El Clasico brings another Messi-Ronaldo battle
El Clasico comes with another Messi-Ronaldo battle

The April soccer schedule comes with a bang, as Zidane on the brink of his managerial debut at Camp Nou for an afternoon El Clasico. At the moment 10 points separate the arch rivals in La Liga, that means a Madrid victory would merely prevent Barcelona from winning another La Liga title. This fierce clash will be about confidence ahead of the Champions League action later in the week, as it seems the only way Real Madrid can redeem their current campaign.

It was a perfect sign of things to come as Barcelona blew away Real Madrid 4-0 in their previous meeting back in November. Even without Messi, a Barcelona led by Neymar and Luis Suarez inflicted a humbling El Classico defeat on Madrid in front of their own fans. Los Blancos went on a tailspin after that hammering, one which not even the might of Zidane could rescue. After falling out way behind of the La Liga title race and being ousted from Copa del Rey, Real Madrid hope only Champions League glory can redeem what has been a season to forget at the Bernabeu.

Europe’s ultimate prize can still be snatched by Madrid, who will face Wolfsburg in the first leg of Champions League quarterfinal next Tuesday. Meanwhile Barcelona have to face a much tougher challenge in Atletico Madrid, and the fixture may loom heavily irrespective of the fanfare of El Clasico. Still Barca are a solid favourite at home on Saturday, even after only picking up a draw in their last match.

The high-voltage league clash is scheduled to kick off at 7 pm BST on Saturday, 2nd April at Camp Nou.

Team News

Barcelona

Barcelona defender Jeremy Mathieu could miss the rest of the season after sustaining a serious knee injury while on international duty with France, but Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano are both fit to play this clasico.

However, Enrique will have to assess the fitness of Suarez, Neymar and Messi, who have travelled back from South America after their international duty, while Dani Alves was also in action for Brazil in the recent break.

Andres Iniesta was not called into the latest Spain squad after picking up a slight muscular problem, but the veteran midfielder is believed to start alongside Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic  in Enrique’s strongest eleven this weekend.

Real Madrid

As for Real Madrid, Zidane’s most important call is expected to be in the midfield, where Brazilian Casemiro is leading the race to start ahead of Isco and James Rodriguez, who have so far struggled to impress under the French boss.

Sergio Ramos returned early from international duty due to a back problem, but the Los Blancos captain is expected to partner with Pepe, who came back from international duty with Portugal free from any injury.

Benzema and Bale were not involved in the recent international break and both are ready to partner with Ronaldo in the final third, leaving the likes of Lucas Vasquez and Jese Rodriguez in reserve.

Barcelona possible starting lineup:
Bravo; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta; Neymar, Suarez, Messi

Real Madrid possible starting lineup:
Navas; Danilo, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo; Casemiro, Modric, Kroos; Ronaldo, Benzema, Bale

Key Battles:

Gareth Bale vs Jordi Alba

Under Luis Enrique, Barcelona have somehow evolved their tiki-taka strategy and has become a different, if not altogether stronger and more ruthless side for it. A midfield trio of Busquets, Iniesta and Rakitic operate with a marshal-out system, whereby forwards are pushed wide and doubled-up on by the team’s full-backs. Which brings us to a battle between bale and Alba; there certainly won’t be a clear path to goal with Barcelona’s strong midfield, so Bale will need to beat Alba 1-on-1 to find a whiff at goal.

Because seeing off Alba means beating Mascherano; the two have been suspect on several goals Barca have conceded this season. Be it’s exposed space, poor clearances, or lack of speed, a through pass between Alba and Mascherano hands the best chance for Real Madrid to score.

Messi vs Ronaldo

Lionel Messi may has to watch 3 games without scoring against Real Madrid, but if he ends that mini-drought in this clasico, he will emerge as the all-time top scorer in La Liga ‘Clasicos’. At the moment the pint-sized wizard is level with fellow Argentine Alfredo Di Stefano on 14 league goals in this historic clash.

Meanwhile, Messi’s arch-rival Ronaldo has picked up more goals against Claudio Bravo (11 in 9 meetings) than any other player. Of all the players who will step into Saturday’s Barcelona vs Real Madrid clash, no one has netted as frequently or taken as many shots in the league as Cristiano (28 goals from 84 attempts).

Key Stats:                                                                                                        

Barcelona have lost just one of their last seven league games at home against Real Madrid (W5 D1), 1-2 in April 2012.

Barcelona have won four of their last six games against Real Madrid in all competitions (L2).

Barcelona have never won a league game against Real Madrid when they have lead the competition and been 10 or more points ahead of the Whites (D1 L2).

Prediction:

While Real Madrid have recorded some impressive home victories under Zidane, it is away from home that their problems have been exposed repeatedly, particularly losing at Atletico Madrid. The way Real were bulldozed last time out against Barcelona, when Benitez opted for an attacking lineup, Zidane may go with a more pragmatic approach. But a more defensive lineup will only limit the size of their defeat.

The biggest advantage of Madrid is Barcelona’s lethal attacking trio have all been busy with intense World Cup qualifiers over the past week, while Real Madrid’s three forwards—Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema—have either not been called up for international duty or were only traveling around Europe. If Barcelona comes out with full fitness, Saturday is most likely to see another display of how far they are ahead of their rivals right now.

Predicted score:

Barcelona 3-1 Real Madrid

Betting Odds:

Barcelona win – 4/7

Draw – 7/2

Real Madrid win – 17/4