Soccer-Barcelona make case for the defence ahead of Real Madrid showdown

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Copa del Rey - Semi Final - First Leg - Real Madrid v FC Barcelona - Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain - March 2, 2023 FC Barcelona's Marcos Alonso in action with Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior REUTERS/Isabel Infantes

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona's rock-solid defence will be put to the test as they look to take a big step closer to a first league title in four years with victory over rivals Real Madrid at the Camp Nou in El Clasico on Sunday.

Barca, who hold a nine-point advantage over their rivals at the top of the table, have won 21 of their 25 matches this season, losing only one of their last 16 games.

While they are the second highest scorers in the division with 47 goals and boast the league's top scorer, Robert Lewandowski with 15, the foundation of their success has been at the other end of the pitch.

They have conceded only eight goals in the league this season, by far the best defensive record in Europe's top five leagues.

At the core of their defensive unit are three players who are enjoying stellar seasons: goalkeeper Marc Andre ter-Stegen and defenders Ronald Araujo and Jules Kounde.

The trio will hold the key to stifling Real's attacking threat, particularly Araujo who has done a great job in nullifying the speedy Vinicius Jr in the last two games between the teams.

It has not been all plain sailing for Barca this season and their rich vein of domestic form has been tempered by some poor displays in Europe.

After failing to reach the Champions League knockout stages for the second consecutive year earlier in the season, Barca were then knocked out in the Europa League playoff round by Manchester United.

Real will no doubt hope that some of their own European form can rub off on their domestic campaign.

European champions Real got a potentially season-defining week off to a good start by knocking Liverpool out of the Champions League on Wednesday with a 1-0 win in the second leg of their last-16 tie that secured a 6-2 aggregate victory.

Veteran Italian manager Carlo Ancelotti will hope that has given them the confidence boost they needed to try to end a poor run against rivals Barca, having lost their two last encounters.

It will be the first of two visits to the Camp Nou in a month, with the teams set to clash again in early April in the second leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final, with Real trailing 1-0 from the first leg in Madrid.

The two games will determine Real's path for the remainder of the season ahead of the Champions League quarter-finals.

Two wins would leave Ancelotti's side still fighting to secure a first-ever LaLiga, Cup and Champions League treble.

Should results not go their way and the fight to retain their Champions League title will likely become their sole focus.

(Reporting by Fernando Kallas; Editing by Toby Davis)

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