten Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan this term, but it would be a bit of a stretch to even count that as their most noteworthy result given the well-documented problems at the Andalusian club, who are submerged in the relegation zone having parted company with Julen Lopetegui.

“You have to remember it wasn’t long ago that Barcelona won 4-0 at the Bernabeu,” Montero adds. “Madrid are in a good moment but in these Clasico games, there are no favourites.

“Real have played very well consistently for a lot longer than Barcelona but psychologically, Real are stronger and they know how to manage these types of games. Especially with them having home advantage, I’d be more inclined to back them to win.

“It all comes down to how Barcelona recover from the result against Inter. It could well either be a really heavy defeat or a narrow victory. I wouldn’t be at all surprised.”

The last Clasico before Mbappe’s mega move?

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Where could Mbappe go next if he leaves PSG?

Earlier this week, Sky Sports reported that Paris Saint-Germain are adamant that there is “zero chance” of Kylian Mbappe leaving in January and have denied reports they created fake social media accounts to attack the forward.

But Real Madrid’s interest in the striker is the worst-kept secret in European football. For now, the player remains in Paris – but he will certainly be among those keeping a close eye on proceedings at the Bernabeu this weekend.

“I would say Kylian Mbappe joining Real Madrid in January is impossible. As far as I know, Real don’t want to sign the player right now but something might happen next summer. PSG won’t let that happen,” says Montero.

It means Karim Benzema, at 34, will continue to spearhead Real’s chances of further silverware this season. The France striker is favourite to win the Ballon d’Or, but after injury ruled him out of action for a month earlier this term, he is only getting fully back up to speed.

Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior, right, runs with the ball ahead of Shakhtar's Yukhym Konoplya during the Champions League group F soccer match between Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
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Vinicius Junior will take the fight to Barcelona on Sunday

“The Eden Hazard experiment as a false nine has been used but it’s not been successful. He’s done it once or twice but Eden isn’t playing as well as expected. It’s been very disappointing because Hazard said to the crowd in Plaza de Cibeles when they won the Champions League that next year will be his year.

“But there is still a sense of him lacking commitment and of him not playing the type of football he wants to show. In a good of such magnitude this weekend, I don’t expect him to start and he might not even play.

“The only real question mark for Carlo Ancelotti is what he will do with Rodrygo. The No 9 is going to be Benzema and on the left wing will be Vinicius Junior. It could be that Federico Valverde plays tucked in off the right side.

“If Ancelotti puts Valverde in the centre, it would mean that one of Toni Kroos or Luka Modric won’t play and I don’t see that happening.

“I think we’ll see Aurelien Tchouameni as the anchor in midfield with Modric and Kroos with Valverde playing as part of the front three alongside Vinicius and Benzema. It leaves Rodrygo as an option on the bench as he is someone who can understand his impact role better perhaps than the others.”

How have Real coped without Casemiro?

Federico Valverde and Casemiro at Real Madrid
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Federico Valverde and Casemiro at Real Madrid

“Tchouameni is playing in the defensive midfield position Casemiro vacated, and he’s almost always in the line-up. The feeling at Real is that Casemiro made a huge mistake in leaving the club as Tchouameni was seen more with an eye to the future – but not now.

“Maybe he’s not Casemiro, but he’s been playing pretty well. The feeling is that Casemiro has signed for Manchester United for a lot of money and the experience of playing in the Premier League but he’s yet to really show his qualities.

“Without Casemiro, Real are doing better than expected as many fans thought he was extremely important for the team’s balance. But they’ve not suffered huge defeats or big problems without him.”

Is Rudiger not yet nailed on as first choice?

Rudiger, Real Madrid
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Antonio Rudiger is a doubt to face Barcelona

On Tuesday, a last-gasp header by defender Antonio Rudiger rescued a 1-1 draw for Real Madrid against Shakhtar Donetsk and secured their place in the knockout stage of the Champions League.

The German suffered a nasty gash to the head as he bravely stooped to score, but Montero says the German defender was still unlikely to start El Clasico prior to the injury he sustained in Warsaw.

“I’m not sure he’s going to play, not only due to the injury but he’s not been in every single line-up. Ferland Mendy has been used at left-back while Eder Militao and David Alaba have been partnered in defence.

“His eye was completely closed after the draw against Shakhtar so it’s unlikely he’s going to recover in time for the game. Alaba knows (former Bayern Munich team-mate) Lewandowski so that’s going to be an amazing battle.”

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