When Barcelona and Real Madrid meet, the whole world stops. Few rivalries are so strong without geography, and while it feels strange to class this game as a derby, it is a clash in almost every sense of the word. In Spain, there is real bad blood between the two cities, Barcelona and Madrid, thanks to former leader of the country, General Franco’s treatment of Catalonia. To this day, some in the region campaign for independence from the rest of the nation, meaning every time these clubs lock horns it is a tasty encounter. On the pitch, traditionally, the two clubs represent different ideologies. Barcelona have become known for religiously sticking to one style of football, breeding talent after talent from their youth academy, while Real have portrayed what they are, the Royal’s club, by signing the very best players for the highest transfer fees.The individual rivalry between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo also follows that pattern, with Ronaldo moving to Madrid for a previous world-record $90million and Messi working his way up through the system at the Camp Nou. As they prepare to face off again today, it is Madrid who go in as favourites, but Barcelona can never be counted out
The most awaited match in modern day football is here as Barcelona is all set to take on arch rivals, Real Madrid, at the Nou camp today and this mouth-watering fixture is already slated to become the most watched game of the year. Madrid will travel to the Catalan on the back of a partially convincing victory against Sporting Gijon while Luis Enrique’s side will come into the fixture with an incredibly unsatisfactory display of football in a 1-1 draw against Real Sociedad, a match which could have well gotten out of their hands.
The Spanish champions had a bright start to the league but a poor run of form saw them overtaken by the European Champions. Madrid have a comfortable six-point cushion at the top of the La Liga table with each team playing 13 games apiece.
Catalan coach, Luis Enrique, laid special stress on the high-voltage match, stating that the fixture was a must-win game for them if they plan to stay in contention for the La Liga crown before the teams go into the winter break. Zinedine Zidane’s side remain unbeaten in the league, drawing three and winning 10 and the Frenchman would not want these statistics to change against Barcelona today.
Another highlight of the match, and perhaps the most important, is the fact that Argentine Lionel Messi and Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo will once again feature against each other at the Nou camp. The duo, who have nine Ballon d’Or titles between them, are widely regarded the best players in the history of the game and both of them are coming into the game hitting a good run of form for both club and country.
Messi had a perfect start to the season which was capped off by brilliant performances for his national team in the World Cup qualifiers, while Ronaldo started the season slow, but picked up his pace by scoring five goals in his last two league games to be the top goal scorer of the league with 10 goals.
Interestingly, Barcelona have no new injury setbacks and will have Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez all fit for selection today. Club captain Andres Iniesta who was ruled out for six to eight weeks in late October after suffering knee ligament damage against Valencia had been certified fit for the El Clasico, but whether the Catalan coach will risk the Spaniard maestro to play a full 90 minutes is what is left to be seen.
Turkish international, Arda Turan, who missed the last clash against Sociedad due to fever will also be available for selection while defender Samuel Umtiti will be unavailable owing to a hamstring injury he picked up during the international break.
Meanwhile, Los Blancos have been incredibly unlucky when it comes to injury to their key players as a number of starters are out for a long period of time owing to major injury concerns. Welsh winger Gareth Bale suffered a traumatic dislocation of the perineal tendons against Sporting Lisbon penultimate week, which ruled him out for a period of at least four months, while influential midfielder Toni Kroos will also miss the clash owing to a broken metatarsal he suffered against Leganes.
Also on the injury list is substitute Alvaro Morata who had proved quite effective for Zidane coming off the bench. There have been concerns over defensive midfielder Casemiro, who was out for a considerable number of times, before returning to training. Whether the Brazilian midfielder will be fielded by Zidane remain to be seen.
The Brazilian midfielder played the full 90 minutes against Cultural Leonesa on his return from a leg injury that had kept him sidelined since September and Zidane said he could play against Barcelona if needed even though there are only three rest days between the two fixtures.
“Casemiro felt fine. He struggled a little bit early on but that’s to be expected after almost two months out. It was important for him to play a full match and he’s happy and well prepared. When you look at the way we’ve played in midfield in our recent games, we’ve been strong. Casemiro has come back; he’s fit and ready to help the team. He’s with us and we’ll have to see what we’re going to do on Saturday, but we’re going to need everyone,” he said.
Zidane however played down the significance of the encounter, saying the outcome of the match would not be “decisive”. Speaking after Real’s 6-1 win over Cultural Leonesa in the second leg of the Copa del Rey round of 32, Zidane said the result of the first El Clasico of the season will not decide the title race.
“We’re not thinking about the consequences of the result, only about preparing well for the game. Whatever happens it won’t be decisive. It’s a good match against a great opponent who will certainly make it difficult for us and that’s all there is to it, but it won’t be decisive, not at all,” the Frenchman told Real Madrid’s official website.
Barcelona vs Real Madrid
Venue: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain
Referee: Carlos Clos Goméz