El Clásico remains the biggest match in world football at club level. As such, the key battles will involve some of the best players in the world. At this level, any marginal slip could and probably would have an impact on the final result - be it a chance at goal or a booking that eventually leads to a second yellow. There will be a sense of familiarity between the Barça and Madrid players, after the skirmishes that we've seen over the years. The key battles featured in this edition of El Clásico should be some of the best we will see over the course of this season.
Real Madrid - their own worst enemy?
Under Rafael Benítez, Real Madrid have yet to play with the consistent fluidity that one would expect of their star-studded squad. That is to be expected, and this lack of fluidity is something that will play a big part in how the game plays out. Madrid have been solid defensively but are having to deal with a disconnect between defence and attack.
With Cristiano Ronaldo playing through the middle as an orthodox No 9, Real Madrid have lost that unique edge that has made Karim Benzema such a great and valuable player for them - that ability and willingness to link play and give balance to the Madrid forward line. Linking build-up play is not a strength of Ronaldo's and this could lead to the Blancos attack being disjointed. Madrid's central midfield is not as balanced as it once was. They have incredible playmakers - the likes of Luka Modrić and Toni Kroos - but that crucial anchor (see Alonso, Xabi) is absent. Rafa Benítez will have his team well-drilled for this game but their star-studded playing squad could be the source of their downfall. Team balance is key, especially at the highest level of football.
Danilo vs Neymar
Neymar will be up against a familiar face at the Santiago Bernabéu, his friend and compatriot Danilo. Both players will be especially keen to get one over on the other, before returning to being buddies off the pitch. Neymar's brilliant form heading into El Clásico sets things up nicely for him to stamp his name all over this game, with Messi not expected to be at 100%. Danilo is an accomplished fullback and will be looking to take Neymar the other way, forcing the Barça No. 11 to track back. The winner of this battle will be key as the spillover effect adds another dimension to the attack of either side - Danilo bombing forward or Jordi Alba having the space to run into spaces created by Neymar's movement.
Sergio Ramos vs Luís Suárez
Playing with an injury, Sergio Ramos will be a viable target for Luis Suárez. Always looking to pull out wide or run in behind the opposition defence, the Uruguayan will be looking to drag Ramos out of position. The physical strain that any defender who plays against Suárez suffers could prove enough to aggravate Ramos' shoulder injury - the same injury that forced him off against Sevilla before the international break.
Ramos' leadership is crucial to Madrid, being the heart of his side like Carles Puyol was for Barça. Losing Ramos would undoubtedly be a blow to his team-mates, both mentally and football-wise. A knock-on effect would be that a forced substitution of Sergio Ramos reduces Benítez's options with regard to the 2nd half. Any marginal gain counts and giving Benítez fewer options to work with means he has one less potential match winner he could throw into the game.
Barca - Messidependencia?
When a team has one of the greatest players in the history of football, it's to be expected that a reliance on that player will exist - having built the team around that one player. With Messi not firing at 100%, Barça have been able to get the required wins with the goals from Neymar and Luis Suárez. Sergi Roberto has been brilliant. Sergio Busquets, magnificent. The point is that Luis Enrique's men will be their own worst enemy. With Messi having often been the difference-maker in past Clásicos, the players will naturally look to him to be the difference. However, on this occasion, La Pulga is only just returning from injury and so the responsibility to win this game rests, as it always does, on the whole team.
Piqué, Jordi Alba and the rest of the team cannot afford to play with the caveat in their minds of "we'll wait for Leo to do something". The time is here. The time is now. It's time for the team to shed the apparent Messidependencia and win a Clásico with or without Leo. Tots units fem força.