Saturday's 189th La Liga Clasico comes with both Real Madrid and Barcelona way off their best form and, for the time being, papering over the cracks as they prepare for the first of this season's tussles for Spanish football's bragging rights.

Historically, victory in El Clasico frequently rubber-stamped one club or another’s supremacy as they strolled to a title triumph.

 

These days, Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid would beg to differ although it is still beyond doubt one of the most-watched games in the world.

 

Real may top the table, with Barca just one point behind, but all is not well at either club and here is why.

Real Madrid toothless without Bellingham

Rodrygo’s goal against Braga in the Champions League on Tuesday was the Brazilian’s first since he scored in the season opener. He has the dubious distinction of being the player with the poorest return for shots on goal in any of the five major European leagues.

 

Astonishingly, the problems have been masked by the stellar start that Jude Bellingham is enjoying to his career at Real – with another goal on Tuesday in Portugal his 11th in 12 games.

Real Madrid is the sort of place where reputations count for nothing and you have to prove yourself from the get-go.

 

Just four months since putting pen to paper, he is already being touted as the leader of the side with comparisons being made between him and Zinedine Zidane.

There is total admiration for his ability, personality and application and the way he has settled seamlessly into the Spanish way of life.

 

That is the good news for Real. The not so good is that he picked up a knock in the win in Braga and has been a doubt for the game on Saturday, although he did return to training on Friday and is expected to feature.

Brazil forward Vinicius Jr is slowly going back to his best form and still produces moments of quality, but without the goals from Bellingham, this Real Madrid would be in a very different place.

Xavi's Barca winning like Real

Barcelona’s title triumph last season was built on good defence. This season, they have conceded 10 goals in 10 league games. Last season it wasn’t until matchday 31 that they conceded their 10th goal of the campaign.

 

German goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was a massive factor last season but has not been as crucial this time around.

 

Much of the winning mentality currently in this Barcelona side comes from three players in particular.

Spain international Balde adds an awful lot, especially going forward, where he looks the successor to Jordi Alba at left-back.

 

Gavi, despite his chaotic way of playing and all too frequent displays of youthful indiscipline, is loved by everyone at Barcelona and is already a huge character in the dressing room.

 

Forward Ferran Torres, meanwhile, has graduated from having self-doubts to playing with a renewed confidence. The former Manchester City man has to be praised for admitting he needed help to address his mental health.

But Xavi realises that without De Jong, Lewandowski, Raphinha and especially Pedri, the Barcelona style will suffer.

 

Xavi is battling against the odds. The football is not always spectacular, and a lot of points have been secured by late goals. Of their seven victories, four have come thanks to goals scored after the 80th minute.

Ancelotti questioned by stars

All is not well with Real manager Carlo Ancelotti, amid rumours that the Brazilian national side is his next port of call and fears the Italian might be showing the first signs of demob happiness as he begins to contemplate a life away from the Bernabeu.

 

International breaks are notorious for allowing players to return to their own countries and gripe to their local media about how they are not being played either as they wish, or often enough.

 

So we hear that: Rodrygo prefers to play on the right and is being played inside, Eduardo Camavinga prefers to play in central midfield although he is sometimes used as a full-back, Aurelien Tchouameni doesn’t like being put at centre-back and would rather be in midfield while Luka Modric would simply just like to play more minutes.