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FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid: La Liga Clasico Match Preview

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Feel that? It's called goosebumps. Barça visit the Evil Empire in a match where we will see Luis Suarez make his debut and maybe - just maybe - Lionel Messi bag the all-time Liga scoring record.

Denis Doyle

More importantly, three points hang in the balance as Barcelona aim to not only further the gap over their eternal rivals, but keep other challengers such as Sevilla, Valencia and Atletico Madrid at bay.

For Real Madrid, it's a chance to avoid sinking after a fabulous string of results. The capital club could drop as low as sixth without winning, though, with the right results, could climb to second.

There are subplots aplenty for this match - as if any were needed...

TEAM NEWS

BARCELONA

Luis Suarez - one of football's most controversial players, many would say one of its most notorious villains - makes his debut for FC Barcelona after serving a long ban for biting an opponent during the World Cup.

Signed from Liverpool, Suarez's quality is undeniable. He won the Golden Boot, shared with Cristiano Ronaldo, although Suarez had better numbers when it came to statistics such as assists and non-penalty goals.

The question is how fit the Uruguayan is after such a long spell on the sidelines. Coach Luis Enrique has already said Suarez will play, but did not reveal how much. If the #9 is not ready, Pedro Rodriguez could play... but he's terribly off form and played the full 90 against Ajax. Could we see youngsters Sandro Ramirez or Munir El-Haddadi start?

Lionel Messi could break one of the Liga's longstanding records. He has 249 career goals in the league, just one shy of Telmo Zarra's mark. Its entirely concievable for Messi to match the mark, or even break it, at the Santiago Bernabeu. There is tons of debate as to whether Madrid would allow a celebration of his exploits. And some in the Madrid press are already double-counting Zarra's mark, saying maybe he got more than 251 all along.

Barcelona will probably be without the services of their star player backup right-back Douglas, due to injury. Another doubt is Thomas Vermaelen, a signing from Arsenal in the offseason who has yet to play a single minute because of problems that seemingly never heal. Hypothetically he could be fit for this match, but there's essentially no way he'd play even in that situation.

Speaking of injuries, Adriano. Yes, the Brazilian fullback is still made of glass and won't play. The only really big miss could be Sergio Busquets. The midfielder is in doubt, which is a real shame as he is possibly the world's best in his position. Will Luis Enrique go for Javier Mascherano in that spot instead? Well, maybe not - so far he's insisted Busquets is ready to play.

Xavi didn't play against Ajax, leading some to ask whether he was being rested for the main event. He may play a part, but my money is on Ivan Rakitic to start along Andres Iniesta in midfield.

The Blaugrana have yet to concede a goal in league play as a defense bolstered with the acquisition of Jeremy Mathieu in the past window has stood strong, and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo has plugged any leaks expertly. Mathieu could play at left-back, with either Marc Bartra or Mascherano in defense, or he could play at centerback, with Jordi Alba on the left.

On the other side of the pitch, Messi has been consistently amazing this season. He's put in tackles, given assists with regularity, and still scored a load of goals. His association with Neymar is in high gear. The amount of Barcelona goals this season the pair haven't had a direct part in can be counted on one hand. If Suarez can be added to the mix...

REAL MADRID

It's fair to say this season's early struggles are a bit of a distant memory, as Real Madrid are in irresistible form at the moment. True, Cristiano Ronaldo is banging them in in a fashion only a few other players could ever hope to match, but it's not just that. Toni Kroos, Karim Benzema, Isco and James Rodriguez, to name a few, are playing at a high level.

The biggest downer for them is the likely absence of Gareth Bale through injury. However, Isco is a more than useful replacement, and considering he's in good form, Madrid may not miss the Welshman too much. The Spanish player is finding his groove and could be making a real mark in the Clasico for the first time.

Pepe and Sergio Ramos have returned from injury and are available; meanwhile Fabio Coentrao and Jese are still out with injuries.

Perhaps the only real question as far as personnel goes is whether Asier Illarramendi will play to break up Barcelona's attacks, or if Carlo Ancelotti feels that a midfield duo of Kroos and Luka Modric will be enough.

Madrid are on a string of scintillating performances. After struggling defensively early in the season, posting two losses against Atletico Madrid and one to Real Sociedad, Real Madrid have only shipped two goals in their past six games. Iker Casillas, who looked a shadow of his former self, has improved in this span.

Like Barcelona, it could be argued Madrid's domination is limited to average-to-good teams. Atletico Madrid are the only elite team they've faced. Three games, two losses, and one draw is worrying for Los Blancos. But eight wins in a row? Thirty-five goals in that span? Spooky offense, indeed...

FORM GUIDE

Barcelona: DWLWWW

Real Madrid: WWWWWW

PREVIOUS MEETING

Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid - 16 April, 2014 - Copa Del Rey

An injured Marc Bartra was the hero at first, scoring an equalizing goal, before becoming the villain, letting Bale by as the Welshman secured the cup for Los Blancos.

LIKELY LINEUPS

Barcelona (4-3-1-2): Bravo; Alves, Pique, Mathieu, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Messi; Suarez, Neymar

Real Madrid (4-4-2): Casillas; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Marcelo; James, Modric, Kroos, Isco; Ronaldo, Benzema

MATCH PREDICITION

This is going to be a wild one. Barcelona have their streaks - Neymar and Messi scoring every game, Bravo keeping clean sheets - and Real Madrid theirs - a team creating chances, Ronaldo scoring, an improved defense - but you can toss all that out. It's hard to know what to expect. My guess? A 2-2 draw.