Sergio Ramos v Luis Suarez: The key battle of Real Madrid v Barcelona
By Matt Cheetham
Last Updated: 23/04/17 6:47pm
Real Madrid host Barcelona this Sunday in the second Clasico of the season and the 234th clash between the Spanish giants. Two players central to the outcome will be the goalscorers from December's reverse fixture: Sergio Ramos and Luis Suarez.
For Real Madrid, Ramos brings a wealth of experience, with more Clasico appearances (33) and wins (11) than any other team-mate. He's tasted the highs of scoring dramatic late goals, such as in December's 1-1 draw, and the lows of red cards and comprehensive defeats. His stats in this fixture reflect his full-blooded attitude on the pitch, with four of his 22 career red cards coming against Barcelona.
Sergio Ramos' Clasico record
|Player||Games||Wins||Goals||Yellow cards||Red cards|
Ramos' proficiency on the ball is one of his more important traits for Madrid. Excluding Barcelona, only one defender averages more passes per 90 minutes than the centre-back (63.1) this season, highlighting how involved he is in the passing game. His assist for Cristiano Ronaldo's second goal in Tuesday's win over Bayern Munich was a perfect example of what he can offer in this department.
Ramos' most important contributions this season, however, have come in front of the opposition's goal. The Spaniard has already scored 10 goals in all competitions and seven in La Liga. It's the best return of his career, and more than any other defender in the division.
Remarkably, just 15 of 527 players to feature in La Liga this season have scored more goals in the competition than Ramos, whose next goal for Real Madrid will be his 50th top-flight strike for the club.
Highlighting most points won by a player's goals illustrates the role Ramos has played in Real Madrid's success this season. Seeing a defender so high up the list is not a common sight, but his goals have earned his side an extra nine points this season; the difference between leading Barcelona by three points, or trailing them by six.
Points won by goals - La Liga 2016/17
This is something Ramos has become as good at as any modern player: Twenty one of his last 24 goals have come with his side either trailing or level with their opponent, which is impressive enough playing for any team, let alone Real Madrid. If Sunday's game is on a knife-edge during the closing stages, don't be surprised if it's Ramos who gets the breakthrough.
One player perhaps surprisingly not on the above list is Luis Suarez, who will want to improve his record against La Liga's top sides this season. He has scored just six of his 24 goals against top 10 opponents, and just three against the top six.
That said, the former Liverpool striker has been in clinical form throughout his time at Barcelona, augmenting an already lethal attack, and he poses a major threat to Real Madrid on Sunday. Once again he boasts some of the leading attacking numbers in Europe this season.
Most goals and assists in Europe's top leagues - 2016/17
His 24 goals and 12 assists in La Liga are a combined total only team-mate Lionel Messi can better across Europe's top five divisions. In terms of frequency, Messi and Monaco teen sensation, Kylian Mbappe, are the only players involved in scoring more regularly than the Uruguayan.
Best minutes per goal and assist rates in Europe's top leagues - 2016/17
Suarez's total of 40 goals was more than any other player in Europe's top five leagues last season, as he broke a trend dating back to 2009 of either Messi or Ronaldo winning the Pichichi.
Real Madrid behind the scenes
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While his actual goal total isn't quite at that pace in this campaign, he actually betters Messi for chance conversion, averaging a goal every 4.3 shots, compared to the Argentina international's five. If a chance falls to any Barcelona player, it's Suarez who's been more likely to finish it off this season.
Best shot conversion rates - La Liga 2016/17
|Player||Goals||Shot conversion %|
When it comes to head-to-head exchanges on Sunday, Suarez will hope to provide Ramos with one of his biggest tests of the season by simply keeping him defending. Barcelona have had more possession in every Clasico fixture dating back to May 2008.
For a Real Madrid side averaging close to 60 per cent of the ball to suddenly see so little of it presents Ramos with an unusual dynamic. Suddenly he will be more concerned with matters off the ball than in most other fixtures, and Suarez can capitalise on this.
This fixture attracts goals like few others. No Real Madrid defence has prevented Barcelona from scoring in any of the last 22 Clasicos, dating back to 2011, the longest run of either side in the history of this fixture. The visitors must hope Suarez can extend that sequence and get the better of Ramos to keep his side in the title race.