Madrid (AFP)

A clasico as crucial as it is unusual at Camp Nou: behind closed doors due to the pandemic, FC Barcelona in crisis and Real Madrid under pressure face each other for the first time without an audience on Saturday in La Liga (4:00 p.m.), with the obligation to win so as not to sink.

For the most watched club match in the world with 650 million viewers expected according to the Spanish League (LaLiga), the largest stadium in Europe and its 99,000 seats will be empty: due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the poster between Barça and Real will have no witnesses in the stands, a first in the history of this more than a century-old rivalry.

"Any football match loses its importance if it is played without an audience," Javier Tebas, boss of the Spanish Football League (LaLiga), admitted in an interview with AFP.

"But the clasico remains the clasico. It is the most important football match between clubs in the world", he assures.

In a country often polarized on this meeting, even the bars and the usual places of gatherings of the supporters around the stadium will be closed.

It is on television that fans around the world will have to follow the exploits of Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema and others.

While the epidemic is regaining ground in Spain, where we have exceeded three million cases, "the situation is serious", summarized the head of the Spanish government Pedro Sanchez.

- Heavy atmosphere -

It is in this heavy atmosphere that the two mastodons of Spanish football will face each other on Saturday afternoon.

And no certainty accompanies the two teams: FC Barcelona remains stuck in one of the "most serious crises of its recent existence" according to the Spanish media, with management still in the hot seat, while Real de Zinédine Zidane, crowned champion of Spain with authority in July, has lost its luster.

Last weekend, Barça dropped to one knee in Getafe (1-0 loss), which drew criticism from Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembélé, Barça's two French strikers deemed too ineffective.

However, the Catalan club managed to get up immediately by throwing the Hungarian club Ferencvaros (5-1) for the first day of the Champions League on Tuesday.

Real, on the other hand, comes out of two consecutive defeats: the first in La Liga on Saturday at home against the promoted Cadiz (1-0), and the second, scathing, Wednesday in the Champions League against the B team of Shakhtar Donetsk (3 -2), always at home.

Suffice to say that Barça, in reconstruction with its new coach Ronald Koeman, challenges Real Madrid to a Zinédine Zidane under pressure.

"Tomorrow (Saturday) is a perfect scenario to change our image. We have an opportunity to play a great game. There will be tough times, but that's where the big characters and the quality players show themselves. ", underlined" Zizou "Friday at a press conference.

- Messi, a series to close -

The players did everything not to miss this great meeting: Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, victim of a violent blow to the left knee, resumed training on Friday.

"He has recovered, he will be with us," Zidane assured Friday.

On the Catalan side, it is the left side Jordi Alba who found his partners on Friday, after an injury to the right thigh in early October.

"We will decide tomorrow (Saturday)", assured Koeman, who is preparing to live his first clasico on the bench, before adding: "He has a high probability of playing."

Who will be the hero of this first clasico of the season?

While the two formations are carried by their young shoots since the resumption, the prodigy Ansu Fati (17 years old) on the Catalan side, and the talented Brazilians Rodrygo and Vinicius on the Madrid side, all eyes will be on the usual stars.

Lionel Messi, who wanted to leave Barça before changing his mind this summer, will undoubtedly want to erase the series of 900 days without scoring against Real who have haunted him for nearly three years.

And Karim Benzema, who has scored only a small goal in the first six matches of the season (against Levante on October 4), will be keen to regain all his effectiveness in this clasico so singular, but so capital.

© 2020 AFP