Each time Real Madrid and Barcelona battle, the football world always stands at its feet. To add special spice to Sunday’s encounter between the two Spanish giants is the fact that the game may decide where the La Liga title swings. A victory for the Madrid would extend their lead on the log to six points with a game in hand and put them in good stead to the title, while a loss would ensure Barca keep on the pressure on the leaders. The Los Blancos would however be boosted by their semi-final qualification in the UEFA Champions League, while pressure is on the Blaugrana after their exit midweek from the European elite competition
After sealing their place in the Champions League semifinal, Real Madrid can take a huge step towards claiming a first La Liga title in five years when they host rivals Barcelona in El Clasico on Sunday.
An injury-time Sergio Ramos equaliser ensured Madrid maintained a six-point cushion over Luis Enrique’s side when the sides met earlier this season, and with Los Blancos currently three points ahead with a game in hand, victory would leave Barca trailing by the same margin with only five to play.
Real are unbeaten since February, winning 10 of their last 12 games. In contrast, Barcelona have won just two of their previous five in all competitions and were dumped out of Europe in midweek.
The Catalans’ task is made all the more difficult given forward Neymar’s suspension. But Barca coach Luis Enrique insisted after their 3-0 aggregate defeat by Juventus that his side would be ready to bounce straight back up.
“It will be difficult to lift my players up after this, but it will be easy to motivate them. We have the best stimulus that any Barcelona fan could ask for which is that we play against our eternal rival. There’s no better place to go than the Bernabeu.
“We have the chance to get back in the fight for La Liga in a six-pointer against the side top of the league. I love being involved at a club as ambitious as this.”
Madrid will be looking to a rejuvenated Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored five in his last two appearances and netted his 100th Champion League goal with a hat-trick against Bayern Munich on Wednesday.
The Portuguese scored the goal that essentially sealed Madrid’s last La Liga crown in 2012’s 2-1 victory over the Catalans and will be looking to repeat the feat for Zinedine Zidane’s men this weekend.
“I don’t know if there’s a category for him. What you see Cristiano doing is really impressive. The goals, the way he finishes them, in such key, important moments,” said Zidane of the No 7.
“He always knows when there’s an important occasion, he’s going to be there. It is out of any sort of category. There are few players who can to do what Ronaldo has done and we all know that.”
Madrid will be without defenders Pepe and Raphael Varane for the game, while Dani Carvajal, Toni Kroos and Gareth Bale all have question marks over their fitness heading into the game.
Meanwhile, Lionel Messi will be requiring two more goals to reach 500 for Barcelona and will have his sights set on achieving the milestone against Madrid in Sunday’s Clasico.
It is almost 12 years to the day since the diminutive Argentine netted his first, against Albacete in the Camp Nou, and there could not be a better time to bring up the magic number, particularly in a week that began with his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo netting a record 100th Champions League goal.
Former teammate, Ronaldinho is backing Messi to return to his best. “It’s a wonderful story. He’s on the verge of 500 goals for the club and my pass set up the first of them,” Ronaldinho said. “He’s a great man. It’s wonderful to see everything he’s achieved – and he still has lots left to give.”
The Brazilian’s words will be put to the test this weekend as, in the absence of the suspended Neymar, the focus on Messi will be even more intense. The Argentine will need to be at his brilliant best if Barca are to overcome Zinedine Zidane’s in-form side.
Elsewhere, Atletico Madrid will look to further tighten their grip on third place as they travel to Espanyol today, while the weekend’s action culminates on Monday with a Basque derby as Eibar host Athletic Bilbao.