Barcelona might’ve snuck a victory in their last game before the first Clasico of the season, but was that a sign of a renaissance or just papering over some giant fissures?
They were certainly more solid than usual against Dynamo Kyiv in their Champions League group-stage game on Wednesday night, with under-fire coach Ronald Koeman declaring that he was pleased with his group, with his only gripe being their finishing.
And the Catalans have shown this season that if they do get things right, they can cause problems to anyone – as Real Madrid might find out on Sunday.
We look over Barcelona’s fors and againsts before they meet their old foe at the Camp Nou.
A good recent run
The Blaugrana have had two good wins in the lead-up to the Clasico, beating Valencia in LaLiga Santander and then Dynamo Kyiv in Europe.
Anything can happen in a Clasico, but it certainly helps to have a level of confidence going into the game, which wouldn’t have been the case if Dynamo Kyiv had left Catalonia victorious.
Ansu Fati fit again
Ansu Fati is Barcelona’s great hope without the departed Lionel Messi.
He’s only 18 and coming back from injury, but he has shown he can make the difference at the very highest level.
This Clasico could be when Ansu Fati anoints himself as the club’s new figurehead.
As well as Fati being back, Koeman can also count on the services of Sergio Aguero – even if the Argentinian likely won’t be able to play for more than the 15 minutes he got against Dynamo Kyiv.
Philippe Coutinho is also on an upward curve.
Jordi Alba back to his best
We’ve seen the best Jordi Alba since his return from injury.
He creates danger all by himself such as against Dynamo Kyiv, creating Gerard Pique’s goal with a fine cross from deep.
The surprise factor
According to most betting shops, Barcelona are not favourites for this Clasico – even though it’s at the Camp Nou.
But that could work in their favour, and the young pups Gavi and Ansu Fati could relish causing a stir against Real Madrid.
The defensive weaknesses
Koeman has talked often about his side’s issues at the top of the end pitch, but it’s their fallibility at the other end that is just as worrying.
It’s too easy for teams to get in against Barcelona, whether through good play or through errors of the backline itself.
And that’s not a good sign when they’re about to come up against some of the best attackers in the world.
Problems in front of goal
Barcelona need lots of chances to score goals – and against the quality of a team like Real Madrid, that becomes an even bigger problem.
They need players who can start to make a difference when the stakes are highest.
Real Madrid have an advantage in this area of the pitch – and that could decide the outcome of the game.
Koeman might try to do something different to address this, and it will need to work if he wants to get anything out of the game.
Despite getting some of their players back from the treatment table, Barcelona will be without Pedri, Ronald Araujo and Ousmane Dembele, three players who offer a mix of guile, pace and energy.
Players struggling for form
The likes of Memphis Depay, Frenkie de Jong, Sergio Busquets and Marc-Andre ter Stegen have all been short of their best form in recent weeks.
They need to find it fast if Real Madrid are going to be toppled.