FC Barcelona head into their most important game of the season four points adrift of their rivals, meaning anything less then a win would firmly place the title in Madrid's hands. The Clásico gives Barça an opportunity to cut the gap to only one point and keep their title ambitions alive, but Real Madrid have looked nearly unstoppable in 2014 and will be looking to widen their points gap.
Although, Barcelona can take solace in the fact that they did win the first league Clásico back in October of last year. Goals from summer signing Neymar and Alexis Sánchez were enough to give the Catalans the three points.
Since that defeat, Real Madrid have been mounting a serious title claim and their combined front three of Benzema, Bale and Ronaldo (or BBC as some Spanish media have coined it) have regularly found the net. Meaning Carlo Ancelotti's mean have soared up the table overtaking both Barcelona and city rivals Atéltico on their way to the top of the table.
The main team news for Barcelona is that Gerard Piqué has shaken off an ankle injury, more commonly known as the "I'm one yellow card away from a suspension and there is a big game next week" injury, and rejoins the squad after missing last week's 7-0 thrashing of Osasuna. His defensive partner Carles Puyol again misses out on the squad with a knee injury while Isaac Cuenca, Jonathan dos Santos and Oier Olazábal complete the list of absentees.
Victor Valdés will start what could potentially be his last ever Clásico and goes into the game having won more of these grudge matches then he's lost. Valdés will be joined by the flying full-backs Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, who will be tasked with stopping Ronaldo and Bale whilst also complimenting Barça's attacks. Piqué will return at centre back and Tata Martino will have to choose between Marc Bartra and Javier Mascherano to partner him. I'd personally go for Bartra but have a feeling Martino will opt for Mascherano.
The midfield seems a little more predictable. Sergio Busquets will start at pivote with Xavi sitting in front of him. The only real question is who will be alongside the club's vice-captain. Martino may elect to play Andrés Iniesta on the left wing which would mean Cesc Fàbregas would start from the middle. But I think it's likely Iniesta will start this match from the centre. Sergi Roberto will also be hoping to see some minutes.
Finally we have the attack. Nearly every media outlet that's covering the game has been debating of which front three Tata will choose and whether Neymar deserves to start or not. Pedro and Alexis both have better scoring form then Neymar but can you really bench a man who cost over €50 million? I don't think Tata believes you can so I predict Neymar will start wide left and Lionel Messi in the middle. On the right, Martino has a choice of Pedro, Fàbregas or Alexis. If Martino does select Neymar, I wouldn't be surprised to see Fàbregas make the starting XI in an attempt to give Barcelona control of the game. If not, I'd expect to see Pedro starting the game.
Whoever Martino chooses, he needs to make sure he gets his tactics right as we have seen before in Clásicos the smallest decision can win or lose you the game.
Having won the first leg 6-1, Madrid's midweek tie against Schalke was supposed to be a comfortable night that allowed Real to give the kids a chance. But that night turned slightly sour when their newfound startler Jesé collapsed to the ground. The 21 year old tore his anterior cruciate ligament and could be out until the start of next season.
Meaning the man who scored Madrid's only goal in the October Clásico won't make the squad. The only other long term injuries for Madrid are Sami Khedira and Alvaro Arbeloa. This gives Carlo Ancelotti a near fully-fit squad to choose from.
Spanish reports emerged late Saturday night that Carlo Ancelotti had already leaked his line-up, the main talking point would be Marcelo at left-back and Pepe in the centre. Other then that, it's business as usual for the men from the capital.
Real Madrid: WWDWWW
FC Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid CF - 26th October 2013 - La Liga
A first half goal from Neymar combined with a wonder goal from Alexis Sánchez in the second was enough to earn Barcelona the three points. Youngster Jesé did pull one back for Madrid late on but it was too little, too late as Barcelona won the first Clásico of the season.
Real Madrid (4-3-3): Diego López, Carvajal, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo. Xabi Alonso, Modric, Ángel Di María. Cristiano Ronaldo, Bale, Benzema
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Neymar, Messi, Fàbregas
I think it will be an incredibly tight affair and I think the game all be decided by a single goal. Barcelona need the win more so I'm going to go for a 2-1 Barça win. One from Messi, one from Cesc and one for Ronaldo.
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