The Belgrade derby between Partizan and Crvena Zvezda will not be the only big derby played on Thursday evening in the EuroLeague, as the WiZink Center in Madrid will host another episode of the El Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona. The game counts for Round 5 and what makes this game even more interesting is that the two Spanish giants are the only unbeaten teams currently in the EuroLeague.
In the case of Real Madrid, the unbeaten run is not something unexpected. The Blancos won the trophy in May and with the return of Facundo Campazzo, the general opinion is that Real is even stronger than last season. Coach Chus Mateo is no longer under pressure like he was most of last year, the roster is a great mix between veterans with winning experience and talented younger players. Real is considered the biggest favourite to win it all again this season and so far they look unstoppable, leading the standings in both the EuroLeague (4-0, tied with Barca) and the Spanish ACB (6-0 record). They also won the Spanish Supercup in September and even beat the Dallas Mavericks in an exhibition game.
Unlike Real Madrid, Barcelona’s strong start to the season surprises most people. The Catalan team reduced the budget of the basketball section and in order to do this they parted ways with coach Sarunas Jasikevicius and star players like Nikola Mirotic or Cory Higgins. Then, they hired Roger Grimau, a former player of Barca who never coached a senior team and added a few Spanish players to the roster like Willy Hernangomez, Joel Parra or Dario Brizuela and Jabari Parker, a former NBA forward with a long injury history. The scepticism of most Blaugrana fans quickly went away as the team looks great under Grimau’s guidance. Barca has 9 wins out of 11 official games played in all competitions this season and the only two defeats came against Real Madrid (80-90 in the Supercup and 79-86 in the ACB).
Certainly Real is the favourite to win on Thursday evening. They play at home and have the psychological advantage of beating Barca twice in the first month of the season. However, both games were relatively close and Barca is expected to improve even more as the season progresses.
Image credit: EuroLeague