With El Clasico on the horizon in midweek, both Barcelona and Real Madrid could’ve done without tough away trips to Real Sociedad and Valencia respectively, at the weekend, but it’s important to remember that Wednesday’s clash was rescheduled from earlier in the season.

At the time of writing, there’s a very real possibility that violence could still rear its ugly head in the lead up to the game, though the Catalan Police have made it abundantly clear that any supporters causing trouble will be dealt with swiftly.

Though Barca v Madrid games have always been about the politics as much as the eternal rivalry, in the immediate lead up to Christmas, it would be a pleasant change to just focus on the matters unfolding on the Camp Nou pitch.

Saturday afternoon saw the Catalans head to San Sebastian and a date with their bogey side – at least away from home – Real Sociedad.

La Real haven’t beaten Barca at the Camp Nou in 30 years, but at the Reale Arena (formerly Anoeta Stadium), the roles are somewhat reversed. Barca have won twice there in recent seasons, but they were the only two wins in the last decade.

SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN - DECEMBER 14: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona duels for the ball with Mikel Merino of Real Sociedad during the Liga match between Real Sociedad and FC Barcelona at Estadio Anoeta on December 14, 2019 in San Sebastian, Spain. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

With the hosts playing so well this season, in no small part due to Real Madrid loanee Martin Odegaard’s excellence, it was always going to be a tough encounter.

As it was, the game ultimately rested on two controversial penalty decisions, both going in La Real’s favour.

They opened the scoring with an early spot-kick after Sergio Busquets had been adjudged to have pulled the shirt of his opponent. It was a soft decision at best, but nonetheless, Mikel Oyarzabal made no mistake.

A fine Antoine Griezmann finish and a poacher’s goal from Luis Suarez saw the visitors take the lead, and they were in the ascendancy for the only time in the match at this point.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s uncharacteristic mistake gifted Alexander Isak the equaliser, and from that point onwards, the hosts made life incredibly difficult for Ernesto Valverde’s side, with Odegaard continuing to pull the strings.

Gerard Pique had already had a header cleared off of the line before being hauled down in injury time, in a manner not at all dissimilar to that which had seen the hosts awarded their penalty.

With no action from the referee forthcoming, Barca might’ve felt that VAR would come to their rescue. That it didn’t meant that the Catalans had to be content with one, rather than three, points.


Real’s last-gasp point

At Mestalla on Sunday night, Real Madrid were workmanlike without being brilliant to watch. After a 95th minute equaliser, however, Zinedine Zidane won’t be too worried about that.

Valencia were content to play with a deep block for the most part, inviting Los Blancos onto them at every opportunity, and though Real’s goal came after the time allowed, the hosts only had themselves to blame.

Up until Carlos Soler had given the Los Che a 78th-minute lead, it was a game of half-chances, with neither side really looking sharp in front of goal. Passages of play were often ended by a poor touch or sloppy pass too.

Real were indebted to Thibaut Courtois on two separate occasions in the second 45 as Los Che briefly threatened, though the Belgian could do nothing about Soler’s strike.

He was involved at the other end at the death as his towering header caused confusion in the Valencia defence, allowing Karim Benzema to fire into the roof of the net with virtually the last kick.

The point put them back level with Barca, with things at the top just about as finely balanced as they could be.

VALENCIA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 15: Karim Benzema (L) of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring the equaliser goal during the Liga match between Valencia CF and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Mestalla on December 15, 2019 in Valencia, Spain. (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images)


Atleti win, Sevilla lose ground

Atletico Madrid needed the boost of a good win over Osasuna, and though they left it late, the Rojiblancos never looked like getting anything other than the three points.

The hosts allowed their visitors to have as much of the ball as they wished, but were compact and hard-working in ensuring that Osasuna’s chances were few and far between.

Alvaro Morata and Saul Niguez got the goals in their 2-0 victory, and the win moves them into fifth, just two points off of Sevilla in third.

The Andalusians will be rueing a missed opportunity to draw level on points with Real Madrid, at least temporarily.

Raul Albiol had given Villarreal the lead in the 13th minute at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, but once Munir El Haddadi had equalised on the hour, Julen Lopetegui’s side really should’ve gone on to win the match.

Try as they might, however, Sevilla just couldn’t break the Yellow Submarine down, and it was against the run of play when Karl Toko Ekambi snatched the winner (1-2).

Elsewhere, Athletic Club still remain in the top half of the table despite an insipid 0-0 draw in the Basque derby against Eibar. Despite scoring just 19 goals this season (only Atleti have less out of the top 13 teams in the division), they’ve somehow only lost one of the last eight matches.

Alaves will be disappointed to only draw 1-1 with Leganes on Friday night, ditto Granada, who succumbed to a late goal from Enis Bardhi as Levante took all three points from the Nuevo Estadio de los Carmenes (1-2).

Getafe’s 2-0 win over Valladolid sees them back up to fourth, whilst the 2-2 draws between Celta/Mallorca and Espanyol/Betis does nothing for the quartet, particularly the first three who remain in the bottom four.


Listen to the latest episode of the BetVictor Euro Weekly podcast as Jason Pettigrove speaks to special guest and Spanish football journalist Ben Hayward: El Clasico At El Christmas-o

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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