The most highly anticipated match in club football is just around the corner. With Barcelona and Real Madrid both in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and only one point separating them in La Liga, Sunday’s domestic contest between the two sides is potentially pivotal in both their seasons.
A critical factor could be form, but who can legitimately claim to have more momentum going into the crunch fixture?
Looking at the goals-per-game scored by both sides tells part of the story. If we split the 2014/15 La Liga season thus far into roughly 2 halves – 2014 and the games played so far in 2015 – we can see Real Madrid scored an average of 3.7 goals per game in 2014, compared to just 1.8 in 2015. Conversely, their Catalan competitors have upped their average goals per game from 2.6 to 3.5 in the new year.
Who has been catalyst? Look no further than £75 million signing Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan striker took his place in the eagerly awaited attacking axis of Neymar-Messi-Suarez but offered a paltry 0.2 goals per game in 2014. Kick-started by 2 goals in the first 2 weeks of January, he has since upped that average to 0.8 strikes per game, a major factor in Barca’s upward curve.
Suarez’s other statistics have taken a turn for the better. The number of shots he takes a game is up to 3.8 from 2.9, with 59% of them now on target, compared to 32% in 2014. These figures are in stark contrast to the data produced by Real Madrid’s FIFA World Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Coinciding with reported personal problems and a fractured relationship with fellow galactico Gareth Bale, Ronaldo’s performance levels have dropped this year. His average goals per game have plummeted from 1.3 to 0.3. The number of shots he manages per game has dropped to 5.5 from 4.6, while his shots on target percentage is now just 35%, compared to 59% in 2014.
Despite their apparent slump in form, Ronaldo’s arch rival Lionel Messi is not in the frame of mind of take Real Madrid lightly, saying recently: “I have a lot of respect for Madrid. When Madrid are in this situation it is when they are most dangerous. They have great players. We will go out to play our football and look to win but at the same time we need to be wary of them as much as ever.”
Messi himself has even managed to up his own level of excellence in 2015, but in general he has remained remarkably consistent from 2014 to 2015. His shots per game average is 3.8 (2014) – 4.1 (2015), while his on target percentage is 57% – 54%. The Argentinian maestro’s goals per game average for 2015 is now an incredible 1.3.
The data gives us a revealing insight into the recent form of both Real Madrid and Barcelona, but doesn’t, of course, predetermine the result. What is clear however, is that Barca will start the match as the team carrying the most momentum – the question is can Real swim against the tide?