Previewing Spain's El Clasico
The top two teams in ESPN's Soccer Power Index meet Saturday (4 p.m. ET on ESPN Deportes and ESPN3) in what will be 2011's seventh Clásico between Real Madrid and Barcelona, the most ever in a single year. In the past seven seasons, the winner of the winter league matchup has proceeded to win La Liga. Here are five notes on 2011's final edition -- and the 2011-12 season's first meeting -- of El Clásico.
• La Liga leader Real Madrid has won 15 consecutive matches in all competitions, equaling a 41-year-old club record. Madrid has not dropped points in over two and a half months, since drawing 0-0 versus Racing Santander on Sept. 21. In league play, Los Blancos have won 88 percent of their possible points and have scored a league-high 49 goals, an average of 3.5 per match. But Madrid has not defeated Barcelona in league play since a 4-1 win May 7, 2008.
• Barcelona enters Saturday's match (at the Bernabeu) having surrendered a league-low seven goals in 15 matches this season; however, all seven goals have come on the road. Since Pep Guardiola took over as Barcelona head coach in 2008, his team has faced Real Madrid 11 times with seven victories, three draws, and only one loss, which was in extra time of the 2011 Copa del Rey final. Over the 11 matches, Barcelona has outscored Real Madrid by 16 goals.
• Key for Barcelona will be talisman Lionel Messi, who has enjoyed a great goal-scoring run against Real Madrid in his career. Six of the past nine goals Barcelona has scored against Real Madrid have been by Messi. The Argentine has scored on each of his past five trips to the Bernabeu, tallying a total of seven goals. Messi is favored to win the Ballon d'Or for a third consecutive year, and his 17 goals in 15 matches are tied for top scorer in La Liga, though only one has come away from home.
• Tied for the league lead with Messi is Cristiano Ronaldo, who has 17 goals in 14 matches as he attempts to win his second consecutive Pichichi award for top scorer in Spain. Ronaldo and Messi have put on a scoring exhibition this season, with each tallying more goals than 12 of the 18 other teams in La Liga. Ronaldo, however, has only netted three goals in 12 career matches against Barcelona, including a single goal at home.
• This match is more than just Ronaldo versus Messi, though. Including Gonzalo Higuaín (12 goals) and Karim Benzema (7), Real Madrid has three of the top seven goal scorers in La Liga and is on pace to break its single-season club scoring record. Barcelona is equally dominant on the passing leaderboard, with six of the top ten in completed passes, including league leader Xavi, who has over 300 more than teammate Dani Alves in second place.
Antonio Rusiñol is a production researcher who primarily works on ESPN's Spanish-language domestic and international networks. Follow him on Twitter @Rusinol7_ESPN.